Over the years, technology has created a time warp for everyone, but the car world (and the field of communication) has seen the most changes. I mean, computerization has just changed how you function. It was the 70s when the first electronic control units (ECUs) came out to handle basic things like ignition timing and transmission shifting. And that was a huge deal because such an advancement was a big step even in the big picture. Engineers had something to work from now, something to improve, something to play with (theglobeandmail.com).
It was 1980s when the ECU’s performance, capacity, capability, precision and what have you just increased. And then there was a reliable fuel-injection system that the ECU could manage. When the engine was satisfied, people started looking into ways to improve the safety of the passengers with the help of ECUs. And that’s how we got anti-lock braking, traction and skid-control systems. Some years later, it was time for active suspension control, and more recently, we have gone into sonar, radar and laser territories. There are vehicles that can self-park, and people are expecting to get fully autonomous cars in the next four to six years.
All said, it’s not a surprise that cars are complex. With such complexity, it’s not difficult to get lost. Sure, you might know a lot about cars, but there are some things that you might have never learned and are just way too afraid to ask now.
It’s about time we answer them.
20 WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TORQUE AND HORSEPOWER?
By definition, torque is a measure of force; horsepower, on the other hand, is a measure of power, which entails a time factor. Think of it like going on an exercise bike. Torque is the equivalent of what’s required for you to be able to turn those pedals to turn the wheels. The higher the resistance setting, the more force it will require from you to turn those wheels. So torque is a (rotational) force.
Speed doesn’t directly come into the torque equation. Horsepower, on the other hand, is about how fast something is happening. If you were doing 10 mph on the exercise bike and wanted to do 15 mph at the same resistant, you’d need more power. Same goes for a car.
19 WHAT’S THE POINT OF DRIFTING?
I’m sure some of you have this question. Well, let’s start out by discussing what drifting is. It’s essentially when a driver oversteers and intentionally loses traction of the rear wheels, but still is able to maintain control of the car throughout the turn. What’s the whole point of this?
Sliding in rally races can help with the lap time, but when it comes to drifting, what’s the point? The answer is quite simply pleasure.
It’s the sensation that some people get from being able to do that. Plus, you must have some good car control if you can drift.
18 WHAT IS A “DIFFERENTIAL” AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
A differential was the solution to the disparity that existed in the distance traveled by the inner and outer wheels during a turn. You see, the inner wheels have to travel less when compared to the outer wheels. And if there’s a fixed axle (meaning one wheel can’t turn independently of another), then one of those wheels will end up skidding, which is not exactly desired for tires and drivers. So that’s where a differential comes in, which allows each of the wheels to spin freely of the others, but still receive power. It essentially allows for different RPM for each of them, such that the inner one has a lower RPM (geek.com).
17 DO I REALLY NEED THE MORE EXPENSIVE GAS?
If you put in the lower-than-recommended-octane-rated gas every once in a while, your engine won’t catch fire or stop working. But should you make this a habit? No.
There’s a reason why the manufacturer suggested a certain octane-rated gas, which you should adhere to.
It has to do with the compression ratios and advanced ignition timing. The higher the octane rating, the better the performance of the engine, including gas mileage. If a manufacturer doesn’t recommend it, you won’t be doing any good by putting it in. Your Mitsubishi Mirage is not going to run any faster on a high-octane rated gas (Jalopnik).
16 WHY IS MY TURN SIGNAL BLINKING FASTER THAN USUAL?
Ah, the decade-old question. This happens to indicate that one of the bulbs is gone or is about to go. With digital technology the explanation is a bit different—it has something to do with how the capacitor changes its charging and discharging rate from the factory-built, predetermined rate.
You could also think of it like this: The voltage load drops (because one guy doesn’t need to “use” those volts), which means less load on the circuit, and that means the remaining parts can do more work in the form of blinking faster.
The end result of all this is that the computer automatically blinks faster to let you know that one of the bulbs is gone.
15 CAN AN ENGINE RUN IN “REVERSE?”
This one is a bit tricky. An internal-combustion engine (ICE), which is what powers almost all cars and trucks nowadays, is a form of engine where things happen inside the engine (as opposed to outside the engine, like in a steam engine).
