How Big Trucks Got Better Fuel Economy

2011 Ford F-150. Source | Creative Commons

It’s no secret that we Americans love our trucks, and that love is unlikely to dwindle any time soon. This love story has had its ups and downs though, with its intensity mostly affected by fluctuating gas prices. (See: 2005, when truck sales took a nosedive in light of spiking gas prices and many truck owners turned to more compact, fuel-efficient cars to save some money.)

But as soon as oil prices started to drop sharply, truck sales picked right back up. Still, automakers are well aware that gas won’t stay cheap forever, and that the minute it becomes substantially more expensive, they’ll see a new sales slump.

That realization, along with tightening federal fuel economy standards, has motivated manufacturers to produce pickup trucks that have much better gas mileage than they used to. So how are they managing to build more fuel-efficient trucks without sacrificing their size, strength, and performance? Here’s a look at the solutions they’ve put in place.

Turbocharging

One of the most effective measures has been the addition of turbocharged engines. Usually used in high-performance sports cars up until a few years ago, turbochargers can now be found in many pickup trucks and SUVs. Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost engine in the F-150 is one of the most notable instances. When Ford first introduced the EcoBoost technology in the 2011 F-150, it brought the truck’s combined mpg from 16 mpg to 18, surpassing practically all of its competitors.

Turbochargers use the waste-exhaust energy from an engine to feed additional pressurized air into the engine’s combustion chambers, helping it burn more fuel. This means that turbochargers allow automakers to design an engine that will provide the same amount of power, or even more than naturally aspirated engines, without having to increase the engine’s size—the usual method for achieving a large power boost. Research shows that using a smaller, turbocharged engine to deliver the same performance as an engine without one cuts fuel consumption by up to six percent. (Here’s more about how turbos work.)

Start-stop systems

Another nifty piece of technology making it possible for people to drive large SUVs and pickup trucks without spending a fortune at the pump are start-stop systems. When manufacturers first introduced the technology, it was mainly used in hybrids. It’s now a common feature in internal combustion engine vehicles, including trucks.

Start-stop systems save fuel by automatically shutting a vehicle’s engine down when coming to a complete stop, such as at a red light. The system shuts off the engine when drivers release the gas pedal and fully depress the brake, and restarts it when drivers take their foot off the brake and press the gas pedal. The Ram 1500, for example, has this tech. Some estimates show that auto start-stop systems can boost fuel savings by three to five percent.

Variable valve timing and variable pumps

We expect manufacturers to continue exploring all sorts of technologies to improve the fuel economy of trucks, probably increasingly relying on variable valve timing, variable pumps, and, possibly, cylinder deactivation.

Whatever the solutions manufacturers opt for, those who love trucks can rest assured that their beloved large vehicles are only going to get more efficient.

Do you own a truck with some of these technologies? Let us know if they really help improve gas mileage in the comments below.

How Does a Turbo Work?

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Source | Dave_7/Flickr

Auto manufacturers have almost exclusively used turbochargers in sports cars or race cars in the last couple of decades. Considering their main purpose is to provide a large boost in power, that does make a lot of sense. Now that automakers need to improve the fuel economy in vehicles across their lineups, they’ve started using turbocharged engines in daily drivers too.

This rise in popularity is mainly because turbochargers make engines work more efficiently. And when engines don’t have to work as hard, they use less fuel. Fuel-cost savings are among the top benefits of a turbocharger, along with the power output surge it provides.

Despite more widespread use of turbochargers in recent years, there are still a lot of questions about what they do and how a turbo works. We’re going to take a look at the technology behind turbochargers. We’ll also look at how they’ve evolved since they first appeared in a production vehicle back in 1962.

What is a turbo and how does a turbo work?

To understand how a turbo works, you first need to know its components and what each of them does. The two fundamental parts are a compressor and a turbine, forming what is essentially an air pump. The compressor consists of a wheel, a housing, and a diffuser. The turbine, for its part, has a wheel and a housing.

The main goal of a turbocharger is to boost the power output of an engine, without having to increase the engine’s size. Here’s how a turbo provides power:

  1. It takes in exhaust gasses from the engine through its turbine wheel.
  2. This process causes the turbine wheel to start spinning. A shaft connects the turbine wheel to the compressor wheel, causing it to rotate as well.
  3. Once the compressor wheel begins to spin, it takes in ambient air and compresses it.
  4. From there, it sends the compressed air through the compressor housing over to the chambers of the engine.
  5. The compressed air enters the engine’s combustion chambers, providing the engine with more power and torque.

