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!

What Is Lead Substitute and Do You Need It?

Source | Clem Onojeghuo

If you own a classic car or have been thinking about getting one, chances are someone has told you that you need to use a lead substitute. But what is lead substitute, and why might you need it? Does it really work?

The theory behind lead substitute is that when the engine in your classic car was designed and built, gasoline had lead in it—more specifically, tetraethyl lead, or TEL. That lead served several functions. It boosted the octane rating, allowing for higher compression ratios; helped reduce knocking; and reduced wear on the valve seats. (It did so by helping to prevent “microwelds” from forming between the hot valve surfaces and the seats in the cylinder head as the valve closed.) The process of constant welding and subsequent tearing free when the valve opened again could wear the valve seats over time, requiring expensive repair.

Phasing out lead

A California ban on leaded fuel use went into effect in 1992, and the rest of the nation followed in 1996. The phase-out had already begun in the mid-1970s over concerns about the toxicity of lead and its interference with catalytic converters. Once lead was phased out of gasoline, carmakers began to make hardened valve seats and used different (higher-temperature) valve materials to eliminate the problem of microwelding and valve seat wear. Today, lead substitutes use a variety of proprietary formulas, often based on manganese, sodium, phosphate, or iron, rather than lead, to fulfill the function of lead without the toxic side effects and harm to catalytic converters.

Source | David Brodbeck

When you can skip the lead substitute

So the question arises: If your engine was made before hardened valve seats became common, does today’s unleaded fuel mean you need lead substitute to keep from causing damage to your valve seats? The answer is, frequently, no.

Many of the cars built even when leaded fuel was common have sufficiently hard valve seats to endure unleaded fuel use, especially if the car was made after the mid-1960s. You may want to use premium fuel, especially in higher-performance classic engines, to ensure you have sufficient octane and knock resistance, but the valve seats themselves are unlikely to suffer from unleaded fuel use.

That said, some engines definitely did have “soft” valve seats that were prone to damage from use of unleaded fuels. Some of these engines have been upgraded to harder valve seats over the years by their owners; if yours is among these, you can use unleaded fuel with impunity. If your car is currently running just fine, and has been running for the decades since leaded fuel was phased out, it is probably safe to continue running without lead substitute.

When lead substitute is a smart bet

Most of the cars that had problems with unleaded fuel suffered whatever damage they were going to suffer in the ’70s and ’80s, and have already been taken off the road. On the other hand, many classic-car owners argue that lead substitute can’t hurt your engine and may help reduce any risk of using unleaded fuel in an engine intended for leaded gasoline.

For many, the low cost and ease-of-use of lead substitute (typically a small amount is added to the gas tank at fill up) makes for cheap peace of mind. The bottom line? It’s up to you, but chances are good that you and your engine will get along just fine without any lead substitute, as long as you’re running the proper octane for your car.

Do you use a lead substitute? Tell us about your experience.

Talkin’ Carbs…As In Carburetors vs. Fuel Injection

1970 Camaro Z28 350

1970 Camaro Z28 350

From the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, American performance cars’ fuel delivery system of choice was four-, six- or even eight-barrel carburetion. More often than not you saw a single four-barrel sitting atop the engine’s intake manifold. But a trio of two-barrel carburetors (called “Tri-power” and “Six pack” among other cool sounding names) could be seen on some Detroit iron during the ’60s and ’70s, such as the Pontiac GTO, Chevy Corvette, Plymouth Road Runner, and Dodge Challenger.

For monsters such as the early ’60s Impala SS409 and the ’67 Shelby GT500 Mustang, nothing less than two four barrel carbs (“dual quads”) would do. Carburetors were not without their pitfalls, however, as tasks like changing jets, syncing those multi-carb setups, and generally getting them perfectly dialed in were usually best left to a shop with all the necessary tools and expertise.

Pontiac 389 V8 Tripower

Pontiac 389 V8 Tripower

Enter fuel injection

Fuel injection during that time was very rare but available on a handful of American cars during some years. For example, certain 1957 GM products from Chevrolet and Pontiac offered it just that one year. As fuel injection was relatively new technology, the bugs weren’t fully worked out and it was dropped as an (admittedly expensive and not popular) option for the full-size GM cars the very next year. It did, however, continue to be optional on the Corvette through 1965.

