Detroit switches to electronic fuel injection

It was on a sparkling, sub-zero Ohio morning last winter that I really learned to appreciate electronic fuel injection. It was so cold that I could hardly turn the key in the frozen door lock of the new subcompact. Once inside, my breath instantly frosted the windshield. But when I slipped the key into the ignition and twisted, the engine cranked for only an instant before revving smoothly, if a bit stiffly, to a fast idle.

I hadn’t pushed the accelerator pedal to set the choke, much less pumped it furiously to prime the engine, as I would have done or some cars. I just turned the key, and it started. A few seconds later I eased out the clutch, gave the engine a little gas, and the car pulled smoothly onto the street, snow squeaking under the tires. It didn’t buck, hesitate, or stall once. The reason? Electronic fuel injection. Like most drivers, I used to think of performance cars when I thought of fuel injection: Ferraris, Corvettes, and Porsches. True, Volkswagens and some lower-priced imported sedans have been equipped with fuel injection since the late 1960s. But suddenly it seemed as if every U.S. maker was adding it to its everyday economy cars–cars like the Chevrolet Citation, Dodge 600, and Renault Alliance.

Why the sudden switch? I had certainly discovered at least one benefit of electronic fuel injection: better cold starting and smoother warm-up. But what else does this technology offer? What will the changeover mean for the average driver and for the U.S. auto industry?

One place I looked for answers was the Rochester Products Division of General Motors. For decades the name Rochester has been almost synonymous with carburetors. But now the company is rapidly becoming one of the world leaders in fuel-injection technology. Few people realize that Rochester has been involved for many years in the development of electronic fuel injection.

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“In 1970 we worked on an electronic multi-point fuel-injection system,” recalls Roland S. Taylor, chief engineer for gasoline and emissions-products design. “But we were unsuccessful as far as the marketplace was concerned. You couldn’t justify the cost because you had to buy the electronics. The carburetors won out because they gave adequate performance for the least cost.” Tipping the balance

It wasn’t long, however, before the new clean-air standards began to tip the balance. To control exhaust emissions, the air-fuel mixture fed to the engine had to be precisely controlled. If too rich (too much fuel and not enough air), emissions of carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons soared. If too lean; oxides of nitrogen and engine misfiring became a problem.

If the air-fuel mixture could be tightly controlled, exhaust emissions would be kept low enough so that a catalytic converter in the exhaust system could handle the light cleanup. But a typical engine operates under a wide range of temperatures, loads, and altitudes, all of which require subtle changes in the mixture ratio. Toward a solution

Then, in the mid-1970s, two break-throughs promised a possible solution to the mixture-control problem. The first, the inexpensive microcomputer, needs no further introduction. The second, the oxygen sensor, is less famous but almost as amazing. This hollow, platinum-plated ceramic probe can measure the oxygen level in the blazing 1,112-degree-f exhaust gas and then tell the computer whether the engine is running lean or rich.

If the air-fuel mixture is rich, there will be little oxygen left in the exhaust gas. Oxygen ions flow from the inside surface of the probe–which is exposed to the atmosphere–to the outside surface exposed to the exhaust gas. Just an in a one-cell battery, this ion flow generates a voltage (in this case about one volt).

When the mixture is lean, however, and there is oxygen in the exhaust gas, the ion flow slows, and the sensor output drops to nearly zero.

At first the engineers used the oxygen sensor to fine-tune the carburetor while the engine was running [“Feedback-Carburetor Systems,” PS, Sept. ’82]. The voltage signal from the oxygen sensor, along with data from sensors measuring engine temperature, speed, and manifold vacuum, was fed into the on-board computer. An input signal from the computer then adjusted a mixture-control solenoid in the carburetor body. However, because a carburetor is a maze of separate air and fuel circuits, this closed-loop control, as the engineers call it, is still something of a compromise.

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“We went through the whole closed-loop interim because that was all we really had,” says Taylor. “We had to respond very rapidly to the emissions standards. But we really felt that the carburetor wasn’t the best way to meet the standards.”

Moreover, the carburetor was growing increasingly complex, even without the addition of electronics. Owners were starting to complain that cars were hard to service and sometimes didn’t run well no matter how often they were fixed. And because of the closed-loop systems, many cars already had small microprocessors tucked under the dash. A love affair

Engineers love electronic fuel injection (So, I will recommend you to check out this great online resource to learn about fuel injector cleaner or amazing solutions of how to clean fuel injectors in the right way). The first time I picked up an injector–the part that actually meters the fuel into the engine–I understood why.