Nowadays, automakers factory-install or offer as aftermarket parts a few different types of turbos. Beyond the basic type of turbo configuration—the single turbo—there are parallel twin turbo configurations, sequential turbos, and quad turbos.

1962 Oldsmobile Cutlass/F85

1962 Oldsmobile Cutlass/F85, Source | Greg Gjerdingen

From the ’62 Oldsmobile Cutlass and Chevrolet Corvair, to Ford’s EcoBoost

The first production car to feature a turbocharged engine was the 1962 Oldsmobile Cutlass. This classic car was powered by a 3.5-liter aluminum V8 engine, with a power output of 215 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. That same year, Chevrolet rolled out a turbocharged Corvair. Both became trendsetters for turbocharged cars. In 1975, Porsche introduced its first turbocharged model: the 911 Turbo, helping make the technology famous around the globe.

For the past few years most global automakers launched models that use a turbocharged engine, with Ford’s EcoBoost technology arguably leading the way. Ford includes EcoBoost engines across most of its lineup, including the F-150, sports cars, family sedans, and SUVs. Its main turbo-engine competitors include Audi, Chevrolet, and Volvo. The market should continue to grow—many European and US automakers say they plan to invest in this technology for years to come. (Japanese manufacturers have focused more on hybrids and electric vehicles.)

Lower fuel consumption, higher power output—but at a cost

Like with most vehicle technologies, turbochargers have their drawbacks. To create power, the turbocharger supplies the engine with more condensed air by using the exhaust energy from the engine, which would otherwise be wasted. Turbocharged engines deliver the same amount of power as non-turbocharged engines twice their size. Because of that, automakers don’t have to install larger engines.

But there’s a reason why turbos have yet to become a staple in every single car. Turbocharged engines are more expensive to build than their naturally aspirated counterparts. Creating an efficient and durable turbo is a complicated engineering process. That’s why they were usually found in luxury, high-performance cars. Only recently have cost reductions helped get them into more mainstream models.

Aside from high production costs, there are also a couple of downsides to turbos. One of the biggest drawbacks from a consumer perspective is turbo lag. Turbo lag is the time it takes for a turbocharger to start supplying the engine with an increased pressure and, consequently, a power boost. A turbocharger only provides a boost after it reaches a certain RPM threshold. Turbo lag is the time it takes an engine to reach that threshold after idling, or from a low speed.

Reaching the threshold for a power boost can lead to another downside of using a turbocharger. Once it reaches the threshold, the turbo speedily delivers an increase in power. That power boost can make the car difficult to control, which makes turbos potentially dangerous if a driver doesn’t know what to expect.

Sticking around

Even with the pitfalls, the consensus in the automotive industry seems to be that turbos are here to stay, and they’ll continue to get more popular in the near future. Automakers face strict fuel economy standards in many markets around the globe, prompting them to invest in fuel-saving technologies like turbochargers. Good thing we think they’re pretty fun.

What about you? Are you a fan of turbos? Share your tips and experience in the comments.

 

How Does a Code Reader Work?

car speedometer with the check engine light illuminated

Source | Chris Isherwood/Flickr

When that “check engine” light comes on, many drivers start thinking about their bank accounts. They wonder if they need to immediately pull over and have it towed for an expensive repair, or if the issue is something minor that can wait a few days. The light sure gets your attention, even if you’re an expert DIYer. But what does it mean?

There’s a way to find out. Code readers are affordable DIY tools that provide valuable information about the state of your vehicle and, potentially, a solution to the problem.

Wait, why even have computers in cars?

Story time. Volkswagen and Bosch created the first electronic fuel injection system in 1968, but computer controls didn’t really catch on in the US until the late 1970s. With increasingly strict emissions standards, plus a couple of gas shortages, the new engine control unit (ECU) would reduce the car’s emissions and improve fuel economy. These initial computers were connected to just a few sensors. They could read the incoming data, compare that info against tables stored in permanent memory, and adjust the controls as needed for the ideal result.

It worked. Air pollution improved, fuel economy increased, and basic ECUs picked up more and more sensors. This was the first era of on-board diagnostics computers, later called OBD1.

Problems popped up when you tried to take your fancy new 1980 Ford Escort LX to your favorite local mechanics. They didn’t have the tools to diagnose your new ride, because they didn’t want to buy a $5,000 diagnostic tool just for Fords. See, each manufacturer built computers according to their own specifications, so a Ford diagnostic tool wasn’t going to work on a Dodge, and small shops couldn’t afford to buy a tool to service every brand.

