Water cooler talk at Butler often happens at the most unlikely of places and regarding the most unlikely of subjects.
A few of us had just seen Exxon’s new ad for its Synergy gasoline for the first time, and since it was broadcast during Saturday and Sunday’s football games, we’ve now seen it roughly 1,000 times.
The ad, which introduces viewers to the 7 special ingredients in Exxon’s new fuel, proclaims that additives like corrosion inhibitor, solvent fluid, and fuel detergent can help to improve gas mileage. That might sound like a marketing gimmick, and to an extent it is; most brand-name gas stations sell fuel that has additives designed to diminish intake valve deposits.
Where Exxon’s ad rings true, however, is that engine gunk can absolutely hurt your car’s fuel efficiency, and the right ingredients in your fuel can help keep your engine clean. Our conversation about the validity of an ad-pitch quickly became a conversation about fuel myths and experience. So what does a career in the automotive industry do to the way you think about fuel?
- Higher Octane Doesn’t Mean More Power
The reason that performance vehicles recommend you use a higher octane fuel isn’t that octane equals energy; it’s that, in laymen’s terms, a high-octane fuel is more stable under compression. If you put lower-octane fuel in a race car, the fuel will ignite too early, causing the engine to knock.
“I put the recommended fuel in my Mustang,” says Nick McLean, one of our Ford product specialists, “because that’s the only way the engine will function the way it was designed to. Your car might say it has 310 horsepower, but if you start filling it with worse gas, your actual performance will be closer to 270.”
- Gas Changes as Cars Change
Your engine, and the pieces within it and surrounding it, have come a long way since the golden age of muscle cars. A lot of parts have been added or changed in the name of efficiency and weight, and those parts need TLC that fuel without additives just won’t give you.
As Frank Robles, manager of our Collision Center, put it, “You can think about buying gas like you do about buying dog food. The cheaper stuff costs less up front, but the problems it causes can cost you a whole lot more down the line. Good gas means less gunk in your engine, and depending on the vehicle and the gas, that could be more than worth the cost of admission.”
- You Get What You Pay For
There’s a gas station in town that consistently beats the gas station across the street by 15 cents per gallon. It’s always packed, and it’s always the cheapest gas in town. That raises red flags for car nuts.
“It makes me wonder about their distributor,” Nick says, “and why they can afford to never be competitive with their rivals. When a product is so cheap that it’s not competitive, that makes me wonder if I’m getting an inferior product.”
Just because you pay less today doesn’t mean you will save money down the line.
All in all, Exxon’s new “7 Ingredients” spot raised some interesting perspectives on octane and additives. Not everyone can have a good time talking about the ins and outs of fuel, but then again, not everyone works with people like Frank and Nick.