The internal combustion engine is still going strong after nearly 150 years. Lenoir, Otto, and Benz, engine and automobile pioneers, would be astonished to see how their creations have grown. The evolution of the modern engine has been nothing short of amazing.
Naturally, most internal combustion engine innovations were driven by a go-fast-go-big mentality. But thanks to modern environmental initiatives, these engines are more powerful and efficient than ever before. Here’s a look at the evolution of the internal combustion engine, as well as some modern-day engine maintenance tips.
Today’s engines are a marvel when it comes to efficiency: Since 1975, average fuel economy has more than doubled, reaching 24.7 miles per gallon (mpg), or 10.5 kilometres per litre (kpl), in 2016, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Engine power has also more than doubled. For example, the 1980 Ford Mustang V8 churned out 119 horsepower (hp), and today’s 2018 Ford Mustang GT puts out 460 hp—but both are rated at 16 mpg (6.8 kpl)!
Engineering modern engines
While it’s interesting to study how modern internal combustion engines have evolved, it’s even more interesting to see how automotive engineers have made them work. Here’s a look at some of the tools of the trade:
- Lightweight materials: Aluminum, plastic and other lightweight components make today’s engines and vehicles lighter and more efficient.
- Forced induction: This process forces more air into smaller engines, increasing power output when needed and limiting output for cruising. Turbochargers and superchargers are no longer limited to sports cars and luxury cars; they can also be found in economy cars.
- Direct injection: This process injects fuel directly into the cylinder, improving fuel vaporization and combustion while increasing fuel economy and power output.
- Cylinder deactivation: This process uses only enough cylinders to match driver demand. A V8 can cruise efficiently on four cylinders, with up to eight cylinders on demand for acceleration and spirited driving.
- Hybrid electric drives: These take advantage of opposing strengths and weaknesses in electric motors and internal combustion engines for higher overall efficiency.
- Continuously variable transmissions (CVTs): These aren’t engine technology, but they’re worth mentioning because they keep internal combustion engines in their most efficient range.
- Synthetic lubricants: These products maintain their lubricant properties even in extreme conditions. This helps modern internal combustion engines and CVTs work efficiently and last longer.
- High-compression-ratio engines: These burn fuel more efficiently, improving power output and reducing fuel consumption.
- Electric power steering and other electric motors: These advancements reduce engine load, increasing fuel economy.
- Engine start-stop: This feature reduces emissions when the engine is idling. If the vehicle isn’t moving, why should the engine be running?
- Electronic controls: These pervade every part of modern engine operation and optimization. Modern electronic fuel injection (EFI) and air-fuel ratio (AFR) sensors are far more precise than the carburetors of the past, which improves both power and fuel economy.
Maintaining modern engines
Considering the feats of engineering that have helped create the modern engine, it should be no surprise that maintaining one is somewhat different from maintaining an older machine. Electronic controls require a different level of technical expertise now than they did even 10 years ago. Even mechanically, modern engines are built to far tighter tolerances. Aside from the technical expertise required to maintain, diagnose, and repair them, modern internal combustion engines also require quality supplies.
High-quality synthetic oil like Valvoline Modern Engine is specifically formulated to match modern engine lubricant needs. With fewer impurities and additives that are specific to today’s internal combustion engine, this oil doesn’t break down into performance-robbing deposits. Besides maintaining power output and fuel efficiency, it also helps your engine last longer. As emissions standards strengthen, modern engines will advance to meet them. Maintenance methods and lubricants will also advance a high-powered, low-emissions future.