Fortunately, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) got together with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with industry-standardized diagnostics and connectors. Starting Jan. 1, 1996, OBDII became standard.

OBD-II engine code reader

OBDII Code Reader, Source | Flickr

How a code reader works

When an automotive sensor fails, its specific outputs change. For example, let’s say the air intake temperature sensor gets corroded over time and eventually fails to work. The ECU is looking for a specific signal range from that sensor, and will throw up a “check engine” light and store a code “P0113″ or similar if that signal fails to register to the ECU. When the ECU doesn’t receive a signal within normal operating tolerances, the ECU illuminates the “check engine” light to get your attention. In short, the “check engine” light alerts you to a problem, and the stored code tells you what the problem is.

The code reader connects to your 16-pin OBDII port, usually located under the steering column. The code reader and ECU use the same programming language and are able to communicate, so the reader understands that “P0113″ is a failed air intake temperature sensor and puts this on the display screen. With this knowledge you can take a quick trip to the auto-parts store and replace the sensor. If the code is still stored after replacement and starting the engine, you can manually clear the error code by setting the code reader to erase it from memory.


Pro Tip: To help you diagnose a vehicle problem, Advance offers free code reading at most store locations (see store for details).


How code readers help you

With industry-standard connection and software, the formerly expensive mechanic’s equipment quickly became affordable for the average motorist. The simplest and cheapest readers will only display the error code. Something like “P0300″ will show in the display window. Then it’s up to you and Google to decode it—in this case a misfire not tied to any specific cylinder.

Going up slightly in price, more advanced code readers usually have large display screens. These readers can display the error in plain language, or offer the ability to read and reset ABS brake codes or the SRS airbag light. Instead of just the displayed error code, you might see something like “oxygen sensor 1, bank 1.” And instead of spending time digging through Google’s search results, you can go buy the oxygen sensor and install it. This saves you time and hassle, and probably money, too. You can skip the dealership service bay and the aggressive upsell on services.

While more complex, these advanced code readers are still easy to use. If you can download and install a smartphone app, you have the technical skill level to use a code reader. People sometimes get intimidated by any product with the word “diagnostics” in the name, but this might be the easiest tool you can use on a vehicle. Literally, you just plug it in.

Skirting the system

Now, don’t just buy a code reader to clear your check engine light so you can pass the emissions test or safety inspection. It doesn’t work like that. Inspections technicians have advanced code readers that can detect when there is still an issue with your vehicle. Remember, turning out the light doesn’t make the issue go away. The fuel injector or oxygen sensor that triggered the check engine light is still malfunctioning, even if you temporarily cleared the code. The code-erase function should be used after the repair to validate that the issue is fixed.

Have any advice on using a code reader? Let others know in the comments below.

Intake Manifolds: Born To Rev

Intake manifold
Intake manifolds
are a fascinating part of the internal combustion engine. Their design has a great deal of influence on how the engine performs. The simplest change can drastically alter how the engine feels under power.

Your engine in its most basic form is an air pump. As the piston moves down the cylinder during the intake stroke, it’s pulling a fuel/air mixture through the intake valve. Above that, your fuel system (unless your car has direct injection) is delivering fuel through the open intake valve. The oxygen supply needed for combustion is coming in at the same time, via the intake manifold.

And why should you know this? Because the design of the intake manifold has a significant effect on the output of your engine.

The Long and Short of It

Back in the days of prohibition, moonshiners started modifying their cars with the purpose of getting away from the law. One of the quickest ways to get more power out of a car is to allow the engine to breathe more efficiently. If an air intake is like your nose, then the intake manifold is like a pair of lungs. You can sniff all you want, but if your lungs aren’t up to the task of taking on that air, you’re going to have trouble.

Intake manifolds are designed to evenly distribute air to each cylinder of the engine. The more cylinders an engine has, the more complex this becomes. Older vehicles were pretty uniform in the way their manifolds were designed. Each cylinder has its own dedicated “runner” that delivers the air to the cylinder through the intake valve(s).

The tricky thing is, the length and diameter of the intake runners affect where you get your power. If your intake runners have a larger diameter, you’ll have higher horsepower, while a smaller diameter has less power but will allow you to reach that peak power more quickly. Longer runners are good for low-end power, while short ones are best for when you need the power in the upper registers of your power band. This is where modern technology comes in handy.

