CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Pulstar spark plugs?

A bit of net searching shows that those hokey plugs and the accompanying BS is succeeding in their purpose: drawing in money.
Tax breaks from the state of New Mexico, several million in investment capital from a venture capital outfit (Altira) in Denver, etc.

Allegedly this kind of thing passed EPA test 75 about 3 years ago and was proven to boost mileage by 10%. So why have the car makers, plug companies, and most importantly, the FEDS, been all over this gimmick?

You’ve got to love the test rigs for the predecessor (Directhits) to this gimmick. Same company though.
NM Highway Dept. vehicles (a dozen or so) piloted by different people all the time under different conditions. 20% gain in mileage! 40% more power! Some no gain in power or mileage at all.
This HWY Dept. station must be located in a desert area with a lot of peyote.

This was allegedly done in 1993. If these things were miracle workers 15 years back then why has the Gov. not mandated them a long time ago? Answer. Bunk.
The tax breaks, the appearance of constantly coming up with something innovative keeps the management in high salaries and expense accounts.
Wonder how much of that 3 million from Altira went into R and D? :slight_smile:

Every five years a new spark plug comes out with an amazing claim and then vanishes. The only ones that stick around are the ones that don’t cost a fortune. Anything over four bucks will disappear after a little while. Twenty-five bucks will disappear a lot faster than normal. Better stock up if you want to use them a second time. If they are around even three years from now, I will be surprised.

The federal gov. tested these and got a 2.7% increase in mpg. To me that means that some people will get 5-6%. Other will get nothing or a little less mpg. So, if you have about 18 months (or lots of miles) for the plugs to pay for themselves, it may be worth the cost. Personally, I’m driving about 25K a year, so even a 3% increase would be good for me.

The federal gov. tested these and got a 2.7% increase in mpg.

What does this mean? It sounds suspicious for a highly suspect product like this to have an anonymous poster simply state that the federal government tested it and got a 2.7% increase.

Please point us at the official document describing the feds testing.

Without any pointers to help the rest of us validate your claim, your post sounds too much like someone who is profiting from this product - something this board has seen numerous times.

Joe

I can find no evidence anywhere that the EPA tested these. However, there are a number of sites (non-governmental and generally related to this scam) in which they claim they did their own version of the FTP75 testing - which is emissions related.

Passing the test does not mean the product will do what they say; it only means emissions are not worsened by the product.

Read about the Ethos Fuel Reformulator - “it’s CARB (Cal. Air Resources Board) certified”, and a scam also.
Read about this one. It also “meets EPA FTP75 standards”.
http://www.firfuelsaver.com/index.html

This spark plug hokum has been around 15 years and you don’t wonder why a plug maker or car company has not been all over this - if it worked?

I’m sure Barnum is looking down in absolute awe and envy while wondering “Why ain’t I alive today!”

The “federal government” tested them? Which agency?

Unless Mr. Anonymous can supply the name of the governmental agency that tested them and can supply a link to the actual test information, I will remain convinced that this is just a bunch of trolling for business for a scam product.

Caveat Emptor!

I am old enough to remember J.C.Whitney selling 4 electrode plugs, I used them in a 1949 Indian vertical twin and they worked but didnt boost mileage. I own a V10 Ford with coil pkgs on each plug. That is supposed to help mileage but I got the same with a single coil system. The best thing I have found that helps is proper maintance, oil changes, tire pressure, anti freeze change, Good driving habits, fan belt tension, get the idea? I own several older cars and the ignition system helps them run great but the mileage is determinded by the driver more than the hype. Lee Kazee Columbus Ohio

I’d like to play devil’s advocate here and offer this plug the benefit of a doubt. The idea of gimmick spark plugs is simply that you never achieve 100% combustion in a cylinder, and that by increasing the temperature of the ignition device (spark plug) you achieve greater ignition. Significance aside, it’s true.

One simple explanation as to why car companies aren’t utilizing this is that the $25.00/plug price tag is not worth a measly 3% (optimistic) increase in fuel economy. That $150.00 or more could be better spent in R&D on intake manifolds or ECM firmware.

If they were less than $5.00 each, I might try them, but the liklihood that the are Bo-o-o-GUS is way too high to go burning $150.00 to put a set in my V6.

Another concern I have is that these aren’t platinium plugs and would probably need replacing much sooner than my Bosch Platinums.

