Gas Crisis Fuels Dubious Online Offers
Want to cut your fuel costs by 60 percent, use water as fuel, receive a free $1000 gas card, or lock down the price of gas to $2.49 a gallon? You can find these offers on the Web--but experts say most are bogus, designed to collect personal information, to get you to sign up for services you may not want, or to sell you pricey gizmos that won't save you a dime in fuel costs.
With gas prices headed toward $5 a gallon, many people are understandably looking for ways to cut costs at the pump--and some sites can help you hunt down the lowest gas price in your neighborhood. But the Web (not to mention your inbox) is also brimming with dubious offers for free gas and schemes to save at the pump. Experts say that in most cases, you should steer clear.
"It comes down to your mother's advice," says John Paul, spokesperson for the Automobile Association of America, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
But the Better Business Bureau reports that, as gas prices have gone up, so have complaints about sites--some of them heavily promoted in search-engine ads--that promise free gas but deliver only headaches and unwanted e-mail.
'Fill 'er Up With Evian'
The most prevalent gas-savings pitch I've seen on the Web lately is for a kit that's supposed to show how to use water to supplement a car's use of gasoline in order to reduce fuel costs. A headline on a site called Half Water Half Gas, for example, reads: "Use water as fuel, cut your costs by as much as 60 percent and make the environment better and make your car run better at the same time."
Most of these water-as-fuel kits show you how to create a Mason jar-size gizmo that sits under your car's hood and, supposedly, extracts hydrogen from water. According to Half Water Half Gas, the hydrogen then is mixed with oxygen to create a fuel called HHO (or oxyhydrogen), which the device then pumps into your engine's intake manifold to reduce (but not eliminate) its dependence on gas.
Sites such as RunYourCarWithWater.com are also pitching $50 manuals for HHO conversion and conversion kits that range in price from $150 to $1150.
Experts say such car kits are hogwash. "All of these devices look like they could probably work for you, but let me tell you they don't," says AAA spokesperson Paul.
And Popular Mechanics editor Mike Allen, in a report called "The Truth About Water-Powered Cars: Mechanic's Diary," described the water-powered car kits advertised on the Internet as "rubbish" and "outrageous." Only under tightly controlled settings, Allen wrote, might a hybrid HHO and gasoline car see modest increases in fuel efficiency.
In other words, claims by some sites that these kits will increase your engine's gas mileage by 10 to 80 percent are not realistic.
Free Gas Cards: Not Such a Deal
I found one typical free-gas offer by clicking a search-engine text ad with a pitch that read, "Getting A $1000 Gas Gift Card For Free Is Simple," for a site called ExxonMobileGiftCard.com. I didn't pursue the offer, however, because my McAfee SiteAdvisor browser toolbar identified the hyperlink presented within the ad as "unsafe" and described the site it links to as a "high volume or spammy e-mailer."
It turns out that the McAfee SiteAdvisor warning didn't even apply to ExxonMobileGiftCard.com: SiteAdvisor spokesperson Shane Keats explains that the McAfee warning actually applies to a site called paydayasap.com to which the link sends you (transparently) before redirecting you to ExxonMobilGiftCard.com. SiteAdvisor flags PayDayASAP.com because people who signed up for its promotions received nearly 150 unsolicited e-mail pitches within a week.
While stressing that the ExxonMobilGiftCard.com site (which does not appear to have any relationship to ExxonMobil) has not been formally reviewed by SiteAdvisor, Keats says the site "has all the hallmarks of a scam site."
Keats says most "free gas" sites, like free iPod sites, are really just come-ons designed to make money from visitors. ExxonMobilGiftCard.com, for example, pitches you dozens of services, products, and free trials (including an "Ivory White Teeth Whitening free trial kit" that requires a credit card payment of $4.87 for delivery).
The site requires that you take what it calls a survey, which is basically a series of sales pitches for weight-loss pills, car loans, books, and the like. After you've declined all of them, you're told that to get the gift card you must accept at least two offers.
Keats says that many of the "free gas card" sites SiteAdvisor has reviewed earn commissions on the offers--and that if you share your e-mail address, phone number, and maybe even cell-phone number, you can expect a deluge of marketing e-mail messages. The value of the commissions and your personal information can easily exceed that of the free gift card.
And you may not ever see the card: Keats says less than 5 percent of people who sign up for every offer actually get the "free" gas card (or iPod).