As performance-themed American cars passed through the 1980s, fuel injection came online big time. Thanks to their ability to monitor and make millisecond adjustments for various parameters such as intake air temperature and idle quality, these modern-era fuel injection systems were instrumental in bringing back performance after the dark days of the mid-’70s to early ’80s. Being able to precisely control the air/fuel mixture, they allowed engineers to fine tune the engine to both meet tough emissions standards and offer increased power output. Other benefits included smoother operation all around, such as when driving in high elevations and in very cold or hot weather.

Carburetor or fuel injection?

Now for the big question: With an older performance car, should you keep the old carbs or make the switch to fuel injection? Unless you want to keep your ride 100% factory correct for seriously judged shows and such, we’d suggest jumping aboard the injection express.

These “self-tuning” systems offered by Edelbrock, FAST, Holley, and MSD will have your ride always operating at peak efficiency without you needing to scrape knuckles. And no worries about having that classic engine compartment ruined with something that looks like a Flux Capacitor, these systems mimic the iconic look of a big four-barrel carb. So go ahead, put on that original chrome-lidded air cleaner with the engine call-out sticker on it. We won’t tell.

Unless you want to keep your ride 100% factory correct for seriously judged shows and such, we’d suggest jumping aboard the injection express.

State of the art self-tuning systems make for a fairly simple, bolt-on proposition, essentially the same effort as swapping out carburetors minus the subsequent tuning. After you’ve bolted the system in place, you then enter basic information such as engine size and camshaft specs into a hand-held controller, which gives the system its base-line operating parameters. One twist of the key usually fires up your engine, and then you’re smoothly off and running.

As you drive your car, the system’s ECU (Electronic Control Unit) continuously fine tunes itself according to information it picks up from the oxygen sensor. No more rough idling. No more cold-weather stumble. Indeed, according to this article in Hot Rod magazine it couldn’t be easier. “No jets, no adjustments, no laptops—just bolt it on and turn the key.”

What do you think? Should the carburetor stay a classic performance vehicle or go? Share your experience.

Does the Type of Gasoline You Use Really Matter?

gasoline pump photo

Gassing up isn’t as simple as it used to be. The following questions and answers can help clear up some of the confusion around choosing the right gas for your vehicle.

Is there a difference between the gas at “name brand” stations—Exxon, Mobil, Shell—versus the “grocery store gas” or other discount stations?

In the early days, gas was dispensed from a pump with a glass globe on top so motorists could check the “quality” of the product. Gas quality today, however, is regulated and legally required to contain certain levels of detergents, octane, ethanol, and other ingredients. While “name brand” gas might contain more engine-cleaning detergents, there’s a good chance that the gas found at “off-brand” stations was actually produced by the same name-brand manufacturers you know. So, buy gas where it’s convenient for you and easiest on your wallet and comfort level.

Do I need to spend more money on a higher grade fuel?

There are generally three grades of unleaded gasoline available at nearly all U.S. gas stations. The price per gallon rises in tandem with the fuel grade. Depending on what you drive, these grades—or octane ratings—matter. For starters, high-performance engines need higher octane fuel. That’s because your engine was designed to generate higher compression within the cylinder and increased power. Higher pressure and lower octane aren’t a good match. High-performance engines that require a higher-octane fuel and don’t get it will deliver decreased power and performance. To help determine what octane rating your vehicle needs, start by looking in the owner’s manual.

Some drivers also determine whether they need a higher octane fuel through experimentation. If the vehicle runs great on 87 with no knocking, pinging, or performance issues, and choosing the lower grade fuel doesn’t run afoul of any warranty requirements or specific manufacturer guidelines, why spend the extra money on a higher octane fuel?

If the vehicle manufacturer doesn’t specify high octane and there aren’t any performance issues, save some money by sticking with a lower octane fuel.

Is the gas I use causing the engine to knock?

First, it’s important to understand why your engine is knocking, and why it’s a concern. As the octane rating goes up, so too does the gasoline’s ability to withstand compression without spontaneously detonating or igniting. In gasoline engines, the air/fuel mixture inside the cylinder is supposed to ignite only when a small flame is created by the spark plug. As that small flame gradually grows and spreads out within the cylinder, the air/fuel mixture should ignite in one detonation. Problems arise, mainly in the form of an audible “knock,” when more than one detonation occurs within the cylinder. That knocking can be more than just an annoyance. It robs your engine of power and can destroy it quickly or over time. Higher octane fuels better withstand the increased pressure or compression, preventing spontaneous detonation.