Power Where You Want It

Engine bayOlder cars had to find the happy median with their intake manifold design to perform the best for their typical scenario of use. Many new cars can have the best of both worlds — or at least a broader range of the two. Commonly called the DISA valve, a butterfly valve is built in to their intake manifolds to adjust the length of the intake runners depending on the throttle position. This ingenious little device is quite common on BMWs, for example. It helps bring a wider range of performance to a vehicle without having to swap the intake manifold out for specific power needs.

If you’re modifying an older car and you want more power, you’ll have to stick to the more traditional method. Depending on where you want your power, you’ll want a specifically designed manifold for that purpose. Take this Edelbrock Performer intake for example. You’ll see that in the product description, it’s designed to run at idle to a 5500 RPM limit and will provide a broad torque curve with excellent throttle response and mid-range power. This particular setup would be good for a muscle-car owner who is looking for good power on the street. Good throttle response and mid-range power is what you want if your goal is to be the stoplight drag king. This Edelbrock Performer RPM intake, in contrast, is built with high-end power in mind and would be better suited for situations in which top speed is the end goal.

When To Replace Your Manifold

You may not be looking to soup up your daily driver, but knowing how your car works is always a benefit to a car owner and can save time and money. Most intake manifolds on late-model cars are made of plastic. Over time they may crack, warp, or have a bad gasket. Typical symptoms of a faulty intake manifold would be hard starting, stumbling during acceleration, and often a “check engine” light. A leak in the intake manifold would likely set off a code that your engine is running too lean or getting too much air. A lean running engine could lead to premature detonation in the cylinder, which leads to major damage of the engine.

Have you found the perfect setup for your car? Let us know what you’re running in the comments below!

Upgrade Your Car with Modern Stereo Tech

Whether you’re shopping for your first classic car, handing down a beloved vehicle to a high schooler, or looking to upgrade your current ride, adding modern stereo tech to an older car can bridge the generational gap. It may seem like a daunting task to add Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, USB, and app functionality into a 30- or even 50-year-old automobile. In reality, however, you’re just a few steps away from making it happen.

Source | Andrea/Flickr

1. Find a stereo that fits your needs

Maybe you want to stream Bluetooth audio to your car stereo, but you don’t really need navigation or the more complicated features of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. There are many stereo-head units on the market in the $70-$200 range that will fit the bill perfectly.

If you want to get a bit fancier, look for a head unit that supports your type of smartphone (Apple or Android) and go from there. Some units even feature navigation screens that retract into the dash when not in use. But know that the more complicated and feature-packed your stereo is, the more expensive it’ll be.

2. Find a stereo that fits your car

The ease of this depends on how ‘classic’ your vehicle is. A common industry standard in place since 1984, DIN car radio size, makes it easy to fit any stereo to any car. Your car will have either a single DIN slot for the stereo head unit (roughly 7 inches by 2 inches) or a double DIN slot (roughly 7 inches by 4 inches). It’s possible to mount a single DIN head unit in a double DIN slot with the use of a spacer, but those with single DIN slots won’t be able to swap to double DIN head units.

In addition to choosing the right stereo size for your car, you’ll want to be sure you get a matching faceplate to cover the mounting screws and make the installation look clean and tidy. Often, stereo manufacturers will include a standard faceplate with the head unit, but for some cars with unusual dash opening shapes (Volvo 240s, for example), you’ll want to be sure you have a vehicle-specific trim plate, too.

For cars older than 1984, you’ll find many have slots that will work with DIN or double DIN stereos. You’ll need a mounting plate that’s specific to your make and model, but it should install in a similar manner to more modern cars. For those with older cars with non-standard stereo installation locations or sizes, you’ll need to be a bit more creative, mounting the stereo in a different location. Many owners choose to mount a modern stereo in the glove box to preserve the vintage look, as well as providing a place to mount the new equipment without having to cut or modify the dashboard.

If you’re not comfortable with the level of creativity and possible fabrication installing a stereo in a classic car, there are many custom audio shops that will gladly tackle the project for you. Don’t expect to get the job done at a major chain store though.

3. Find the right wiring harness

It might be a bit intimidating to think about wiring a car stereo into your older vehicle, especially if you’ve never done something like this before. Fortunately, there’s a whole industry built around making this as easy as possible, with adapter harnesses for almost any car you can think of available.

