Do Octane Boosters Work? Yes, But…

Do Those Flashy Bottles Of Octane Boosters On The AutoZone Counter Do What They Claim?

Do Octane Booster WorkBottled octane boosters can, without doubt, technically boost the octane rating of the gasoline in your tank. However, the extent by which they increase the octane depends on two significant variables; product and fuel dilution.

On the one hand, high-quality octane boosters can deliver the octane increases they claim. On the other hand, many such products on the market do not provide anywhere near what they claim. Many of these products also use points to advertise their octane rating gain, which is often 0.1RON which means that flashy bottle by the AutoZone checkout advertising “30 point increase!” is only a +3 octane increase.

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Whether your tank is going to give you more power by merely raising the octane of the fuel depends on a lot of variables. Two extreme examples would be

  1. You will feel little to no difference in an old carbureted 350 because the carb jetting is static.
  2. Using higher octane fuel in a modern and forced induction car with an adaptive ECU will provide substantial improvements in fuel consumption and performance, particularly for vehicles designed to run on 93+ octane fuel.

How Do Octane Boosters Work?

Gas Station At NightThe most common question regarding bottled octane boosters is how a small dose can raise the octane of fuel by such a substantial amount. The answer lies in the active ingredients. These octane boosters contain additives which reduce the volatility of the fuel, which prevents the onset of knock (pre-ignition/detonation) when used as a fuel additive.

Even though there are numerous “anti-knock” additives, we are going to look at the most popular ones.

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MMT (methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl)

MMT Chemical Structure - MMT can Increase octane ratings if used correctly
MMT Chemical Structure

Refineries worldwide use MMT (methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl) as an alternative to TEL (tetra-ethyl lead) to boost the octane rating of fuel because it’s a much more environmentally friendly option than lead. MMT plays nice with catalytic converters and O2 sensors as well. MMT is the favored active compound in the majority of good quality octane boosters.

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Ferrocene
Ferrocene Chemical Structure - This is a cut rate octane booster, don't use it!
Ferrocene Chemical Structure

Ferrocene, an iron compound, is a cheaper alternative to MMT and is used as an alternative to TEL by fuel refineries as well, particularly those in third world countries. Most legislation prohibits the use of ferrocene by fuel refineries in most first world countries. This ban is because of the highly abrasive Iron Oxide formed during combustion. Another term of iron oxide is RUST which results in a massive increase in engine wear, shortening engine life significantly. Plus, it quickly creates deposits on spark plugs leading to a short circuit that results in a misfire.

Aromatic Alcohols
Benzene Chemical Structure - It's vodka, for your car!
Benzene Chemical Structure

Aromatics such as Benzene, Xylene, and Toluene are useful too in increasing the octane rating of fuels. However, they need to be used in a significant concentration to offer a noticeable octane boost. Dosages of 10% and above are required, and, thus would not be effective in doses of 7oz to 16oz. These aromatics are extremely carcinogenic (cancer-causing) and are easily breathed in or absorbed by the skin. Therefore, it is highly advisable to wear protective gloves and a face mask when handling them.

So yes, octane boosters can work, but how effective they are is always a toss-up.

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