The internal combustion engine is going strong after nearly 150 years. Lenoir, Otto and Benz, pioneers of engines and automobiles, would be astonished to see where their creations have gone. The evolution of modern engines has been nothing short of amazing.
Naturally, a go-fast-go-big mentality drove most internal-combustion-engine innovations, 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.
Engineering Modern Engines
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) 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!
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, but are found even in economy cars.
- Direct injection: This process injects fuel directly into the cylinder, improving fuel vaporization and combustion, and 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 of electric motors and internal combustion engines for higher overall efficiency.
- Continuously variable transmissions (CVT): 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 while the engine idles. 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, increasing 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.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on maintaining modern engines, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
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.