One of the most popular brands is Metra. When looking for the right wiring harness, you’ll want to keep in mind that there are two harnesses offered for most cars: the into-the-car harness and the into-the-stereo harness. You’ll want the into-the-stereo harness for a stereo upgrade, as this is the part that plugs into the car and interfaces with the stereo. Your new head unit will have its own plug with wires coming out of it. To get them working with each other, you’ll need to connect the head unit’s plug and wires to the wiring harness that plugs into your car.

4. Wire it up

If you’re handy with a soldering iron, that’s the best way to connect your new head unit’s plug to your into-the-stereo wiring harness before plugging it into your car. Soldering the connections will ensure you have the most durable, vibration-resistant connection possible. Do your soldering outside the car, preferably on a clean work bench, to ensure you don’t cause any unintended damage.

Pro Tip: Be sure to slip some heat shrink tubing onto each wire before you solder them so you can safely insulate and protect each joint once you’re done.

If you’re not into soldering (and don’t want to learn just yet), you can always use crimp connectors to join the two harnesses. Just follow the instructions on the crimp connector package to ensure you get a good conductive joint.

No matter whether you choose to solder or crimp, connecting the wiring harnesses to each other is usually as simple as matching each wire color. Be sure to reference your head unit’s manual, however, as well as the labeling or instruction that come with your car-to-stereo wiring harness, as some models may use non-standard wire colors.

5. Remove the factory head unit

Many factory head units are installed with anti-theft features to keep thieves from walking away with your stereo. That means you’ll need a special tool, usually a couple of prongs with special shapes, to insert into the sides of your factory head unit, before it will release and slide out of the dash. It’s sometimes possible to make a DIY stereo-removal tool. However, the proper tool is usually cheap to buy, and having the right tool to remove your stereo will make the job much easier and quicker.

6. Plug in the harness, antenna, and any other accessories for your new head unit

The main plug for your new stereo is the one you just finished wiring up, so plug that in. The antenna for AM and FM radio will also be clearly labeled and will be the only connector of its type (typically a round cable with a single prong sticking out of the center). Other accessories, like subwoofers, satellite radio, or CD changers, will have their own specific plugs, and may or may not be compatible with your new head unit.

7. Install the head unit

Once you’re all wired up and plugged in, slide the head unit into the dash until it’s securely in place. Many head units will simply lock into place with a click as it reaches full insertion. Others may require screws to hold them in place. Install any trim surrounds or faceplates necessary to give your installation a finished, professional look, and you’re ready to go.

Once you’ve got the new head unit installed, you’ll be streaming tunes from your phone or music player in no time. Just follow the instructions supplied with your head unit to pair them up, and you’re off and running. Now that your new head unit is working smoothly, you may realize you want a bit more sound than your stock speakers can give you. You may even want more total power than your new head unit can supply, which means you’ll want to install an amplifier. All of this, and more, is possible, no matter the age of your car.

Have you upgraded your ride with stereo tech? We want to hear your experiences in the comments!

The Future of Hot Rodding: Electric Cars

Hot rodders and horsepower enthusiasts tend to have a dismal opinion of electric cars. Once accurately described as slow tin cans, today’s electric vehicles are the future of the muscle car and the hot rodding hobby.

As you probably know, an electric car has no internal combustion engine, but relies on an electric motor and battery for motivation. The upside as a commuter vehicle is reduced operating costs, zero engine noise, and zero at-vehicle emissions. The downsides have traditionally been style and handling, as most early electric cars had all the aesthetics of a melted bar of soap, and all the driving charisma of a kid’s pedal car. Times have changed.

Source | Unsplash/Tim Wright

The future is fast

Tesla currently leads the charge (puns blatantly intended), with overpowered versions of the Model S sedan and Model X crossover. The Model S P100D in the appropriately named Ludicrous Mode can achieve 0 to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds. That’s an impressive number, especially when you consider the electric sedan weighs over 4,600 lbs and can seat seven passengers. This electric $130k American sedan shames million dollar super exotics from Lamborghini and Pagani.

And Tesla isn’t the only one doing electric performance. Porsche’s Mission E looks incredible, and should offer terrific performance. GM recently trademarked the Corvette E-Ray name, so electric performance may be affordable very soon.

Source | Tesla

Under the hood with electric cars

But enough about buying new cars. Half the fun of hot rodding is tinkering under the hood and spinning wrenches, right? That can still happen in the age of electrics.

While these cars don’t need oil changes, they will need maintenance. Everything from the A/C and power steering, to shocks/struts and related suspension parts will eventually need replacing. That electric Nissan Leaf still needs brake pads.

