By on July 14, 2012

This is the final part of this series of articles, the ground rules and definitions of which you can find in the introductory comments from Parts One and Two.  Without detour, TO THE PODIUM for the final time!

Electronic Fuel Injection:

My attitude toward this technology went from “why bother”, in its infant days, to “why use anything else”, when it hit its stride near the end of the ‘80’s.

It all sure looked complicated when I was first getting acquainted with the Bosch systems on the VW Fast and Squareback models from the early ‘70’s. If I only knew it would get SO complicated that comprehensive on-board diagnostic systems would be required in order to properly diagnose and repair them… and I wouldn’t mind, because these systems work so well, it’s actually WORTH the extra complexity! As it has turned out, my choice of careers has proven in many ways to be an interesting road to self-discovery, but that, as I say, will be revealed in many other stories.

Not to put too fine a point on it, EFI has enabled auto manufacturers to achieve high-performance, increased fuel economy, reduced engine maintenance, seamless driveability in virtually ALL driving conditions, low exhaust and evaporative emissions, and excellent reliability (you can put those in any order you like) with the modern internal-combustion engine. It has also enabled them to solve some age-old problems associated with Diesel powerplants, as well.

It could be argued that manufacturers may be going beyond this technology’s depth in order to progressively expand and improve on the parameters listed, but there’s no arguing with what has been accomplished up to the end of the last millennium, at any rate.

The Reverse-Flow Cooling System:

Like a musical style I’d never heard before, I remember seeing this idea on Blue Propeller offerings in the very early ‘80’s, and wondering if it was really necessary, even though it didn’t seem to add to the complexity of the systems extant at the time.

Of course, after researching the whole thing, I had to conclude that a “better mousetrap” HAD really been invented!

This turned out to be especially true for engines with aluminum cylinder heads and cast iron blocks, where the combination of typical operating temperatures along with these metal’s different reaction to heating and cooling led to problems in the head gasket area.

Reversing the coolant flow routs the cooled coolant from the radiator outlet to the typically hotter-running head first, with that transferred heat now warming up the typically cooler-running block, thereby more closely matching the operating temperatures of the two!

The results are increased engine durability (regardless of the metals used in its construction), better warm-up driveability, AND lower exhaust emissions, to boot.

Everyone wins here!

All-Aluminum Engine Construction:

While cylinder heads made of aluminum have been commonplace on most vehicles for years, all-aluminum engines were only found on higher-end European offerings until more recently.

Unquestionably, all-aluminum engine construction greatly reduces the engine’s weight, as well as increasing durability — with cylinder head and block sharing the same thermal expansion/contraction characteristics

Arguments against aluminum engine blocks centered mainly around costs involved in what was considered necessary iron “sleeving” of the cylinder bores, as well as durability concerns with blocks cast in aluminum itself. The infamous Bowtie Vega engine fiasco — which involved a U.S. “first attempt” at producing a non-sleeved aluminum block for mass-consumption in the mid-‘70’s — was used as an excuse for avoiding the all-aluminum engine. This whining strategy was also used to a similarly pathetic effect after the even more notorious GM passenger car Diesel engine debacle of the early ‘80’s.

Eventually, U.S. manufacturers had to suck it up and produce decent all-aluminum engines without cylinder liners — which they did by the beginning of the ‘90’s. For the most part, it really didn’t hurt at all, and they haven’t had to look back, since.

The Serpentine Belt:

This was one technology I understood IMMEDIATELY! Although I did consider existing V-Belt technology to be an element of “job security”,

it sure came with a price of its own.

I really haven’t missed fiddling with all of the bracketry-hassle, and miscellaneous hardware and alignment issues that accompanied the old-school accessory drive method.

Sure, there is that mechanical redundancy security blanket missing from the serpentine-style system — if the belt fails, all accessory function fails along with it. This can be solved easily by keeping a spare belt on hand. But how can you argue with what is generally — with some less-than-noteworthy exceptions — the ease of replacement and reliability of an automatic tensioner?