The injector is nothing more than a solenoid-operated valve, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Although some precise machining is involved in manufacturing the valve, its operation is simplicity itself. There are inputs–information from sensors that measure things like engine temperature, load, vehicle speed, and exhaustgas oxygen content. A program in the computer under the dash or in the kick panel then calculates the precise amount of fuel needed to give near-perfect combustion and sends a pulse of current to one or more fuel injectors. Supply the injector with fuel under pressure, zap the solenoid coil with about six volts of direct current, and you get precisely metered fuel. The length of the electrical pulse determines the amount of fuel.

“By switching to fuel injection and controlling one variable–the length of the injector pulse–we were able to do all of the things we needed to,” Taylor explains. “Cold-start, warm-up, warm-running, power-enrichment, and altitude compensation–all of these can be done by simply adjusting the pulse width.” Not only did more-precise fuel metering reduce exhaust emissions, it also did wonders for drivability.

Like General Motors, Chrysler also sees a big future for fuel injection. The company plans to switch its entire passenger-car line to fuel injection by 1986 or ’87. “Why electronic fuel injection? Drivability–clean drivability,” Bernie Robertson, chief engineer for power-train systems, emphasizes. “It does give us some fuel economy. It does give us better performance. But the primary motivation is drivability and performance feel.” Two systems

In the switch to fuel injection at Chrysler and elsewhere, two basic systems have emerged. The first, called throttle-body injection, bolts onto a conventional intake manifold and looks much like the familiar carburetor. The throttle-body casting carries one or two injectors (depending on the fuel demands of the engine), a fuel-pressure regulator, an idle-speed control motor, and a sensor to tell the computer how far open the throttle is.

The second type, called multi-point, uses a separate injector for each cylinder. A throttle body in the intake passage houses the throttle plate, the idle-speed control motor, and some type of sensor to tell the computer how much air is being swallowed. But the intake manifold carries only air, not an air-fuel mixture as in a carburetor or throttle-body-injection manifold. Fuel from the individual injectors is sprayed onto the back of the hot intake valves just as the air enters the cylinders. This not only cools the valves but also ensures that the fuel is completely vaporized.

Each type of fuel injection has its advantages. Essentially, throttle-body is cheaper, and multi-point gives slightly better performance.

“There will be a division just like the one you used to see between two-barrel and four-barrel carburetors,” Taylor predicts. “The car you drive to the drugstore and use to carry the kids to school–that’s going to be a throttle-body car. On heavier cars, luxury cars, and sports cars, you’ll see multi-point.”

Multi-point provides better performance because it allows careful tuning of the shape and size of the intake manifold. Passages up to a foot long are often used to give good horsepower and torque at normal driving speeds.

“If you try to do that with a carburetor or throttle-body injector, you get long transport time. Some of the atomized fuel drops out into liquid form again, which can result in poor warm-up performance,” explains Taylor. “You can add heat to the manifold to keep the fuel from condensing, but you lose power because the volumetric efficiency [the amount of fuel and air entering each cylinder] drops.”

Multi-point is also used with turbocharged engines for similar reasons. Again, the engineers need not worry about transporting vaporized gasoline through the intake passages. Instead they can concentrate on designing the turbocharger system to deliver exactly the right amount of compressed air for each driving condition.

All three of the major domestic car makers sell both throttle-body and multi-point systems. U.S.-built Renaults use a Bendix throttle-body system for cars sold in 49 states and a Bosch multi-point system on those destined for California, where emissions standards are tougher.

In addition to the technical change involved, the switch to fuel injection is also bringing a new multinational supplier to the U.S. Bosch, which made its fame and fortune building sophisticated multi-point systems for European cars, sees America as a growing market for its products. Ford, Chrysler, and GM use Bosch injectors and other components in their mutli-point systems. Bosch also builds the throttle-body injection used by Chrysler and supplies injectors used by Ford in its Throttle-body unit.

Other injection-system parts for U.S. cars are being built by traditional suppliers to Detroit. The heart of the system, the computer, is built by each manufacturer for its own model line. Such a mixture of domestic and foreign sources might have been frowned upon at one time, but no longer. As one engineer for a U.S. car maker said recently, “We’re going to use the best that’s available in the world.”