There’s hot rod parts for electrics too. Just like a gas burning ride, you can upgrade the wheels, stance, handling, braking, and so on. If you are just into appearance mods, electric cars will have aftermarket options like body kits, giant wings, and vented hoods too.

Source | Saleen

Electric aftermarket mods

Aftermarket tuning companies will survive in this new electric era just fine. Saleen has been making Ford Mustang parts for decades, but now also fully reworks the Model S into their own distinctive performance sedan renamed the GTX.

And let’s not forget the DIY hot rod market. The motors may be unusually quiet, but they are relatively easy to replace with something more powerful. Just like a small block to big block engine swap, but with more torque and fewer emissions. There’s even the option to retrofit modern electric motors into a classic. There’s nothing wrong with a ’57 Chevy with 1,000 lb/ft of instant torque and no gas bill. In fact, that’s pretty cool.

This era is much like the transition from carburetors to electronic fuel injection (EFI) in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Enthusiasts said EFI would be the death of the performance car, the DIY mechanic and hot rodding, but instead the highly adaptable technology lead to the modern golden age of performance we now enjoy. EFI is the reason we can have street cars running 9 second quarter miles. The electronic age will be different too, but it has the potential to expand the hot rodding hobby into new markets and areas of interest. This is not the end of performance cars, but an exciting new chapter full of potential.

Do any of you have experience maintaining or modding electric cars? We want to hear about it!

The Weird World of Intake Manifolds

 

Intake manifolds are often a hot rodder’s upgrade part but are otherwise mostly ignored. Every minivan on the road has an intake manifold feeding an air and fuel mixture to the cylinder heads, so they don’t have the sexy and complex reputation of a turbocharger. Still, throughout the history of internal combustion, there have been several intake manifolds that left us scratching our heads. Here are a few of the weirdest.

Source | Andy Jensen

If You Can’t Dodge It, Ram It

This one causes a puppy-head-tilt reaction in everyone who sees it for the first time. The Chrysler B-block was a standard and unexciting people-moving engine by 1960 until it was topped by the unique cross-ram manifold. The dual four-barrel carbs sit way out over the exhaust manifolds and run the air charge through a gigantic, 30-inch runner to the opposite side intake port. Yup, the driver’s side feeds the passenger side cylinders, and vice versa. Chrysler rated the 361 cross ram at 310 horsepower, which wasn’t bad considering the muscle-car wars hadn’t really started yet. While it wasn’t a drag strip warrior due to losing power in higher RPMs, the cross-ram-equipped car had an impressive 435 lb-ft of torque down low, thanks to the extremely long runners.

Defying Gravity

What do you do when the traditional intake manifold world gets boring? Turn it upside down — or in this case, sideways. Sidedraft carbs were needed due to packaging constraints on cars with average-size engines in a small engine bay, like the Jaguar XK120 and Datsun 240Z. While North America was familiar with a standard Holley sitting directly on the manifold, the sidedraft style meant the Weber or SU carbs were mounted 90 degrees sideways, feeding a vertically mounted intake manifold. It’s easy to assume that gravity pulls fuel from the carb bowl into the manifold, which means sidedrafts shouldn’t work. Fortunately, the Venturi effect, which draws the air and gas mixture into the engine, is far more influential than gravity, meaning the intake manifold works just the same as if it were installed on top of the engine. If you want really weird-looking, there’s aftermarket kits to put sidedrafts on a rotary.

Truck Engine in a Sports Car

Remember the ’80s? No? Well, lucky you. The rest of us suffered for a bit while the manufacturers tried to figure out how to balance horsepower with emissions. GM’s solution was electronic-fuel injection with the tuned port intake (TPI) manifold. The distinctive long curved runners connecting the plenum to the lower manifold are a source of the engine’s torque, with a tuned length that takes advantage of pulses in the air charge at low and mid RPM. Right as the pulse of air is about to slam into the closed intake valve, it opens, sending a blast of slightly compressed air into the chamber. While only generating 245 horsepower, the TPI could make an impressive-for-the-time, 345 lb-ft of torque. If that isn’t oddball enough for you, the ’85 to ’88 V8s had nine fuel injectors.