But gasoline isn’t the only thing that can cause engine knocking or spontaneous detonation. Take a look at these additional considerations:

  • Environment – Areas with high temperatures and low humidity can increase knocking and the need for higher octane.
  • Vehicle age – Older vehicles can have a buildup of carbon within the cylinder, creating hot spots that lead to pre-ignition. These deposits can also decrease cylinder volume leading to higher pressures.
  • Malfunctioning EGR system – This increases cylinder temperature.
  • Malfunctioning spark plug.
  • Increased load – Do you use your vehicle for towing or steep uphill climbs and frequently see higher RPMs?
  • Malfunctioning cooling system – Higher engine operating temperatures contribute to knocking.

To better understand this topic, read up on why engines misfire.

Is ‘unleaded’ gas my only option?

Many drivers will remember the days of having to choose between leaded and unleaded fuel. Around the 1920s, a partnership between GM and ESSO (now Exxon) discovered that adding tetraethyl lead (TEL) to fuel helped raise the octane ratings above what they were listed at by increasing the compression ratio.

Leaded fuel also came with the added benefit of helping protect soft valve seats, like those found in many 1970s-era vehicles and earlier. During engine operation, heat from combustion gases causes valves to temporarily weld themselves to valve seats, if only for a tiny fraction of a second. Each time the weld between the two is broken, minute metal pieces from the soft valve seat are torn away, attaching to the valve. Over time, these deposits oxidize and further harden, inflicting damage on the valve seat as the valve continually hammers down. Lead in fuel helped prevent the two from welding, reducing valve seat recession or wear.

It was soon discovered, however, that the lead gasoline spewing from the exhaust of millions of vehicles worldwide was toxic for the environment, not to mention devastating to human health. As a result, leaded gas was gradually phased out in the 70s.

Then how do I prevent damage to my 1970’s muscle car?

In the absence of leaded fuel, you have two options. You can install hardened valve seats or replace a cast-iron head with an alloy one. Also, don’t overwork your engine; be sure to turn consistently high RPMs; prevent your engine from getting too hot; and add a lead substitute to your gas tank, which contains anti-wear properties.

What about fuel additives?

Consider using one of the countless octane boosters available, most of which are designated as being safe for turbos, oxygen sensors, and catalytic converters. You can also use a fuel stabilizer like Sea Foam. Both products will improve performance and prolong the life of your engine.

 

Is Your Vehicle Ready for Winter? Here’s a Maintenance Checklist

A snowy city street

Source | David Creixell Mediante/Unsplash

 

If you live in places like say, California, winter driving can be as easy as a Santa Monica breeze. For the rest of us, it pays to be prepared for roads covered in ice, snow, and sleet. So here’s an easy winter car maintenance checklist to help protect your vehicle from the harsh weather ahead .

1. Protect your exterior

Take the time now to scrub away last season’s buildup from your vehicle’s exterior. Then apply a quality car wax to protect against the impending barrage of snow and road salt. Need help getting started? Here’s how to wash and wax like a pro and winterize your vehicle’s exterior.

2. Change your oil

Some of us don’t think about oil when it comes to winter vehicle maintenance. But this can be a good time to switch from conventional to synthetic if you haven’t already (and if it’s appropriate for your car). Cold weather starts can be easier on your engine with a full-synthetic oil. Synthetic flows freer at low temperatures and doesn’t require any time to warm up, providing crucial and immediate protection to the engine’s moving parts.

Not making the switch? Try a synthetic blend. Synthetic blends consist of synthetic oil coupled with naturally occurring conventional oil. Check with your vehicle manufacturer or trusted mechanic for specific recommendations on which oil is right for your vehicle. For more in-depth information on this topic, read up on the debate between synthetic and conventional oil.

3. Maintain your battery

Summer’s heat takes a toll on batteries. That weakness is bound to show up on the first really cold morning, when your car won’t start because of a dead battery. Really, it’s why batteries tend to fail in winter. So test your battery and charging system, and replace the battery if it’s weak.

A fresh battery is your best defense against cold weather, but it isn’t a guarantee. If you live in an especially cold climate or use your vehicle infrequently, you may want to keep your battery attached to a maintainer or trickle charger. That’s because your battery is working harder in cold weather and it will gradually lose power over time if it isn’t in use. You can also disconnect the battery from the vehicle to prevent power draws.