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And what about servicing these electronic wonders? Many mechanics have encountered problems working on the newest electronic fuel-injection systems. After all, they’re part of a strange new world, complete with sealed black boxes and sensitive sensors. And although the electronics are usually reliable, when one of the parts does break or malfunction, it can cost a lot more than an old-fashioned tuneup. But for the mechanic who learns the ropes, these systems can be far simpler and more logical than the complicated emissions controls and carburetor they replace. An added bonus is the self-diagnostic function that most of the computers possess, which checks not only its own function but also that of its sensors.

And while the jury is still out on the long-term durability, the auto makers seem happy. “We’re seeing much better customer satisfaction and a lot fewer warranty claims,” says Taylor. “Though that still doesn’t say you can’t do a botch job of it.”

Every engineer I spoke with predicted that electronic fuel injection would replace the carburetor on passenger cars within three years. Only one could think of a car that would keep its carburetor. A holdout

At Ford’s Service Research Center in Dearborn, Mich., a service engineer and I were going over service changes for the 1984 cars. I couldn’t help noticing the sleek fenders and slippery body panels that made up the front-end test models for the 1985 and later cars. Nestled inside were four-cylinder and V6 engines, each wearing the tell-tale aluminum air box that could only mean fuel injection. So I asked the engineer whether any Fords would still have a carburetor a year or two down the road.

“The use of fuel injection will be expanded,” he predicted. “The major exception will be the Mustang GT.”

I was puzzled. Why would Ford stay with a carburetor on such a high-performance car? Anticipating my question, the engineer smiled at me and continued.

“We think the person who buys that car is someone who likes to tinker on the weekends,” he said. “And we think he will be more comfortable with the old familiar Holley four-barrel.”

Car care for a carefree season

SUMMERTIME may be travels carefree time. But for those motorists who fail to properly maintain their automobiles, the season will be anything but cheap or easy.

Heat can wreak havoc on an automobiles vital parts and an owners wallet. To ensure a fun-filled summer, take time now to service your ear to prevent any unforeseen mechanical difficulties.

One of the best maintenance tips, according to automotive specialists, is to keep your ear “cool.”

“Overhearing generally is the biggest problem, and its due to improper maintenance,” says David Van Sickle, a director with the American Automobile Association. “It manifests itself typically in engine overheating and boiling at low speeds when the air conditioner is on. Thats when the biggest strain is put on the cooling system.”

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A visit to a qualified mechanic can go a long way toward preventing roadside mishaps and possible accidents. But automotive experts suggest that summertime pleasure seekers remember the following car maintenance tips to keep their season happy and trouble-free.

  • Change the winter antifreeze and replace it with the proper amount of mixture of coolant solution. Most ears take a 50-50 mixture of coolant and water, but check your manual. Never add plain water to your cooling system unless it is an emergency.
  • Check the oil since antifreeze and circulating oil help cool the engine. The cars owner manual will spell out the recommended grade and service classification. Make sure the oil level is at “full” to maintain maximum cooling effect and lubrication.
  • Inspect all tires. Make sure they are properly inflated since a combination of heat and underinflated tires is a major cause of blowouts. Uneven wear could indicate alignment, suspension or wheel balance problems that should be corrected before any trip. Remember to check tire pressure when the tires are “cold,” before driving three or more miles.
  • Check to make sure your car’s air conditioning is working properly. Make sure the unit has the correct amount of freon.
  • Replace any cracked or worn hoses and drive belts. Also check air and oil filters and replace them if they are clogged or dirty.
  • Periodically inspect the water level of your battery, even if its “maintenance free.” Before traveling long distances, check the alternator and fuses to prevent electrical difficulties.
  • Take your car in for a tune-up if its an older model. New car owners should consult their owners manual for scheduled maintenance and tune-ups.
  • Consider buying a cardboard sunscreen. The screen, placed over the front and back windshields, keeps your cars interior cool and protects the finish on your automobiles dashboard.
  • Inspect all exterior lights—brakelights, headlights, hazard lights and taillights–for alignment and brightness. Also make sure the car’s windshield wiper fluid system is working properly, and replace worn blades.
  • Keep an emergency tool kit in your trunk. The kit should include battery cables, blankets, flashlight with fresh batteries, first-aid kit, spare fuses, jack, tire iron, tire gauge and an empty gasoline can. Never carry gasoline or other flammable liquids in your trunk.
  • Join a full-service motor club. These organizations offer invaluable route planning and roadside assistance services.