There are two main types of engines within the ICE category; two-stroke and four-stroke. The “strokes” correspond to the number of movements done by the piston. Each engine has a set of valves, piston heads, cylinders, and exhausts that work concertedly to allow the engine to run smoothly. You can’t “reverse” a four-stroke engine, but a two-stroke engine can be run in reverse. Give it a shot on an old Trabant.
14 IS THERE SUCH A THING AS “DIFFERENTIAL OIL?”
Yes folks, yes. There’s a thing called differential oil. As discussed above, the differential mechanism allows you to corner without drama, but it’s still one metal gear grinding on another, which does require some sort of lubrication. The differential or gear oil is thicker than engine oil and is meant to perform well under high pressure.
Without the oil, you would essentially have metal grinding on metal, which doesn’t sound good typing it, let alone experiencing it. The general rule of thumb is to have the differential oil changed about every 30K-60K miles, or whatever your manual says. But yes, it’s real, and it needs to be taken care of.
13 WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TURBOCHARGER AND A SUPERCHARGER?
First, both devices “charge” air. In other words, both of these compress the air that goes into the engine, and by compressing the air, they allow more air into the cylinders, which, of course, means more fuel, which in turn leads to more power. The end result is the same, just that the mechanism is different.
A supercharger is connected to the engine directly, via belt usually, which means it does its magic at the pace of the engine. In a turbocharged engine, you’ll have exhaust gas forcing a turbine to spin, which spins the compressor. The engine is not directly involved.
12 WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DIESEL AND A GAS ENGINE?
The main difference comes down to how the fuel is ignited. In a gas engine, the fuel is mixed with air, compressed and then lit by sparks from the spark plugs. A diesel engine, on the other hand, compresses the air first, after which the air is sprinkled with fuel. The heat from the compressed air serves as the energy for ignition. It has no spark plugs.
But besides that main difference, everything else is quite the same in both of them.
There’s the same internal-combustion engine, the same engine components (piston, crankshaft, cylinders, except for spark plugs, obviously) and what have you.
11 HOW FAST CAN I GO IN THE “REVERSE” GEAR?
If you have always wondered how fast you could go in the reverse gear, but never had the guts to test it out for yourself, let us help you out. You can’t go any faster than the speed achieved in the first gear (even in manual cars). There are no “first” or “second” gears for reverse. It’s just the way the gearbox is designed. There’s just way too much rotational force involved that it’d be quite inefficient to have high speed in the “reverse” gear. Your RPM will keep increasing after a certain point, but the car won’t go any faster when reversing.
10 WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OVERSTEER AND UNDERSTEER?
If you watch Top Gear or any car shows, you’ll notice this gets thrown a lot. The simplest way to put it is this: you understeer when you crash into something with the front of the car; oversteer is when you crash the rear part of the car.
In other words, when you oversteer, the rear wheels slip while cornering, and when you understeer, the front wheels slip while cornering.
There was a Top Gear segment in which Richard Hammond explained it too. At the conclusion, he said, “Now, oversteer is best because you don’t see the tree...” (carthrottle.com).
9 WHICH IS BETTER: FWD, RWD OR AWD?
This is a rather tricky question. Front-wheel drive gives the power to the front wheels, and is good for providing some traction during inclement weather because of the engine in the front. Handling sucks here. Then you have rear-wheel drive, which gives power to the back wheels, meaning the front wheels are there just for cornering. The ride is more balanced because of the exceptional handling. But these cost more to make compared to the FWD.
Finally, you have AWD, which is heavy and complex, has some RWD characteristics, but also does well in low-grip situations (Jalopnik). In other words, not a single one is the best one. It just depends on your needs.
8 HOW DOES AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION WORK?
The answer to this one might as well be sorcery, as there are so many things that have to happen automatically that it just seems like some sort of magic takes place. In manuals, you have to play with the clutch—which physically moves the gears—or the car will act like a balking horse. It’s quite complex, and involves various parts, including the torque converter, the gearbox and the hydraulic controller.