I’d like to see the results of some independent testing to see if these plugs do improve the combustion efficiency, and therefore the fuel economy, but I won’t be funding any independent testing anytime soon.

In conclusion, I’d say that the claims aren’t so outrageous to be unbelievable, but that’s because they’re not terribly significant. (note the lack of units in their “performance” chart)

I liked your arguments. Your post was well thought out and articulate. In the interest of continuing to expand the envelope of the discussion, I’ll provide my perspectives on your points. That is, if I can remember them as I write…doggoned new forum format!

While I’m not privy to manufacturers’ financial analysis data, with the penalties for CAFE noncompliance being significant enough to compell the manufacturers to spend millions every year fighting stricter requirements and developing new technologies to comply, any set of plugs that would give them a slight edge for less than a few hundred bucks per vehicle would probably be welcomed by them. Besides, they’d have the power of mass purchasing and be able to get the plugs for a fraction of the current retail price.

On the complete combustion question, I would argue that unburned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide levels for current cars would suggest that the fuel is almost totally completely combusted already.

Perhaps I missed something on the website, but I didn’t see anything that would prevent the use of platinum or even irridium (some 8X harder than platinum) electrodes. If in fact a higher energy spark were produced, irridium electtrodes would be almost a necessity.

I too would like to see some idependent analysis. I too have to plans to offer funding.

  • mountainbike

I’ll admit that my statement that they’re not platinum was an assumption. I guessed that they would’ve advertised platinum if they used it because it’s one of those buzz-words that car people like to see.

I was really excited about the purchase of these plugs on June 19th and I just received them today July 27th. I was on the phone several times to find out when they were going to be sent, they were billed on the 19th of June to my card. The woman on the phone assured me that they were sorry for the delay and they would send me 12 plugs instead.  I received 6 plugs today and 1 of them was broken. This is not going well so far. I'm in the aviation business where plugs made of iridium and platinum are $80.00 to $95.00 each. So I was not shocked by the price. I am shocked by the service so far. I'll let you know about the broken plug and we will see how that goes. So far I'm really nervous. /;-(

Is there anyone here with a science background who can explain why this stuff doesn’t/can’t work in the real world? So far, the comments here are not very scientific, more like a lot guesses, pseudo logic and innuendo.

If they offered some sound scientific evidence it would be easy to use basic science to disprove it. The problem is their evidence is not scientific, it just sounds that way until you try to figure out exactly what they are saying.

In the end it comes down to one thing, they just don't have any advantage.

The idea of gimmick spark plugs is simply that you never achieve 100% combustion in a cylinder, and that by increasing the temperature of the ignition device (spark plug) you achieve greater ignition. Significance aside, it’s true.

I think not. All the plug can do is to start a chain reaction. Once started it makes no difference what temperature started it.

It’s still utter bunk although the website appears to be doing its job (drawing in the uninformed) who are willing to be separated from their money.

This company’s idea here was allegedly tested almost 15 years ago with success according to their “independent testing”.
Well, look at TV and you will see everything in the world from gas saving devices, weight loss and enhancement products, etc. all going through “independent testing”. Those ads and claims also do the same thing; draw in the naive.

If those plugs actually increased mileage and performance even a measly .03 MPG, much less 3%, then the idea would have been purchased years ago for a lot of money.

Wouldn’t it make common sense that auto manufacture has complete control of how strong a spark is by the size and voltage output if the ignition coil, and that the coil was size for best overall performance and fuel mileage for your car.

It is rather strange that people who apparently have no relevant background beyond high school physics that they either failed or don’t remember, or both, those people feel irresistible urge to voice their opinions…

Now,will putting a capacitor close to the gap increase the intensity of the spark? Yes, it will. Is it going to be 20,000 fold increase? No, it will not. Let me explain you why. Brace for some popular science.

