We rely upon them every day, dedicate thousands of dollars to keep them running great, and–sometimes–even affectionately name them, they’re so important to us.  Our vehicles are fantastic machines that have defined the modern era of productivity and freedom, keeping our workweek running smoothly and our weekends full of excitement and satisfaction.  But have you ever wondered about how your car turns gas into great thrills or reliable cruising? We spend so much time and money with our cars, but few really understand the systems that turn the wheels and throttle the engine with every press of the peddle.  We’re here to sate your curiosity and uncover what goes on under the hood every time you turn your key!

Powering us forward is, of course, the engine, otherwise referred to as a powertrain!  There are a variety of powertrains built into modern vehicles, from gas turbines, two-stroke engines, diesel engines, rotary engines, and HEMIs.  Each of these systems use internal combustion to generate our vehicle’s horsepower and torque. To do this, fuel is injected into the cylinders and is then ignited, heating and expanding the gas of the chamber to drive the pistons into producing mechanical energy.  According to our Auto Tech Consultant at Columbiana Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram (Columbiana, OH), this is officially known as a “four-stroke combustion cycle”, wherein the cylinder takes in the fuel, comes down upon the fuel as its ignited by the spark plugs in a combustion stroke, then powering the cylinder back up, and finishes the pattern with an exhaust stroke to vent out the spent gases.  This process repeats hundreds of times a minute, multiplied by however many cylinders your engine is built with, to give you the power you need to drive.

Pistons are connected to the crankshaft via rod bearings.  This feeds into the vehicle’s transmission, which utilizes the engine’s power to ultimately turn the wheels.  There are a number of transmissions your vehicle could have as well, such as Continuously Variable Transmissions, automatic transmissions, semi-automatic transmissions, manual transmissions, Direct Shift Gearboxes, or TripTronic Gearboxes.  Each basically perform the same function, using the rotations of the crankshaft channeled through a series of interlocking gears to direct turning forces to the tires. The hundreds of rotations the crankshaft generates per minute must be reduced down to generate the vehicle’s torque.  

Next is the drivetrain, or all components that turn the wheels.  Depending on where your transmission sends its power and how your drivetrain is configured, you vehicle’s performance can be tailored to better suit efficiency, speed, performance, or terrain management.  This is what determines whether your car, truck, or SUV is a front-, rear-, all-wheel, or four-wheel drive vehicle. The transmission’s gears cog into the vehicle’s driveshaft, which then links to the driving axle’s differential.  Differentials meet in the middle of your vehicle’s axles to transfer power into turning the wheels. CV joints and U-joints both work to provide the axles’ rotation abilities in order to turn the car as a whole. You may have heard of a locking differential equipped to certain all-wheel drive vehicle.  This system disengages the differential’s connection with one of the vehicle’s axles, temporarily making the car solely run on either front- or rear-wheel drive when the extra power isn’t necessary. These cars are called part-time all-wheel drive vehicles, and they help deliver superior handling when you need it while saving on fuel when you don’t, since more energy is necessary to turn all four tires compared to only two.  

And that’s how a car works in a nutshell!  When summarized, it’s a whole lot less complicated than it otherwise may seem when looking down into the feat of engineering under your hood.  This amazing system has been innovated upon for more than one hundred years now, increasing their efficiency and driving greater and more impressive performance stats year after year.  We’re always excited to see what the latest technology has to improve upon this basic system, whether we’re fanatics of speed, off-roading, great tow performances, or eco-friendliness and earth conscientiousness.  It’s got a lot of needs and performance wishes to cater to across the nation, but our cars faithfully serve us exactly the right amount of power and reliability we require every day.

About The Author

General communicator. Travel specialist. Writer. Infuriatingly humble reader.

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