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Jobber News: Modern Engines' Impact
Engines are getting better and the technology they employ is improving,
forcing the engine building industry to do the same
There is an old joke that you could repair the engine on a Ford
Model T and use the parts left over to fix your washing machine.
The world of underhood technology has certainly come a long way
since then, and it has had dramatic effects on the engine rebuilding
Change has been constant for the hundred-plus years of the automobile.
In the early days, such simplicity was welcomed in a world where
a broken engine was likely to end up in the hands of a blacksmith.
The onslaught of technology in the last decade has been felt keenly
by the aftermarket.
Fuel injection, increasingly sophisticated engine management systems,
and computer design tools have all helped get engineers and the
automakers they work for closer to "the perfect engine,"
though the definition of what that is remains elusive.
Possibly the best and most trusted selection of what is getting
close, though, is from Ward's Auto World, an icon of U.S. automotive
The Ward's 2004 list of honoured engines marks the 10th anniversary
for the Ward's 10 Best Engines awards, and three of the most notable
are good indicators of the current diversity of engine design and
Mazda Motor Corp.'s all-new Renesis rotary engine and Toyota Motor
Corp.'s more powerful hybrid-electric Prius drivetrain are two non-traditional
engine systems that were among Ward's 10 Best Engines winners for
Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.'s Subaru arm earns its first spot on
the Ward's 10 Best Engines list with its high-performance horizontally
opposed boxer 4-cylinder, which powers the Subaru WRX STi. The turbocharged
boxer engine delivers one of the highest horsepower-per-litre ratings
of any engine available, about 300 ponies out of 2.5 litres, making
it unusually powerful in relation to its size.
These three engines are joined by the Audi AG 4.2L DOHC V-8 found
in the S4, the BMW AG 3.2L DOHC I-6 from the M3, DaimlerChrysler
AG 5.7L Hemi Magnum OHV V-8 from the Dodge Ram, the DaimlerChrysler
AG 5.9L Cummins 600 OHV I-6 turbodiesel from the Dodge Ram Heavy
Duty, General Motor's Vortec 4.2L DOHC I-6 found in the GMC Envoy,
Honda's 3L DOHC V-6 from the Accord Coupe, and the Nissan Motor
Co. Ltd. 3.5L DOHC V-6 in the Infiniti G35.
That is certainly a diverse selection, but what they all have in
common is the challenges they represent for the aftermarket.
"That's a million dollar question," says Jim Rickoff,
marketing consultant for the AERA-Engine Rebuilders Association,
and a veteran of the engine rebuilding business. "The sealing
has changed quite a bit. Is that a better opportunity? I don't know.
Engine builders certainly have had to upgrade equipment to get finer
In general, he says, the whole design of modern engines has changed
"More and more engines are going to multiple valves per cylinder.
That can be an opportunity. There are more seats to deal with. There
are some engines with five valves per cylinder." And, he adds,
some of these valves and seats are very small.
"It's very difficult to deal with. Even the pilots are prone
to bending, so you have to go to carbide types. Is that an opportunity?
No, because it costs you money."
"Most [of the new engines] have increased specific output,
which puts more stress on the combustion seal, as well as creating
more exhaust heat, which requires more sophisticated gaskets and
seals in the exhaust system," says Jerry Rosenquist, chief
engineer for aftermarket gaskets at Federal-Mogul Corporation. "Newer
engines have traditionally been lighter in weight, so there is more
movement between flanges, which always plays havoc with gaskets."
He says that the diesel engine on the Top 10 list, the 5.9L Cummins
600, also raises the same issues.
"The newer diesel engines have higher outputs as well as increased
exhaust temps over older engines."
Temperature, at least when it gets out of hand, generally spells
more opportunity for the aftermarket, but those failures are generally
the result of another engine system failing--a holed radiator, for
example. Much of the unreliability of internal components has been
designed out, though there are always exceptions cropping up.
Rickoff says that the dominating trend comes from the reliability
of the designs, a sentiment echoed over and over again in the industry.
Engine rebuilders aren't just bleating: the volume of engine rebuilds
has dropped so drastically that it has changed the entire production
"The real growth opportunities continue to be in the performance
area," he says. "The sport compact is hotter than a pistol
and the kids have money to spend on them."
Engine builders are decking blocks, porting heads, and dropping
stronger cylinder liners in, all so the engines can live with high
boost pressures and nitrous at the dragstrip. It has become a mainstay
of many engine builders.
"That has been the hottest thing we have seen in a long time.
The Honda VTEC is where it all started, but the Toyota and Nissan
are coming on strong. The number of engines being considered has
Engine builder John Solecki, owner of Scarborough Engines in Toronto,
Ont., says that the whole profession has changed.
"Engines are no longer consumable items. Most engines last
the life of the car," he says. It has required an about-face
in the business approach to the market.
"It's an attitude thing. Because there aren't as many engines
being built, the guys who can't compete are slowly being winnowed
"I haven't seen a whole lot of serious differences in engine
technology in the last 10 years, but some of the more mass market
manufacturers are catching up to the more exotic guys."
From basic design to fuel delivery to internal clearances, Solecki
says that changes have forced engine builders to tighten up all
"[Take] the piston-to-cylinder clearances," he offers
by way of example. "I have to be careful on a Monday morning
in the winter if we've had the heat off in the shop. If we're not
really careful we can have a problem, because they are so tight
and so accurately machined. If you could hold your tolerances to
a thou a few years ago, you have to hold it to two-tenths of a thou
"A lot of it is harping on the same old stuff that I was harping
on 10 years ago," and took heat over, it might be added.
Solecki has been in and out of the performance engine rebuilding
business to varying degrees over the years, and admits he'll probably
have to focus on it more strongly again, but says that it is a different
animal from the days of old.
"Back in the days when the American V8s were so badly made,
you could do anything to them. There are some engines out there
that I am convinced make less power than they did before the modifications.
I probably spend more time on the computer now than I do in the
shop. We have to be sure that the simulations are showing what we
"Some of the old stuff still works. You can improve on porting.
If you get a really good camshaft, you can raise the torque peak,
but it's not like you're working against this wall of errors and
that anything you change will improve the engine's performance,"
"The hardest part is getting the tuning right afterward since
most [engine management] systems now have so little corrective capability.
It's no longer just about machining. If you're not thinking like
that, you need to take a look at what happened to the blacksmiths."
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