I checked out their paper on the subject (yes, there was a paper published, anyone interested can find the reference, I’m not sure if that paper was pier reviewed though). Their estimation of the peak power developed in the spark is more or less legit. They might be off, but not by much (ten fold or so): it is not easy to estimate the conductivity of the plasma forming the spark itself (the rest is just a bit more than the Ohm’s law). Now, what they didn’t get right in their paper is the estimation of the power developed in the spark of a regular plug. In their calculations (you have to believe me or you have to check their paper), they disregarded the capacitance of the plug, which plays a major role. Let me explain you what they did wrong. Any regular plug has a built-in capacitor, just because the central electrode is not very far from the ground electrode. The typical capacitance of a regular plug is something to the tune of 10 pF, depending on the type of the plug. (The capacitance of the so-called pulstar plugs is about 10 times higher; no room to explain how I know). In their calculations that yielded 50W for a regular plug they did not take that capacitance into account. Bottom line: there will be noticeable difference in the intensity of the spark (their comparison with a flash is actually a good analogy),but the difference will be much lower that the claimed 20,000 times. Not because their spark is weaker, but because the usual spark is much stronger that 50W.

OK, the spark is stronger, now what? Is it going to help to achieve better fuel economy and more power? Yes, in principle, it can. The arguments like “it doesn’t matter how you start fire, with a match or a blow torch” are not entirely correct. This has a lot to do with variations between cycles, I’m not going there, this post is getting too long already. Let me put it this way: do you believe that good ignition and good (regular)plugs make some difference? Then it does matter how you start that fire. So, yes, more powerful spark can help. The major question here is how much room for improvement do modern ignition systems leave? My feeling is: not that much. But I might be wrong.

Next, is it a new idea to put a capacitor in parallel with the gap? Not really. There were at least two previous incarnations. First, Nology wires. The idea was similar, but execution was flawed. Nology wires did add extra capacitance, but it was distributed along the wire and because of the resistance of the wire itself, the effects of that extra capacitor were negated even with non-resistor plugs. Connecting a capacitor in such a way that there is a noticeable resistance between it and the gap practically eliminates the effect of the capacitor (this is why connecting Nology wires to resistor-type plugs is plain silly).

Second incarnation of the same idea. So called DirectHits attachment to the regular (but necessary non-resistor type plug). The attachment was a 80-100 or so pF capacitor, nothing more. This should work exactly like the “pulstar” plug. Those thing were (and still are) sold by the same company.I personally couldn’t find any credible (that is not posted by the company) testimonials that they actually worked (and I’m sure they sold a lot of them over the years!). If Direct hits didn’t help, the “pulstars” won’t either.If DirectHits helped, “pulstars” will as well. Period. Granted,“pulstar” plugs will reduce or eliminate the radio interference that DirectHits were causing, but it is still the same thing.

Credibility of the company’s claims. In my view: very low. The DirectHits were claimed to give something to the tune of 10-20% improverement in everything for some applications. In my book this puts them in the same league with the “turbonators” etc. 2.7% would be believable (and, actually, constitute a great achievement), but then it would be nice to see the actual results, the records of the test. They are not posted. All this doesn’t mean that the idea is flawed and doesn’t work. It could. Just bashing it is silly; what is needed is a really independent testing.

Another concern. What happens when a regular plug fails? Well, it fails, you replace it, end of story. What happens if a capacitor in “pulstar” plug fails? Well, you will have your high voltage circuit shorted to the ground. Something tells me that your coil (and maybe things upstream) is not going to like it very much. Could prove more expensive than the plugs themselves.

And no, I have no relation to the company whatsoever. And yes, I’m a scientist.

Explain a few things to those of us not so brilliant…

How exactly does the capacitor increase the intensity of the spark? If the capacitor is charged by the rapid field collapse of the coil windings, the spike of which is, say, 40,000 volts, does not the capacitor charge to 40,000 volts less losses? Is the discharge rate of the capacitor quicker than the field collape of the coil windings around the coil core and subsequent induction? How does delaying the voltage spike to the plug gap by introducing the delay of charging and discharging a capacitor enhance the combustion process?

The spark… is not the spark intensity a function of the gap size, the breakdown voltage of the matter in the gap, and the potential applied at the tips of the electrodes? Does not the resistance of the gap drop immediately as soon as the voltage energizes the fuel between the electrodes? Assuming the capacitor cannot charge to a voltage any higher than the spike that charges it, and assuming both have an extremely fast discharge rate, how does the intensity of the spark become greater? Where does the added energy come from?

  • mountainbike

Explain a few things to those of us not so brilliant…

How exactly does the capacitor increase the intensity of the spark?

-See below.

If the capacitor is charged by the rapid field collapse of the coil windings, the spike of which is, say, 40,000 volts, does not the capacitor charge to 40,000 volts less losses?

