To start any conversation on carburetor vs fuel injection, one has to think back to the very beginning of the internal combustion engine. Since the dawn of the internal combustion engine, we’ve needed a way to get air and fuel into the cylinder, where it could be ignited and thus give us usable mechanical energy. Some of the first engines relied on a simple fuel drip, but better ways of introducing fuel into the cylinder would eventually come along.
Early carburetors relied on air flowing over liquid fuel or a wick, gathering fuel vapors for ignition. Later versions would utilize the Bernoulli principle to better meter the amount of fuel going into the cylinders, that is, the air flowing through a venturi would deliver fuel in proportion to the amount of air going into the intake. By the time the last carbureted vehicles in the US died out, in the early 1990s, fuel injection was already in full force.
Fuel injection as we know it actually has its roots as far back as the first engines, back in the 1880s; however, its complexity prevented it from being utilized on any scale until the 1920s, and it was still limited to compression-ignition diesel engines. Later, in the mid-1950s fuel injection systems would appear on both diesel and gasoline engines, in both mechanical and electronic versions.
The first electronic fuel injection systems, using a throttle-body injector, simply replaced the carburetor. Port fuel injection placed individual fuel injectors closer to each intake valve, which powers the majority of modern automobiles. Later, similar to diesel engines, some gasoline engines would be fitted with direct fuel injection, which puts fuel directly into the cylinder. Some direct fuel injection systems co-exist with port fuel injection systems.
Carburetor vs Fuel Injection: Pros and Cons
- Emissions and fuel economy. Fuel injection, because it can be more precisely controlled, results in more efficient use of fuel, reduced fuel consumption and fewer emissions, which is the main reason it began to replace the carburetor in the 1970s.
- Power and performance. Again, because fuel injection and modern electronic controls are more accurate, fuel delivery can be tuned to match driver demand. Carburetors are precise, but not accurate, in that they cannot account for changes in air or fuel temperature or atmospheric pressure.
- Cost and complexity. Being purely mechanical devices, carburetors have it hands down over fuel injection with regard to cost and complexity. With a can of carburetor cleaner, simple hand tools and maybe a couple of spare parts, you can rebuild a carburetor on your porch or at a rest stop. Whereas with fuel injection, even with years of training and experience and a few thousand dollars in diagnostics gear, you will still need a tow truck to get you off the road should your system burn out on you. Most small engines, such as those on motorcycles, lawn mowers and snow-blowers, are still equipped with carburetors, simply because they are not emissions-regulated, inexpensive, simple and reliable.
While the carburetor may have been around for over a century, fuel injection is a clearly superior alternative, delivering better power, fuel economy and lower emissions. For the modern driver, this is all you could ask for.
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Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.