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Through planning and proper maintenance, motorists can prevent the hassles and mishaps that can ruin a summer vacation. By following the preceding tips, you can make sure that driving will be a pleasant, worry-free and enjoyable part of your summer vacation.

Abstract: 

Summer weather can create unforeseen car problems when an automobile is not properly maintained. Maintenance tips discussed include changing antifreeze, checking fluid levels, tire and light inspections and replacing worn hoses.

Face it: some days your car is your family room on wheels

Aside from getting paid to lock lips with hunky half-dressed men, soap-opera actress Colleen Scotti is just like any other minivan mom. She’s constantly carting her kids to school, karate class, and play dates; she can’t resist pulling over for lattes to go; and on weekends she often spends a whole day behind the wheel. “My minivan is my home office, and it’s always a disaster zone,” says Colleen, whom you might recognize from roles on Guiding Light and All My Children. “The floor is littered with fast-food wrappers, sippy cups, sports equipment, and more books and toys than I care to count,” she says. “Last week I slammed the door on my daughter’s Barbie doll, and she had a fit!” We asked personal organizer Amy Knapp, founder of thefamilyorga nizer.com, and Mona Williams, senior merchandise director of The Container Store, to speed through a cleanup of Colleen’s car plus map out plenty of ways to keep her kids entertained–no matter how many bumps in the road.

A tidy trunk

The Folding Cargo Bag (The Container Store, $20) keeps grocery sacks upright and has pockets for supplies, such as umbrellas and a flashlight. Shown here: The solar-powered Dynamo AM/FM Flashlight Radio in yellow (Real Goods, $40). Another trunk staple: a blanket for warmth or a picnic; use the Fiesta Stripe Picnic Mat with carrying strap (Tag, $25). Also stow the Auto Medic Kit, with jumper cables and a registration card for a year’s worth of roadside assistance (Kmart, $40).

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A very organized visor

Store a selection of fave CDs in the Leather Visor CD Organizer, which holds 12 disks and has a zippered pocket for pens and paper (Brookstone, $20). Also attach an Eyewear Clip to your shade; it’ll keep sunglasses safe–and always in the same place (Kmart, $4).

Papers, please

When your glove compartment is overstuffed, stash road maps, your driver’s license and registration, a spare house key, and all repair and insurance records (if you get into a scrape, you’ll know whom to call) in the Glove Box Organizer (Car Lover, $12.29).

Sleek front seat

Spruce up your dashboard area with the Mini Van Console Plug n’ Go (Kmart, $50). Inside is storage; outside are four cup holders, a CD shelf, a memo-pad nook, plus two power outlets that connect to a lighter. And don’t leave your driveway without a cell-phone holder: The Navigator Hands-Free Cell Phone Car Kit turns your mobile into a speakerphone (Discovery Channel Store, $30).

Busy kids on board

Banish boredom forever by loading up on these entertaining accessories. Pint-size passengers can pack snacks, toys, crayons, books, CDs, and DVDs inside the BackPockets Car Organizer (The Container Store, $10), which attaches with Velcro to the back of any seat. A great new onboard activity set: The Amazing Book-a-ma-Thing for the Backseat, stuffed with everything from puzzles to a pinball baseball game (Klutz, $17). To save your sanity on long-distance drives, strap the Qwestar Port-able DVD Player to the back of your headrest and plug it into your car lighter (Kmart, $430).

Your Just-in-Case Kit

Our experts agree: Fill a duffel bag with this stuff and life on the road (even if you’re just going to ballet class and back) runs a lot smoother.

a) a first-aid kit, such as The Container Store’s First Aid Case, $17;

b) electronic Yahtzee, for making time fly when the kids’ soccer practice is running long, $13;

c) extra batteries;

d) on-the-spot carpet cleaner for keeping upholstery and floors stain-free after spills;

e) wet wipes for washing up on the go;

f) a large compact tote comes in handy when your purse is already jam-packed and you need to lug library books, etc. MoMA’s Extra Bag folds up to fit inside a 5″ x 7″ case, $30;

g) a snack bar and bottled water;

h) a durable yet lightweight Dickies messenger bag holds all your gear (Urban Outfitters, about $24).

Get in gear with wise buys that’ll turn your car into a spiffy comfort zone.

Time to shine

Look like you just left the new-car lot with the 15-Piece Deluxe Car Care Kit. Includes wheel brush, wash mitt, and a superpowered spray nozzle (Discovery Channel Store, $30).

