Pasco teen gets more bang for his buck

It didn't take Eric Grant long to tire of rising gas prices.

The 16-year-old Pasco resident has been driving barely a year, and already he sounds like a veteran Tri-City driver, aghast at spending nearly $40 per fill-up. As more and more drivers do what they can to curtail the escalating expense, Grant says he may have found a way to save at the pump.

Experimenting with octane boosting has doubled his gas mileage, he said.

"I added it all up, and I've been getting 32 miles to the gallon (with octane boosting)," Grant said. "When I was using regular, I was getting between 15 and 17. And 32 is quite a jump."

Grant drives a 1983 Toyota pickup that he converted to a flatbed to make it more conducive for his landscaping business. He can make $200 to $300 in a good week, but like many businesses these days, he was finding fuel costs were eating into his profits.

So he got online to see if there was anything he could do to improve fuel efficiency, and that's when he learned about octane boosts.

He went to the auto store and bought a 15-ounce bottle for $9.74, including tax. The next time he was at the gas station, he put the boost into the tank before filling up. Then, instead of using the 82-octane regular gas, he went for the 92-octane supreme gas.

Including the boost product, the octane level in the tank was 102, he said.

He admits he spent more by the time he added the cost of the boost product to the cost of the supreme gas - $3.85 per gallon, at the time. But instead of filling up once every five days, now he can go 10 to 12 days between fuelings, he said.

The better gas efficiency put him ahead 10 to 15 cents per gallon, he said.

An Eagle Scout who attends Liberty Christian School, Grant said he wanted others to benefit from the discovery.

"I figured, you know, if I have that kind of luck, maybe I can share it with whoever else is in the same boat as me, where their weekly paycheck goes to the next couple of weeks' gas," Grant said.

But AAA Washington said consumers might want to put the brakes on octane boosting.

"Our response would be just the opposite," said Dave Overstreet, spokesman for AAA Washington in Bellevue. "AAA nationally and here in the Northwest, we've never found any additive that increases fuel mileage.

"We always encourage motorists to use the lowest octane possible because ... you're going to pay less for it and get by more cheaply."

Overstreet said high-performance engines may get better efficiency from high octane levels, and perhaps that's why Grant was finding a benefit. Grant's pickup has a modified 4-cylinder engine.

But the typical street sedan - as well as SUVs, even motorcycles - aren't going to see enough benefit to make octane boosting cost-effective, Overstreet said.

He recommended checking the car's driver's manual to see what it says about fuels.

But Grant's idea for gas conservation isn't the only one that a Tri-Citian has posed to help motorists cope. Mike Richardson, 51, of Kennewick, said he knows of an engine modification that people can do for about $2 and in about 20 minutes to improve their gas mileage.

The modification involves capping a 1⁄2-inch tube that leads to the engine from the airbox, or downstream of the air filter, to plug airflow into the engine's crankcase.

Doing that lowers the pressure inside the crankcase and reduces the amount of air the pistons have to displace as they travel downward, he said, and the reduced air resistance means the engine can rotate more easily.

When Richardson - whose 1976 Pinto wagon has 308,000 miles on it - posted his tip on the Pinto Car Club of America website, www.fordpinto.com, some doubted its veracity.

But his car's gas mileage improved by 17 percent when he made the modification, he said. Other cars he has modified have experienced better gas mileage by one or two miles per gallon, he said.

While Richardson has had his skeptics, he couldn't embrace Grant's technique either.

"I hate to kind of step on someone else's idea and say, 'No, it can't work,' " Richardson said. "But I just don't know that it's cost-effective because of the initial cost of the octane booster."

Overstreet said the main thing that will make a dent in high gas prices is when motorists change their driving habits in significant ways - which they may do this summer when gas prices are expected to approach $4 a gallon.

He recommended eliminating discretionary driving by carpooling, consolidating trips and riding bikes more.