I sure can’t.

Phil Coconis is the owner of a West Coast independent auto repair shop.

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28 Comments on “Phil’s Podium Of The Automotive Pure: Ten Trick Technologies That Changed the Automotive Maintenance & Repair Scene — Part Three...”

  • avatar

    I want to add the knock sensor onto your list.

    Timing is always maximized.
    No potential engine damage from detonation.
    Engines can run higher compression for power and efficiency.
    Lower octane fuels can be utilized if the recommended fuel is not available.
    Covers the cheapskates that use lower grade gas.

  • avatar

    I think a biggie to appreciate with new car tech is when any of the new stuff “goes bad”, it might make the car run “limp”, but it generally won’t completely strand you.

    Whereas an icy carb, or an improperly designed cooling system, will prob leave you high and dry.

    I bought a Maxima a while back on which 5 of the 6 ignition coils were bad, and the car still ran (albeit pretty weakly). ECU was able to make it happen and the design of the components meant failure didn’t mean not running.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, IMO, it’s a mixed bag. Carburetor and points based engines generally go into a bad state of tune gradually and run badly for a long time before they stop running, whereas many electronic failures are an on-off situation. The one that still sticks in my craw, because it was the first one I experienced, being a dead crank position sensor. I was floored that we had abandoned the obvious idea of the mechanical connection between crank, cam and distributor being all the “sensor” you need. I like the drivability advantages of EFI, who wouldn’t, but there is a price paid. I figure we are not too far away from car hoods having the same sticker that has beeen on the back of TV’s for years, “Do Not Open — No User Serviceable Parts Inside.”

      • 0 avatar

        The thing with sensors is… they’re easy to replace. A popped crankshaft or cam position sensor is a simple screw-on, plug-in affair… though nobody really carries around spares for them.

        I love EFI. Mostly painless. Now if we could also get rid of complex vacuum tubing completely by installing an electric vacuum pump…

  • avatar

    That’s a very interesting photo of a motorcycle “repair shop”. There were repair shops like that when I was a kid, many, many decades ago. When and where was that photo taken? As for where, my guess is Vietnam.

    • 0 avatar

      Well spotted! Appears to have been taken there in 1969-1970.

  • avatar

    Ditto for fuel injection. I’ve never once had it crap out on any car I’ve owned. It’s amazing when you think about it.

    • 0 avatar

      I have had trouble with it … but then I did own a ’71 Fastback with the early Bosch electronic system that Phil refers to (my first car, in fact). All but two cars since have been fuel-injected, and all without any EFI issues.

  • avatar

    Serpentine belts eliminated in one fell swoop the number one warranty repair on new cars. My Mark VII had a “stretch guage” on the tensioner body and when you neared the end of the range, you were supposed to replace it. I just chuck the belt at 100K or ten years…

    Fuel injection is what made long engine life a given…no more oil wash down due to rich conditions…BTW, other than the LT1 V8, how many cars had reverse cooling?

  • avatar

    It’s been a while, but I recall the 1955 Pontiac V8 having reverse cooling. Figured out that an Audi 5-cylinder that I had also had reverse cooling; I would guess that was a common VAG thing.

  • avatar

    My parents once took us on a ski trip from Chicago to Colorado in their 1980 Buick Century station wagon. I remember how badly the carburated 301 ran at altitude. I don’t know if it was rich or lean, but I was surprised we made it. Not an issue any more with EFI.

  • avatar

    I think Nissan should have pioneered the reverse flow water pump, but they didn’t. The aluminum head and cast iron block on the NAPZ ruined a couple engines for me. The weak point on an otherwise excellent vehicle.