Looks Like a Bad Day at the Factory

A transverse (sideways) mounted intake manifold make sense on a transverse mounted engine, like the modern Toyota Corolla. The cylinders are in a line between the wheel wells, and the intake manifold lines up with the cylinders left to right. Things get quite a bit more confusing when looking at the engine bay of the Infiniti Q45. The Nissan VH series engines were longitudinal (front to back) V8s driving the rear wheels but topped by a spider-like intake manifold sitting sideways as if it were front wheel drive. The reasoning behind the strange layout is unclear, but it was probably for packaging or emissions. This reminds us that the orientation of the intake manifold does not always determine the drive wheels. For further proof, look to the ’90s Acura Legend. While the engine drives the front wheels, the longitudinally mounted manifold suggests the rear wheels are driven. Oddly, this layout in a modern Japanese EFI sedan recalls the classic Oldsmobile Toronado.

While these oddities are no longer in production (excluding some as aftermarket upgrades), they solved an engineering dilemma of their times.

If you know of any other unusual intake manifolds that should be on this list, make sure to let us know in the comments.

Our Forefixers: The Winter Innovators

Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stop today’s drivers from getting somewhere sunny and bright! Nope, we’re not referring to the delivery route of your friendly neighborhood USPS worker. We’re talking about cold-weather-fighting automotive inventions like winter tires and all-wheel drive, which let motorists go wherever they want regardless of the season.

But where did these inventions come from? Here are the origin stories of some of winter’s most essential features.

Tires

Source | Imthaz Ahamed/Unsplash

Winter Tires

Picture this: it’s a frosty winter’s night in Finland in 1934, and horse-drawn carts are still a common sight. The cars of the time are nowhere near as well-built as today’s, and slush and ice on the roads only make being behind the wheel even scarier.

Enter Nokian, who recognized the need for a tire suited to frozen climates. The company first designed cold-resistant rubber for delivery trucks that had no choice but to drive on the white stuff. The tires featured a never-before-seen type of asymmetrical tread pattern that went sideways to bite into snow. Two years later, it was adapted for passenger vehicles, allowing all drivers to keep cool in slippery situations.

Ferdinand Porsche

Ferdinand Porsche

 

All-Wheel Drive

He created the Volkswagen Beetle, the world’s first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, as well as the first mid-engine, rear-wheel drive race car—so, we have to ask, was there anything Ferdinand Porsche couldn’t do?

Apparently not! While working for pioneering car manufacturer Jacob Lohner & Co., Porsche also invented the first automobile powered by all four wheels. Did we forget to tell you that the aforementioned hybrid had individual electric hub motors on each wheel, driven by an onboard engine-powered generator? This unique model was debuted at the Paris Auto Salon in 1900. Now, Porsche offers all-wheel drive on everything from Cayennes to 911s.

Saab

Source | Saab

Heated Seats

Keeping your tush toasty in the middle of February is as easy as flicking a switch, thanks to heated seats. This wasn’t the case until 1972, when the feature was made standard on a few of the models, like the 95, 96, and 99 sedans, offered by now sadly defunct Swedish automaker Saab. (According to one legend, the innovation came about in an attempt to alleviate a Saab executive’s back pain.) Unfortunately for the owners of those first vehicles, sitting in the hot seat wasn’t optional, because the function turned on automatically when the interior dipped below a certain predetermined temperature whether they liked it or not.

Do you know of any forefixers who changed the way we drive in winter? Share what you know below.

Why Do Car Batteries Die in Winter?

Few things are more frustrating than climbing into a cold, snow-covered car or truck only to hear the dreaded “click-click” of a dead battery. It happens to the best of us. But why does a car battery’s life seem to end more frequently in winter? Read on for the reason why.

Car battery

Source | Flickr

The inner life of your vehicle’s battery

First, a quick refresher on the science happening inside a car battery. Lead acid batteries are the most common car batteries because they’re inexpensive and fairly dependable. They’re made of a plastic case that houses a series of lead plates immersed in a pool of electrolyte—a mix of water and sulfuric acid. Each pair of plates makes up one “cell.” When fully charged, each cell in a lead acid battery produces 2.1 volts. So, a 12-volt battery consists of six cells.

The lead acid battery doesn’t produce a charge, but receives and stores an initial charge through a chemical reaction between the cell’s lead plates and the electrolyte. But as the chemical reaction occurs, the positive and negative lead plates are slowly coated with lead sulfate. This process is known as sulfation, and it reduces your battery’s ability to hold a full charge.

To complicate matters, lead acid batteries experience self-discharge, a natural loss of charge over time. Left too long without a fresh charge, a battery can discharge beyond recovery.

So why do batteries fail in winter?

Extreme heat or cold can increase your battery’s rate of discharge, making winter a triple-threat to your battery. All that exposure to summer’s heat evaporates the water in the electrolyte, increasing sulfation. Then winter rolls around, and freezing temperatures slow the chemical reactions occurring inside a lead acid battery, further reducing your battery’s ability to perform.

