What Is a Fuel Stabilizer & Its Benefits?

Written by g.d. palmer
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What Is a Fuel Stabilizer & Its Benefits?
Fuel stabilisers keep fuel fresh while in storage. (brushcutter image by Horticulture from Fotolia.com)

Fuel stabilisers are intended to keep petroleum-based fuels, such as gasoline, diesel and heating fuel, from degrading over time. These stabilising products are made by many different companies, but tend to work in about the same way. They prevent oxidation, fuel contamination and unpleasant odour, and help fuel burn efficiently.

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Significance

Gasoline and similar fuels are specifically designed to be volatile. They vaporise easily for more efficient burning. Unfortunately, older fuels become less volatile, and burn less efficiently. As fuel ages, it's also more likely to develop impurities which can clog filters and fuel lines, and to take on water. Water contamination may cause a vehicle to have trouble starting and run roughly until the water can be purged. Oxidised fuel also has a strong smell, which may be difficult to get rid of.

Function

Fuel stabilisers prevent gasoline and other fuels from going bad when they must be stored for more than a month or so. These liquids are mixed directly with the fuel before putting it in storage, and may provide a desirable alternative to draining all the fuel from a vehicle. Drained vehicles can suffer from dry rotted seals and rust formation in the fuel system. The stabiliser acts as a protective wrapper around fuel molecules, preventing them from reacting with oxygen and other substances.

Types

Not all fuel stabilisers are appropriate for all fuels. The majority of stabiliser products are meant for two- or four-stroke gasoline engines. Products meant specifically for heating fuel and diesel engines are also available. Using a fuel stabiliser incorrectly may cause unpredictable results. The fuel may go bad more quickly than expected, or the stabiliser may not work at all.

Considerations

Fuel stabilisers are highly beneficial if used according to package instructions, but do not last forever. Most stabiliser products work for only 12 to 15 months and do not improve fuel which has already oxidised or become contaminated with water. Adding fresh stabiliser after the initial treatment is unlikely to extend the life of the fuel. Adding more stabiliser than recommended also does not increase product effectiveness.

Misconceptions

Some people believe that fuel does not go bad, and that fuel stabilisers are a waste of money. While old fuels will often continue to burn, they don't do it as efficiently as fresh fuels or fuels which have been stored with added stabiliser. On average, stabiliser improves the useful life of a fuel about five times, extending the life of gasoline from about three months to around fifteen. Using old fuel which was not treated with a stabiliser can result in clogs or expensive engine damage in the long run.

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