4. Ensure your visibility

Windshield Wipers on an icy windshield

Being able to see where you’re going is always a top priority, but in winter it becomes especially important. Your first stop is to make sure all of your lights are working. If your headlights or tail lights are dim or yellow, replace the bulbs and clean your lenses.

We also recommend that you replace windshield wipers with winter blades in climates where snow and ice can be expected, and fill the windshield washer tank with a deicing fluid. It’ll help you out on those cold mornings.

5. Inspect your tires

Traction is key here. Take a look at your tires. If the treads don’t have sufficient depth, get a new set. You’ll need the best traction possible for dealing with treacherous roadway conditions. Depending on where you live, you may want to invest in snow tires. Not sure which tire type is best for you? Read about your tire options.

Temperatures aren’t the only thing going down in winter. For every 10-degree drop in air pressure, it’s estimated that tire pressure decreases by one pound. Under inflated tires wear faster, hurt fuel economy, and can reduce handling and traction. So keep your tires at the correct inflation.

6. Check your antifreeze

The name says it all. Antifreeze is one of the most important winter chemicals, because the liquid in an engine’s cooling system is composed of equal parts water and antifreeze. Depending on the brand, either ethylene glycol or propylene glycol in the antifreeze prevents that water from freezing, expanding, and causing damage to the engine.

Use an antifreeze tester or take the vehicle to your mechanic to measure the antifreeze’s strength. This test indicates the lowest ambient temperature to which the engine is protected from freezing. Also check the coolant reservoir level to make sure it’s filled to the proper level. Top off your antifreeze or flush the radiator if it’s time to replace it.

7. Clean your fuel injector

Cold temps can cause performance issues related to a vehicle’s fuel system. Using a fuel injector cleaner prevents some problems from cropping up. Add it to the gas tank during a routine fill up, to clean the injectors, which can help restore lost power and eliminate rough idling and hard starts.

Water that may be present in the fuel system can also become a problem in the winter when temperatures drop low enough for it to freeze. A good way to avoid fuel-line and system freeze up is by choosing a fuel-injector cleaner such as HEET. It’s designed to be a fuel-system antifreeze and remove water from the fuel system.

8. Do your diesel diligence

If you have a diesel vehicle, remember that diesel fuel lines tend to “gel” up in the winter time. Use a product like Diesel 911 to avoid this common problem.

Also keep an eye on your diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) levels. On many passenger and commercial diesel vehicles, a dedicated tank contains DEF which is automatically metered and sprayed into the emissions system. Many vehicles have built in warnings and alerts to prevent DEF levels from being exhausted. They’ll also perform at significantly restricted levels, or not at all, if DEF runs out.

9. Grab your de-icing chemicals

This may be one of our favorite winter car maintenance tips, because it’s inexpensive, requires zero mechanical experience, and prevents headaches. After all, you can’t drive your vehicle in the winter if you can’t unlock the doors or see out the window. That’s why lock deicers and windshield deicing fluid are must-have winter chemicals.

Lock de-icer thaws and lubricates door locks, as well as other types of locks, helping prevent damage. We’ve already discussed windshield de-icers above, which can be added to the windshield washer fluid tank. These products work together to prevent hassles and frozen fingers.

10. Inspect your radiator cap and thermostat

While it’s a simple and inexpensive part, the radiator cap plays a critically important role in your heating and cooling system. Your radiator cap keeps the antifreeze in your vehicle where it should be. A leaking radiator cap can cause the engine to overheat and allow antifreeze to leak, neither of which are good scenarios for winter-weather driving. Take a close look around the radiator cap for signs of leaking fluid. To be on the safe side, if the vehicle radiator cap is several years old, replace it with a new one. The five bucks you invest is well worth the peace of mind and performance you get in return.

Another inexpensive, yet critically important component of your vehicle heating and cooling system is the thermostat. If it’s not functioning properly, you might find yourself without heat. That’s because thermostats can fail, particularly if the coolant hasn’t been changed regularly and corrosion has appeared. Change the thermostat, and improve your odds of having a warm interior all winter long.

Do you have winter prep and maintenance tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

Common A/C and Fuel Efficiency Myths Debunked

 

Two A/C myths always seem to crop up as the temperature climbs higher and long road trips become commonplace.

