This article is the second in a series wherein—after thrashing manufacturers for doing their worst—I do a quasi de facto “equal time” summary of ten automotive mechanical technologies I believe are their best efforts, to date.
To review the guidelines I’m holding to in assembling this list: these are technologies that are pretty well universally accepted and are currently being used by the majority of auto manufacturers. They also have been popularized and proliferated during my automotive repair career. I’m covering them more-or-less in the order that they have achieved that status.
IT’S NOW BIN TIME!
The One-Piece Rear Main Seal:
Although it seems the European and Japanese manufacturers picked up on the value of using this technology from as far back as the late ‘60’s, if not earlier, it took the U.S. manufacturers a little longer to get with it. It wasn’t until the cycle for their earlier engine designs—sporting their two-pieced “rope-type” Crankshaft Rear Main Seals—had run their course, and new designs made their debut, that it could be said that they had now bought in to this technology.
Initially, the Yanks updated most of their older engine block designs by tossing the two-piece rope in favor of the two-piece neoprene seal countermeasure. While being an improvement over the rope, this upgrade still had its drawbacks: there were still some leakage and longevity issues, but the big bogey was with servicing it.
More often than not, to completely replace both halves, not only did the oil pan and rear crankshaft main bearing cap have to be removed, but usually the whole crankshaft, too—in order to access the half remaining in the block. Usually VERY DIFFICULT to do if the engine was installed in the vehicle!
With the one-piece, not only was oil leakage now reduced to nil—and for an extended time and mileage period, no less—the seal could easily be serviced during clutch replacement (back when many vehicles HAD clutches), or whenever the transmission was removed for repair. Highways, byways, and DRIVEWAYS across the United States of America all rejoiced in unison at this advancement! I doubt Oil Companies did, though.
So, how about that? A “one-piece” becoming the paradigm, and most desirable under ALL circumstances…
The Asian Gear-Reduction Starter:
Developed as a bulletproof-reliable solution for industrial and fleet vehicles in Japan, this design saw a rapid rise to popularity in Japanese passenger cars as far back as the late ‘60’s.
While the demands imposed by the rather small-displacement, lower-compression engines found in those vehicles didn’t really tax the abilities of this starter, they did allow for some incredibly long-term reliability records as a result. Other manufacturers took note.
Chrysler was among the first to develop their own gear-reduction unit, which was standard equipment on many of their cars at around the same time as the J-Units were being impressed into service. No one can forget the characteristic sound these Detroit-edition starters made. They did do a good job of spinning the high-compression engines prevalent during that period in U.S. auto manufacturing history—all comments about the sound they made while doing so, aside.
They worked so well because the actual motor section of the starter was not directly driving the pinion gear (which contacts the Flywheel Ring Gear) at a one-to-one ratio, as had been done for so many years previously. It rather drove the pinion via an internal reduction gear, allowing the motor to spin at a higher, more efficient RPM. This effect also allowed engineers to use a dimensionally smaller motor to accomplish what the larger, power-hungry direct-drive units of the past were able to.
The advantage of the Asian unit, however–besides having a motor of superior quality—was really in its solenoid design. Since the rest of the starter already had the potential for an absolutely INCREDIBLE service life, the only area of wear-concern was the high-amp contact posts within the solenoid, which bridged power to the motor.
To solve this problem without necessitating a more expensive solenoid replacement (as other manufacturers had), the engineers of these units made it easily possible to replace just the contact posts by themselves. Think of it: at the point where a conventional starter would be considered “failed”, and in need of overhaul, these starters would just need the contact posts replaced, and they’d be ready for the “next life”!
Full-Flow Engine Oil Filtration:
Oiling system and oil filter technology has continued to advance in the forward direction for many years since the days of “splash-oiling”, internal roller and needle bearing crankshafts, and filterless systems using non-detergent motor oil.
Even when us automobile owners and techs were “blessed” with the advent of the “spin-on” oil filter, incorporated into engines from the early-mid ‘60’s, we still were not completely out of the “dark ages” yet. Oiling systems were generally not designed to filter all, or even MOST of the oil being pumped throughout the engine at a given time. As a result, engine life generally was maxxed at about 150,000 miles, under the best of circumstances.
On the plus side, at least THOSE engines were completely rebuildable, so they could do another 150K with no problem, if the build was done correctly.
When Full-Flow oiling systems debuted in some European and Japanese passenger cars, before long it became understood that engine life had effectively been doubled, in some cases, just from the implementation of this ONE technology.
Now, virtually all passenger car engines employ full-flow filtration systems, and many vehicles have the capability of going 300,000 miles on the same engine, without need for a “rebuild break”. I might add that modern oil technology itself has also contributed to this fact. This is all a very fortunate thing for car owners, as many of these same engines are now effectively unrebuildable!
Phil Coconis is the owner of a West Coast independent auto repair shop.