-There will be no substantial loss since the capacitance is very low for the duration of the charge. The capacitor will charge to the same, say, 40kV.

Is the discharge rate of the capacitor quicker than the field collape of the coil windings around the coil core and subsequent induction?

-Yes, provided that the resistance of the discharge circuit is low, which is true for the non-resistor type plugs as in “DirectHits” or for “Pulstar” plugs where the condenser is positioned directly before the gap, that is after resistor in the plug.

How does delaying the voltage spike to the plug gap by introducing the delay of charging and discharging a capacitor enhance the combustion process?

The 100 pF is a low capacitance. The resistance of the wires and the coil itself will result in some delay for charging, indeed, but this delay will be negligible. Even 6000 RPM is very slow for 100 pF connected to a several kOhm resistor (typical resistance of wires and the secondary coil). This delay itself has nothing to do with the putative effects of the contraption in question.

The spark… is not the spark intensity a function of the gap size, the breakdown voltage of the matter in the gap, and the potential applied at the tips of the electrodes?

Not only. Make a spark by shortening a small 12V battery from, say, a portable radio and (please don’t) make a spark by shortening a car battery. Same potential, but the two can sustain very different amperage (the actual difference is in the internal resistance of the two: in the car battery it is much lower). And this is what matters. However, if you charge a condenser using the same small battery from the radio, the shortening the capacitor can prove itself quite an experience. In this case the amperage in the spark will depend on the resistance of the plasma in the spark plus the resistance of the wires going from the condenser to the spark.

Does not the resistance of the gap drop immediately as soon as the voltage energizes the fuel between the electrodes?

-The resistance of the gap does drop dramatically after ionization has occurred.

Assuming the capacitor cannot charge to a voltage any higher than the spike that charges it, and assuming both have an extremely fast discharge rate, how does the intensity of the spark become greater? Where does the added energy come from?

-Some extra energy comes during the extra time the coil has to work harder charging the condenser, the condenser stores it until it is essentially shortened by ionization in the gap (aka spark). But there is more (less?) to it than just energy: the discharge of the capacitor through a low resistance circuit happens very fast. If we define “intensity” as the maximum power developed in the spark, it will go up as the duration of the discharge goes down even if the total energy of discharge is the same, this one reason why the power can go up substantially when a condenser is attached. In reality, the energy dissipated goes up, too (see above), so the combined effect is even stronger.

-Bottom line: I’m sure you’ll get stronger spark, but, again, I’m not so sure it will help to achieve the advertised benefits as opposed to screwing up the way computer-controlled engine operates (the coil will behave differently from the standpoint of the controller when a capacitor is attached to the plug). Testing. Only testing can answer.

One thing that is not happening is 40k volts jumping the spark plug gap when it fires.
On a normal engine that spark is usually 7-9k volts. It varies depending on a lot of factors, including plug gap and condition, compression ratio, valve timing, rpms, etc, etc.

As to testing, how long does that take? Allegedly this idea was tested in 1993 by the NM Dept. of Highways on the recommendation of this company and allegedly found to work. (Bunk IMHO)

So it’s now 15 years later and no gov. agency, car maker, or spark plug maker has beaten a path to their door.
It seems to me that 15 years is enough time to work out the bugs and present a viable product, if it even existed.
The only thing that appears to have happened is that they have managed to keep procuring tax breaks and investment capital.

One thing that is not happening is 40k volts jumping the spark plug gap when it fires.
On a normal engine that spark is usually 7-9k volts. It varies depending on a lot of factors, including plug gap and condition, compression ratio, valve timing, rpms, etc, etc.

-This is correct if there is no capacitor attached to the gap. The voltage applied directly to the firing gap will depend on ratio of resistance of the plasma in the gap (which depends on a lot of factors correctly mentioned in the comment) to the total resistance of the circle (which also includes internal resistance of the secondary coil, wires and resistor in the plug, if any). The reality is a bit more complicated, but the final answer is the same: the voltage on the gap will be substantially lower than the one generated by the coil, correct.
However, if you have a capacitor attached directly to the gap (no substantial resistance between the two), the initial voltage applied to the gap will be those 40kV or whatever the coil produced, then it will go down quickly as the capacitor discharges. The spark will be powerful, but short. This is one of the reasons why this whole idea might not work: it is not clear if a short, but very powerful spark is better for ignition that a weaker, but much longer one.