Myth #1: A vehicle’s air conditioner causes the engine to work harder. Therefore, electing not to use the air conditioner and instead rolling down the windows when driving will significantly increase fuel mileage.

Myth #2: Driving with your windows down will significantly decrease your fuel mileage because of the increased aerodynamic drag the open windows create.

One myth probably has some truth to it and one is most likely false. Here’s why.

Car_air conditioner

Uncovering the Truth

In a test conducted by Consumer Reports, they drove a Honda Accord at 65 mph and found that using the air conditioner reduced fuel mileage by 3% (versus keeping it off). In another test they drove at 65 mph, but this time with the windows down. They found no measurable effect on fuel mileage.

In a similar test performed by Edmunds using a Toyota Tundra, they saw a decrease in fuel mileage of almost 10% when using the air conditioner as opposed to driving with the windows down and the air conditioner off.

There are many similar tests and results online, but here’s the bottom line:

  • Using a vehicle’s air conditioner may result in a small decrease in fuel mileage. As the driver, you get to choose what to do with that knowledge. Maybe that decrease is negligible compared to the discomfort of not having air conditioning on a hot summer day.
  • Driving with a vehicle’s windows rolled down doesn’t produce any measurable impact on fuel mileage as a result of aerodynamic drag (but your dog will love it if he’s along for the ride).

How to Really Improve Fuel Economy

If you want to improve gas mileage, try some of these fuel-saving strategies instead:

  • Slow down and avoid aggressive driving, such as hard accelerations and hard braking. Driving normally will increase fuel mileage by as much as 33% at highway speeds.
  • Remove excess weight from the vehicle and avoid hauling bulky items on the roof because it increases aerodynamic drag.
  • Keep your engine in tune and tires inflated to the recommended air pressure for a 3-4% improvement in fuel mileage.
  • Consolidate trips: do all your errands in one run

What do you think? Do you prefer to sweat if it saves you a few pennies, or is it a small price to pay for personal comfort? Leave us a comment.

 

Unlock Your Engine’s Hidden Horsepower

Hot Wheels CarI’m sure you can all relate. You buy this performance car and do your custom bits, but there’s still something missing. In my case, it all came down to actual performance when I punched the gas. For a while, it just frustrated me until I decided to look further…what I found was that I was only using a portion of my engine’s power!

If you’ve been frustrated knowing that your engine has unused power and did something to unlock that power, this is the place to share your success and tips with your fellow tuners, and make yourself look like a genius while you’re at it.

Many vehicle manufacturers are ultra conservative when it comes to programming engine control units (ECU), also known as the control module or the engine control computer at the factory. They’re not going to program the control module so that the vehicle runs at its maximum power capabilities, in part because they’re concerned with things like the vehicle warranty, emissions, and fuel economy. Their conservative settings, however, leave you with a vehicle that isn’t producing as much power as it could. How frustrating is that? The solution? Well, there are quite a few.

A lot of you are probably thinking, “ECU chip tuner” or “reflash” right about now. That seems to be the common wisdom when it comes to increasing horsepower by modifying the control module. For the uninitiated, an ECU basically controls how the engine goes about its business of producing and delivering power, including air/fuel ratio, ignition timing, idle speed, valve timing, and RPMs.

Back in the day, if you wanted to do some car tuning and change the ECU’s parameters, you had to actually change computer chips, physically swapping them out with newer chips that had software featuring the performance parameters you wanted. Today, one can install new software that changes the ECU’s operating parameters simply by plugging into the OBDII port. Boom. A few keystrokes later and you just raised the rev limit, governed top speed, and tuned the air-to-fuel ratio.

What about switching out the engine control computer entirely with a new one instead of just reprogramming it? Is  a new control module an option?

A couple people, including Ethan Campbell, a Roanoke, Virginia-based tuner toying with a ‘96 Miata, have mentioned the MegaSquirt PNP ECU (MSPNP2) as one possibility for completely replacing the stock engine control computer. Campbell’s winter project is taking an engine with a VVT head from a ’99 Miata and installing it into his ’96 and adding a MegaSquirt ECU. MegaSquirt describes the product as taking “over the functions the stock ECU provides – fuel control, ignition control, and various other outputs – and lets you adjust these yourself by connecting a laptop to the MSPNP2.”

