Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sea Foam - Chinese Water Torture?

Wise men say that sucking water into your engine can result in hydrolock. Water doesn't compress very much, so you run the risk of causing severe engine damage by intentionally sucking it in.

Yet the automotive forums say that Water + Sea Foam = Fountain of Youth. The promises are remarkable; better fuel mileage, more power, smoother running. The horror stories, few. The online video tutorials, amusing.

So like a later day Ponce de León, I slid a can of Sea Foam across the counter at my local auto parts store yesterday. The clerk gave me a curious look, as if he knew something I didn't. It reminded of the first time I bought condoms at the grocery store. Then and now, I hoped the clerk's smirk wasn't knowledge of disaster awaiting.

Later that evening, under the cover of darkness, I began the ritual. The engine was warmed up while an old priest and a young priest were summoned. A few cups of water were sucked into the motor, followed by the sea foam. My helper, my wife in this case, kept the engine running at 3000 rpm but kept asking me if I knew what I was doing. I feigned confidence, all the while knowing that the price of failure would be measured in humiliating stories told at cocktail parties and family gatherings for years to come. With each puff of white smoke out the tail pipe, I wondered how this would turn out.

After the initial water torture, I took the car out for an Italian tune up. Given its advanced age and mileage (23 years old, 240K miles), I'd previously never pushed the engine much beyond 4000 rpm. Now I was repeatedly brushing past 6000 rpm into redline. For half an hour, I abused the car with boy racer antics and full throttle motoring. Gushers of white smoke poured forth, as I worried about law enforcement pulling me over for causing so much pollution.

Eventually, the smoke cleared and the engine began purring. It appears that the motor survived. Indeed, it was now running quite smoothly. From the seat of the pants, it also seemed like the engine was even a little more powerful. I'm not sure if it was the sea foam itself or the Italian Tune up which followed, but thus far I'm satisfied with the results (i.e. humiliation avoided). I've been tracking my fuel consumption, so over the next week I'll be able to tell if there was an actual improvement.

Stay tuned...

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