  • avatar

    “Unquestionably, all-aluminum engine construction greatly reduces the engine’s weight, as well as increasing durability”

    Cue the feeling of a big lump in your throat and clenched up bung hole when you realize your spark plugs/ head bolts/intake manifold bolts, etc..aren’t reaching torque because the threads are stripped.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    My first exposure to electronic fuel injection was my 1975 Opel Manta purchased new. The Bosch system was remarkable. No more stumbling during warm up. Also altitude was also automatically compensated via the MAP sensor. I remember driving across country in 1979 and crossing the Rockies. While other cars were stuggling on some of the higher elevations, the little Opel didin’t miss a beat. I was sold on EFI from then on. Too bad it took the domestic and Japanese car makers over a decade to smarten up and join the party.

  • avatar

    The problem with serpentine belts is not just the belt. It’s that the failure of any component served by the belt might make the whole car inoperable where it otherwise wouldn’t. For example, if your alternator seizes and it has its own belt, cut or take off the belt and you should have enough juice in the battery to get home or to a repair facility unless you are in the boonies. With a serpentine belt, it’s time for a tow truck. Serpentine belts came into vogue with FWD and I have always thought they were more about packaging transverse engines into small spaces and saving a few bucks than soundness of design.

    • 0 avatar

      If the alternator/generator belt also drove the water pump, then the seized alternator belt became a “Houston we have a situation”, call the tow truck.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. The tensioner on our acura 3.0 V6 froze and belt bits rained all over the engine bay. Fortunately it was winter and the belt was for alternator and AC.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a close call on my old S-10 blazer, The thing’s acceleration went all herky-jerky and then finally smoothed-out.. I didn’t know it at the time but the bearings to the accessory pully on the AC-compressor seized and when I got it into the shop the guy told me I was lucky it didn’t break the belt while I was on the highway.

  • avatar

    My first experience with EFI, and the wonderful new world of on board diagnostics, was on a 1986 Ford Tempo. Soon after, every time I heard some geezer opine about the merits of this or that carb set-up, it was all I could do to keep myself from punching him in the face.

  • avatar

    The early Bosch D-Jetronic, K-Jetronic and L-Jetronic fuel injection systems were analog systems. If you had the Bosch manual – you could measure each device’s function with a multimeter to see if it was within factory specs.

    Closed loop fuel injections systems from the very late seventies included an O2 sensor, a.k.a. Lambda. You could now drive from San Diego to Yosemite with no problems.

    Modern injection systems from the early 1980’s onward are digital. Throw in OBD II and trouble shooting becomes much easier.

    Carburetors are much more finicky. Most use fixed jets that have to be dialed in, so to speak, for a particular altitude above sea level.

  • avatar

    Phil, thanks for a great series of articles gleaned from a lifetime of experience. Perhaps HSD, EREV and BEV could become commonplace like EFI.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Smokey Yunick’s innovative reverse flow cooling got his cars banned from the tracks when it first debuted, but it’s been a godsend on the street; my LT1-equipped Roadmaster can take I-70 west out of Denver all the way through the Eisenhower Tunnel and never see its coolant temperature twitch. The only downside to the reverse flow cooling system is the fail-soft nature of the thermostat: if it goes bad in summertime I may not notice it until I check the coolant temp (it registers lower than normal), but in winter it becomes immediately apparent, as I lose all cabin heat from the diverter valve.

  • avatar

    Before we wax poetic about the “good old days” of dead simple engines with little sophistication, remember that in 1930s or so engines does have a lack of electronics and other sophistication, but also produces little power from huge displacements, sucks gas, and need a rebuilt every 50,000 miles or so. Compared to them, today’s mundane engines like the Toyota 2.4l is almost like magical construct in comparison.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I bought a 1970 Squareback in 1974 . The car had a number of mechanical problems but nothing ever went wrong with the fuel injection though occasionally as I recall the little screws on the injectors would loosen and become soaked with gasoline but as I recall I would just tighten the screws and that was all it needed . Back in the day however mechanics were prone to blame any and everything on the injectors . Considering its pioneering nature of this technology it worked well and delivered better mileage than the Bug / Karmann Ghia .

  • avatar

    I’ve owned two cars with reverse flow cooling, and both suffered from overheating problems, unlike any of my other cars. I’m not completely convinced about the supposed benefits.

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