Another car-tuning option to increase engine performance is Accesstuner from Cobb. The manufacturer describes the software as allowing “the user to get into the heart of the OEM ECU and create custom calibrations for vehicles equipped with virtually any performance modification. The end result is a tune that is custom tailored to the vehicle’s unique modifications, producing maximum power gains while maintaining the drive-ability and sophistication inherent in the OEM ECU.” Anyone tried it?

What about turbocharging as the car-tuning option? I know that turbocharging a non-turbo car is a viable option for increasing horsepower, but it’s also one that’s accompanied by a whole host of other considerations, including boost level, compression ratios and avoiding knock, that have to be planned for to avoid engine damage when turbocharging.

And finally, before you inundate me with comments for not mentioning it, there’s the ever-popular option of adding a Nitrous Oxide System (NOS) – a topic I’ll explore more in depth in an upcoming post.

If you’ve modified your engine control computer or have what you think is the perfect solution for unlocking horsepower, let us know how you did it, and what you did it to.

Editor’s note: Harness your hidden horsepower at Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store.

Graphic courtesy of Toycarcollector.com.

 

 

A road trip and Dad’s fuel efficiency (or lack thereof)

Advance Auto PartsWith summer almost over, it’s time to reflect. When you’re a kid, those long, hot lazy days are seemingly endless, full of promise, adventure, fun and freedom. Until one hot June day, just as summer break is getting cranked up, your dad comes home from work all excited and drops a bomb.

“Kids, this summer, we’re spending three weeks on the road, driving from New Jersey to the Grand Canyon, towing the camper behind us! The six of us will spend a lot of time together! It’ll be great!”

Uh, no it won’t. For a 13-year-old just starting to plan his summer, have there ever been more terrifying words? I think not. My plan was to spend the summer riding my bike and hanging with friends, not being trapped in a Dodge Ram conversion van with my three siblings and parents on an epic cross-country journey, living in a pop-up camper for three weeks.

This was not going to be good, or so I thought. For one thing, the old man was obsessed with fuel mileage. Always tracking the miles driven and gallons pumped at each fill up, and having a conniption whenever he forgot to record either. As obsessive as he was about the fuel efficiency, however, he didn’t give a hoot about vehicle maintenance. Tire pressure? Air filter? Oil change? A/C tune up? Nah, who needs them. We just hit the road, letting the pieces (hopefully not from our vehicle) fall where they may.

I’m pretty sure that if he had realized the impact a few simple maintenance items have on fuel mileage, not to mention vehicle reliability before a long road trip, he would have been sure to address them before our road trip.

According to fueleconomy.gov, the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information, you can take three steps right now to improve your fuel economy.

  • Keep your vehicle properly tuned and increase mileage by as much as four percent. Fixing a seriously out-of-tune engine, like one with a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage up to 40 percent.
  • Keep your tires at the inflation pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer and improve fuel mileage by more than three percent.
  • Use the recommended grade of oil for a one to two percent increase.
  • And here’s a statistic that just might surprise you, as well as your friends. On newer cars with fuel injection and computer-controlled engines, the air filter does impact acceleration but it has no impact on fuel mileage. The air filter does impact fuel mileage on older vehicles without that technology. Either way, check your air filter to see if it’s time for a change.

Somewhere between South Dakota’s legendary Corn Palace and the Grand Canyon, I came to the somewhat surprising, albeit gradual, realization that maybe this trip wasn’t such a bad idea after all. We were seeing some really cool things. Don’t get me wrong, this surly teenager found plenty of reasons to complain, like getting in trouble for “sleeping through all the scenery” or nursing frequent bloody noses thanks to the West’s incredibly low humidity levels. But all in all, it was a truly memorable vacation, even if my dad didn’t get the gas mileage he wanted and we all scattered like jackrabbits, including my parents, the second we returned home.

Editor’s note: If you’re planning an epic, end-of-summer road trip, either with your family or to get away from them, make your first stop  Advance Auto Parts for preventive maintenance items and a roadside emergency kit.  

 

 

Hot Trend: ECU Tuning

Josh adjusting ECU in car

When car manufacturers install an engine into a new vehicle, they have no idea where the buyer will live or the conditions under which he or she will be driving. So, they install a “one-size-fits-all” engine and overall system that meets today’s emissions standards.

Enter Engine Control Unit (ECU) tuning.