It’s the working of these three parts plus some computerized software that allows the car to automatically know when to move into the next gear or shift down. The details would require another article, honestly.
7 IS THERE A BUTTON OR SOMETHING THAT GETS PUSHED WHEN YOU PUT YOUR GAS PEDAL ALL THE WAY TO THE FLOOR?
This question is geared for an automatic car, as opposed to a manual. The answer is yes.
Some automatic cars actually have this thing called a “kickdown switch” that tells the transmission to go into a lower gear when the pedal starts becoming too friendly with the floor.
Without it, you would run out of speed because the pedal can’t go any further down. This is only present in some cars, as usually there’s a throttle position sensor which does the same job.
6 WHEN SHOULD THE TIMING BELT BE CHANGED?
The timing belt is a very important part of the internal-combustion engine. It’s the part that syncs various other parts of the engine and controls the function of some other parts.
A lot of good mechanics recommend that you have it replaced every 60K-100K miles, barring any contradiction from the owner’s manual.
The bad part about this is that you can’t necessarily see obvious signs of degeneration. At some point it will just break apart, and you had better hope that it doesn’t happen while you’re cruising on the highway. So if your mechanic tells you it’s a good idea to have it replaced, it’d be a good idea to follow his advice.
5 MY BRAKES MAKE NOISES. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Noise-making brakes are not the best thing in the world, but they are not like your torn timing belts either. So what could it mean if your brakes make noise? Well, it depends. If it’s a scraping sound, you could have picked up a rock. If it’s a squeal, then it could be from the rust that accumulates on rotors, which is a relatively common thing to happen to cars parked out in the open. If it’s a squeak, it’s likely that the brake-wear indicator is doing its job and hitting the rotor to tell you the brakes are wearing off. If it’s grinding, your first stop should be the mechanic’s shop (alexaddict.com).
4 WHAT’S TURBO LAG?
As mentioned in another entry, a turbocharger works by pushing the gases from the engine exhaust toward a turbine. That turbine gets spun. The turbine is connected to an impeller which compresses the air into the cylinders. Now, the turbine itself has some mass, meaning it requires energy to spin. If the source of that energy is the engine exhaust itself, then you can imagine at low RPM, the turbine won’t receive much energy (and consequently won’t spin fast) because the engine is not producing that much of exhaust gas.
That time it takes for the engine to come to higher RPM is the same time during which the turbo doesn’t spin fast, and is called “turbo lag.”
3 WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AWD AND 4WD?
4WD vehicles have non-changeable/non-dynamic power distribution, whereas AWD, although not always user adjustable, have the ability to shift power to different wheels as deemed necessary by the computer.
4WD is present on vehicles that are true off-roaders, like the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco. This system comes in handy at low speeds.
You’ll find them covered with dirt and these vehicles are not afraid to wear a few dents on the body panel. An AWD system is present in various SUVs, sedans and pickups. It’s probably more common than 4WDs, because not a lot of people go on true off-road adventures.
2 WHAT IS REV MATCHING?
Rev matching is a technique used to smoothen downshifts. It’s just bringing your RPM to your target gear, or you will get that jerking sensation. So each time you’re about to downshift in a manual, right when the clutch goes through the “neutral,” some folks will give the gas a little blip, and then release the clutch after getting into the desired gear.
This way, the engine speed gets a chance to catch up with the transmission speed. There are some manuals where you don’t have to do it as it’s a built-in feature, but in some manuals, it’s a good idea to do so.
1 HOW DO PISTONS MOVING IN A JERKY MOTION TRANSLATE INTO SMOOTH CRANK ROTATION?
This one might be a bit too specific, but we’ll take a broad approach to answering this question. The first thing to consider is what a “crank” is. It’s basically an arm that’s attached at a right angle on to which the pistons push. The pistons push and that rotates the crank. While at the engine level, this seems like a tumultuous ride, it doesn’t necessarily correlate to the real-world driving experience.
As far as the engine world is concerned, there’s something called a “flywheel,” which basically eliminates any mechanical vibrations that are generated. It’s a disk-like structure on the end of the crankshaft.
Sources: jalopnik.com; reddit.com
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