At the same time, a cold engine and sluggish oil demand more power, while power-hungry features like heat and defrost place more demand on your battery. Although lead acid batteries last an average of four years, they can fail earlier under the right (or wrong) conditions.

Signs of a failing battery

Your battery won’t always warn you before it fails, but here are common signs to watch for:

    • Headlights dim yellow instead of white
    • Dashboard battery warning light is on
    • Electronic accessories fail
    • Engine cranks more slowly
    • Dome lights dim
    • Car horn sounds unusual
    • Battery case swollen or cracked
    • Smell of sulfur or rotten eggs
    • Battery is more than three years old

The best way to find out if it’s time to replace your car battery is to have your battery tested.

Have you had to deal with a dead battery in winter? Share your experience in the comments.

What You Need to Know About Engine Misfires

Engine misfires can be a mysterious, frustrating problem—and information around them often makes them sound worse than they are. The symptoms vary by vehicle but are usually described as a stumble or brief hesitation in power delivery. An engine misfire can be temporary or continuous and will sometimes generate a check-engine code. But don’t be alarmed. Though it seems like an expensive fix, it usually doesn’t have to be. Read on as we demystify misfires.

Vehicle engine bay

What is a Misfire?

First, let’s examine what causes a misfire. You already know an engine needs three components to fire the cylinder: fuel to ignite, oxygen to burn that fuel, and a spark to ignite the mix. Take away any of those elements, and the cylinder will not produce the expected bang. That sounds like an easy enough diagnosis, but other cylinder misfire causes are due to incorrect ignition timing, vacuum leaks, or valve spring wear.

If your engine is misfiring, it’s best to find the problem and fix it as soon as possible. Misfires reduce gas mileage and increase emissions, which can cause you to fail an emissions test. More seriously, cylinder misfires can cause damage to other engine parts, like the oxygen sensors or catalytic converter. Let’s look at what to do when diagnosing this issue.

When It’s the Spark

Ignition parts that control spark to an engine are primarily wear parts that are designed to provide maximum performance for their service life, then be replaced as needed. As these parts wear or corrode, they will gradually increase impedance to the point that little or no electricity makes it to the spark plug to ignite. Since this happens over time, you may initially have small intermittent misfires you don’t even notice that gradually get worse over time. This is a big clue that your misfire is caused in the ignition system, so start there. Fortunately, most of these items are affordable and easy to quickly replace.

Spark plugs are cheap and easily swapped in just a few minutes. Ignition wires that are old can show signs of wear and are simple to replace as well. Older vehicles with a traditional distributor might just need a new cap and rotor. The coil packs on modern vehicles are less affordable but are still easily serviced.

When It’s the Fuel

After the ignition system is checked out, move on to the fuel system. Parts here typically last longer but still wear out. Perhaps just the fuel filter is clogged, or the fuel injectors are dirty. If those are good, the fuel pump or the mass airflow sensor may be starting to fail.

The EGR valve might be sticking with age, letting exhaust dump into the intake manifold. Emissions systems are precisely designed, and spent exhaust in the wrong part of the ignition cycle will cause issues. Or maybe you are lucky and just filled up with a tank of bad gas.

Fuel-system misfire symptoms will suddenly appear and are often more noticeable at idle than at highway speed. If your engine is chugging at a stoplight but smooth at speed, take a hard look at the fuel system.

When It’s Mechanical

Engine misfires can also be a little more complicated. Check the vacuum lines connected to the intake manifold. Look for cracks and replace lines if you find any problems. Also check the condition of intake manifold gaskets, especially around the throttle body. Take a timing light under the hood to make sure the timing belt or chain has not slipped or jumped. Finally, pop off a valve cover and have a close look at the valve train for any obvious damage.

Unlike fuel misfire symptoms, mechanical misfire symptoms will not go away with higher engine speeds, and often get worse. The misfire can be serious enough to cause noticeable vibration in the cabin, or even backfires. By this point, your engine’s PCM should show a code.

About That Check Engine Light

If you have a “Check Engine” light, your car’s computer is storing information about what problem was detected. The great thing about diagnostic codes is that they can be very specific, even often narrowing down which cylinder is misfiring. That’s less time spent hunting down the problem, so it makes sense to use a code reader to get to the root of the problem.

Have you ever solved a misfire problem? Tell us your solution and advice in the comments below!