So what exactly is engine tuning and why is it important? Good question! To find out more about ECU tuning, we contacted Josh Dankel, an ECU engineer at Cobb Tuning. Josh explains the situation further. “Let’s say that you live in the mountains,” he says. “Your OEM vehicle isn’t tuned for that type of driving. And, even if you had a car tuned for the mountains, so that you could squeeze the most power possible out of the engine, it wouldn’t be efficient when you were traveling through sea-level land. What works in 100 degree weather in Florida, as another example, wouldn’t work as well in another climate.”

The advent of the ECU

Until the 1950s, nobody gave much thought to the pollution caused by early automobiles. But some experts began to suspect that the smog in Los Angeles might be caused, at least in part, by vehicle emissions. It took nearly two decades for an official Congressional response. Finally, in 1970, Congress passed the Clean Air Act that set tailpipe emissions standards.

In response, manufacturers installed microprocessors to help control emissions. This was the advent of the “car computer.” There’s more than one car computer in a modern vehicle, but the most powerful one is typically the ECU. Like any other computer, the ECU contains settings that can be tweaked for smoother operation, better fuel efficiency, and more horsepower.

ECU tuning - computer screen

ECU tuning, with a caution

“You can definitely cause your car to run more efficiently and get better mileage by using ECU tuning software,” says Dankel. Then he qualifies, “What often happens though is that, as you squeeze more power out of your engine, you also begin to have more fun with your gas pedal. If so, then you won’t get more fuel efficiency by tuning.”

But ECU tuning combined with healthy driving habits can result in a more efficient driving, especially in relation to stop-and-go driving.

At Cobb Tuning, Josh works on a product, called ACCESSPORT, which provides up to 100 different tuning settings for different occasions.

“Let’s say that you always use 93 octane fuel at home,” he says as just one example. “If you go on a road trip and can only get 87 or 89 octane, you can switch to a different tuning to squeeze the most power out of your engine.”

Engine tuning for performance is often accompanied by additional upgrades, such as installation of a freer flowing exhaust. In turbocharged cars such as the 2006-07 Subaru WRX, Cobb recorded a 24% increase in horsepower.

Have you tried tuning your ECU? If so, what are the best ECU tuning strategies that you’ve discovered?

 

Get the Most From Your Diesel Engine

Tractor in a barn

The scent of diesel exhaust on a clear, crisp morning may remind some of the Big City, where buses and delivery trucks are ever-present. But country living comes with its own share of diesel fumes, thanks to farm tractors, pickups, and big diesel-powered trucks used for hauling grain or manure. City or country, diesel engines are efficient, both in terms of fuel economy and power generated. But like any other mechanical device, diesel engines require some TLC, and perhaps even some modifications to perform at their best. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your diesel engine.

Glow plugs

Glow plugs heat the combustion chambers in a diesel engine, making cold-weather or even cool-morning starts easier. A diesel engine has a glow plug for every cylinder, so if one goes bad you may not notice right away. You’ll know it’s time to replace them if you’re having trouble with cold starts, or if it sounds like the engine isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Engine heater

Engine heaters are helpful tools for diesel owners once temperatures plummet. If you’ve seen diesel-powered trucks or school buses parked overnight with what appears to be an electric cord sticking out the front, it’s probably for the heater. There are several varieties of engine heaters out there. You can use an electric heater that attaches to the oil pan via a powerful magnet. This prevents the oil from thickening and causing hard starts. There are also heaters that insert into the oil dipstick tube, diesel fuel heaters to prevent gelling, and circulation tank heaters that keep the engine’s coolant warm. All of these devices make easier starts possible in low temperatures.

Diesel engine programmers

With the advent of computer-controlled diesel engines comes the increasing popularity of diesel engine programmers. Frequently used for diesel-powered trucks, these programmers enable users to change the engine’s factory-programmed settings in order to increase horsepower and fuel efficiency. There are a variety of options out there , depending on your vehicle make and model.

Diesel fuel additive

Another consideration, even for diesel-engine cars, is a diesel fuel additive. Many are approved for use in all diesel fuels, and have a wide range of benefits, including:

  • Preventing fuel from gelling in cold temperatures
  • Keeping injectors clean
  • Providing lubricants that protect the engine
  • Boosting cetane (a measurement of combustion quality) for faster cold-weather starts

These are just a few considerations that can improve your diesel engine’s performance and efficiency.

Are there other products you use on your diesel engine that we haven’t covered? Share your comment with us.