Engine tuning

From Academic Kids

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Tuned_Honda_CRX.jpg
A custom engine swap with a tuned VTEC engine of a Honda Civic CRX

Engine tuning is the modification or design of internal combustion engines to yield more performance, either in terms of power output or economy. It is a popular pastime with amateur mechanics and petrolheads. It has a long history, almost as long as the development of the car in general, originating with the development of early racing cars, and later, with the post-war hot-rod movement.

In most cases, people are interested in increasing the power output of an engine. Many well tried and tested techniques have been devised to achieve this, but essentially all operate to increase the rate (and to a lesser extent efficiency) of combustion in a given engine. This is achieved by putting more fuel/air mixture into the engine, using a fuel with higher energy content, burning it more rapidly, and getting rid of the waste products more rapidly - this increases volumetric efficiency. The specific ways this is done include:

  • Using larger or multiple carburettors, to create more fuel/air mixture to burn, and to get it into the engine more quickly. In modern engines, fuel injection is more often used, and may be modified in a similar manner.
  • Increasing the size of the valves in the engine, thus decreasing the restriction in the path of the fuel/air mixture entering, and the exhaust gases leaving the cylinder. Using multiple valves per cylinder results in the same thing - it is often more practical to have several small valves than have larger single valves.
  • Using larger bored, smoother, less contorted intake and exhaust manifolds. This helps maintain the velocity of gases. Similarly, the ports in the cylinder are enlarged and smoothed to match.
  • The larger bore may extend right through the complete exhaust system, using larger diameter piping and low back pressure mufflers.
  • Increasing the valve opening height (lift), by changing the profiles of the camshaft or the lift (lever) ratio of the valve rockers (OHV engines), or cam followers (OHC engines).
  • Optimising the valve timing to improve burning efficiency - usually this increases power at one range of operating RPM at the expense of reducing it at others. For many applications this compromise is acceptable. Again this is usually achieved by a differently profiled camshaft.
  • Adding a supercharger or turbocharger. This forces more fuel/air mass into the engine by raising its pressure, rather than simply relying on the suction of the descending piston.
  • Using a fuel with higher energy content or by adding an oxidiser such as nitrous oxide.
  • Changing the tuning characteristics electronically, by changing the firmware of the engine management system (EMS). This often works because modern engines are designed to give a lot of raw power, which is then reduced by the engine management system to make the engine operate smoothly over a wider RPM range, with low emissions. By analogy with an operational amplifier, the EMS acts as a feedback loop around an engine with a lot of open loop gain. Many modern engines are now of this type, and are amenable to this form of tuning. Naturally many other design parameters are sacrificed in the pursuit of power.

See also

de:Motortuning fr:Tuning pl:Tuning

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