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Car tunes

Finally! We’ve found an album for little ones that won’t drive you bonkers. Jessica Harper’s Inside Out! is part jazz, part reggae, with creative, aren’t-kids-kooky lyrics ($10).

Freshen up

Aromadisc Air Fresheners are scented with gardenia and orange essential oils (Mousseshop, $9 for two).

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REDBOOK INSTANT EXPERT

Must-do moves

  1. To make more car storage space, Williams suggests gluing strips of Velcro (available at fabric stores) to the undersides of lidded plastic bins, then placing them under the seats. Velcro keeps the containers stuck to the car’s carpet floor so they stay put at every turn and stop.
  2. A plastic bag hanging from your door handle does not a garbage can make. Get a trash container that attaches to the back of a seat, such as the leakproof Puff ‘n Stuff Tissue Dispenser/Litterbag, The Container Store, $13.
  3. Write a list of emergency phone numbers on an index card and keep it in your glove compartment–doctors’ numbers and numbers for the kids’ schools, for example.

On the road again!

Colleen gives the thumbs-up to her much improved ride. “I don’t miss all the sticky notes on my dashboard and piles of coloring books in the passenger seat, that’s for sure!” she says.

1-hour expert wash your car: make your ride sparkle inside and out with this step-by-step guide

Dress to get wet and gather your supplies: a bucket filled with lukewarm water and car wash soap; sponge; chamois or 100 percent cotton towel; glass cleaner; newspaper; trash bag; stiff-bristled brush; cordless handheld vacuum; carpet and upholstery spot cleaner/stain protector; and vinyl protectant. Park your car in a shady spot, says Lauren Fix, the Car Coach and spokesperson for the Car Care Council, so that the soapy water won’t dry and spot before you can rinse it off.

Clean inside first

STEP 1

Clear out trash, shake out floor mats, and vacuum inside the car. Be sure to clean the trunk, the center console, and between the front seats. “Use a stiff brush with a pointed end to bring all dirt and crumbs out from under the seats so you can vacuum them up easily,” says Fix. If your car’s very dirty, use a scrub brush and an auto carpet and upholstery cleaner on the floor and cloth seats.

STEP 2

Remove dust from vents, dashboard, doors, and vinyl areas with a clean rag. Then use a vinyl protectant like Armor All or Rain-X. “You can also try dryer sheets–they pick up dust with static and leave behind a fresh scent,” says Fix.

STEP 3

Clean the inside of your windshields and windows. Spray cleaner on the glass, then wipe with some crumpled newspaper. The chemicals in the newsprint transfer to the glass for a streakless shine. (Just wash the ink off your hands before continuing.)

Do a major interior cleaning twice a year, and then a quick brushup every other month. Don’t use dishwashing liquid on your car.

“It takes grease and wax off dishes–so it’ll take the wax right off your car,” says Fix.

Clean the outside

STEP 1

Rinse the entire car with a garden hose set to medium pressure to remove loose dirt. That way, you won’t grind dirt into the finish, which can lead to scratches.

STEP 2

Working from the roof down, wash one section at a time. Scrub with a soapy sponge using a wide circular motion, then rinse with the hose. Clean windshield wipers, door handles, and lights with a sudsy sponge. “Use a toothbrush or cotton swabs to clean crevices, like the keyhole area,” says Fix. Last, clean windshields, windows, and mirrors with newspaper and glass cleaner.

STEP 3

Lather up the tires and wheels. They’re the dirtiest part of your car, so wash your tires and wheels (the metal frames the tires mount on) last. Hose them off with the most powerful spray setting, then do a final rinse of the entire car with a medium spray.

STEP 4

Dry the car completely. Gently hand-dry the car with a chamois or fluffy towel from the top down. Don’t forget to open the doors, hood, etc., to wipe away any water that dripped in. “Drying your car prevents streaks and water marks and readies it for a good coat of wax,” says Fix. Tip: For a speedy wax application, try a spray wax. Just spray it on and spread it around–no buffing required.

Washing the wheels protects the aluminum from oxidizing and corroding, and will make your tires look newer and last longer,” says Fix.

The Mr. Clean AutoDry Carwash System ($23) is a handheld sprayer that screws into your hose and cleans your car with a dry-rinse polymer. It makes water bead and roll right off the surface. Your car–even your windows!–will dry with a spot-free finish in minutes.