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Understanding The POWER TRAIN Of Your Car

The power train of a car is simply the make up of its engine and the output of that engine. With the population of cars in Nigeria on the increase, and Auto companies and dealers offering many models and brands of cars, understanding the power train of a car is necessary in making the choice of a car to acquire because, it gives one an indication of how much power that car produces and rate of fuel it converts to do so and also, what the car is capable of under good and extreme roads conditions, and in different weather conditions.

Let’s take this excerpt from the 2014 movie “Need For Speed”, the scene where Julia played by Imogen Potts meets Pete and Tobey Marshall at the showcasing of the 2014 Shelby Mustang GTR.

Julia walks up to Pete and Tobey who were both admiring the outcome of the work they did on the Mustang, she starts off without introducing herself, “How fast does it go?”

Peter who saw her approach turns to her, “Fast, very fast”, he answers then shakes her hand.

Returning the handshake, she continues “aren’t all mustangs fast?” 

Peter smiles and answers, “well this one was built by Ford and re-imagined by Carroll Shelby, the greatest performance car builder in American history.” 

Then Tobey who had been silent initially cuts in, “she is not from around here Pete, so she probably has no idea who Carroll Shelby is” he said, making reference to her English accent. 

But Julia pretends to ignore him and focuses on Pete, “then why is it so fast?”

Pete with a proud grin on his face, “it’s nine hundred horsepower baby!”

Looking unimpressed Julia asks, “Is that a lot?” 

Taken aback by her question, Pete flashes a quick shocking glance at Tobey then back to Julia, “are you kidding me?” he starts off, “look miss, this isn’t the kind of car you can just go to the mall and buy. Trust me when I say, it’s one of a kind.”

Still looking a bit unimpressed, Julia nods and then asks, “Can I see the engine?” 

“Sure!” replies Tobey grudgingly while Pete brings out the car’s remote key and presses it. The mustang beeps and the hood pops open as the three walk up to it.

Now the interesting part; Julia stares at the engine with keen interest and then she starts, “5.8 litre, aluminium block, SVT super charger and racing headers” then in disdainful tone, she concludes “it’s quite nice actually.” 

The shock on both Tobey and Pete’s faces was priceless.

Most car owners and buyers after purchase don’t even know what goes on under the hoods of their cars or how much power they have at their disposal. They wake up in the morning, enter their car, start the engine, put the gear in ‘D’ or gear one for manual and they are off driving them around, only remembering when to refuel their tanks.

For those who just want to buy a car that meets their needs, they might not be interested as there is no shame in not knowing, but there’s also no excuse for not getting educated and as Nigeria is becoming more and more automobile enlightened, I would hate to see you fake your way through your conversations with your guys or worse, an auto dealer. So let me explain some basic car specs involved in the performance of a vehicle.

Engine Type and Capacity 

Engine type refers to the configuration of the engine. Most cars produced are in a multi-cylinder configuration and the cylinders usually are arranged in one of three ways: inline, V or flat. Each cylinder has a volume of fuel and air mixture it can take, which together make up the engine capacity. So when you hear a 3.3 liter V6 engine, it simply means that it is a V engine with 6 cylinders and a 3.3liter volume capacity. The bigger an engine is, the more power it can produce, but at the expense of more fuel. It is wise to note that there is no ideal engine as automakers are constantly tweaking engines in order to deliver a variety of performances in relation to fuel efficiency. 

Horsepower (hp)

Horsepower is the common measurement of an engine’s output. By pure definition, 1 horsepower is the power needed to lift 550 pounds one foot off the ground in exactly one second. In simpler terms, horsepower is one figure to consider for mid- and upper-range engine response. It is usually attributed to the top speed of the vehicle. There’s no magic number for ideal the horsepower for an engine, as other variables like engine torque, vehicle weight, aerodynamics, and gearing all play supporting roles in the car's overall performance.

Torque (lb-ft)

Torque is a force applied at a non-zero distance from an object's centre will tend to rotate the object. If a wrench is placed on a bolt and a force is applied to the end of the wrench, the bolt will turn. If the same pulling force was applied directly to the bolt, it would not turn because the force's direction passes through the object's centre. The amount of torque is determined by multiplying the magnitude of the force by the force's distance from centre. It is measured in pound-feet. One pound-foot equals the twisting force produced when a one-pound force is applied at the end of a one-foot-long lever. You’ll see the pound-feet measurement of torque touted with horsepower, even though horsepower often gets all the credit for an engine’s performance. Remember, though, low- and mid-range response is where torque plays a big role. Torque is attributed to the car’s acceleration.

0-100 km/h (0-62Mph)

This term refers to the length in seconds to accelerate to 100kilometer per hour from a standstill. It is used more as a bragging term. In the United States, they use 0-60mph (miles per hours). Movie involving car racing like ‘The Fast and Furious’, enjoy the use of the phrase. It’s not uncommon for sports cars to clock four-second runs, while a typical SUV trails behind at around nine seconds or more. However, bear in mind these numbers are typically gleaned by the factory and/or professional drivers on a test track under optimal conditions. So beyond bragging rights and for real-world practicality, it’s good to know this figure as an indication of how quickly a vehicle can accelerate to highway speeds. 

All-wheel drive (AWD) vs. four-wheel drive (4WD)

By definition, the commonly understood difference between an all-wheel drive and a four-wheel drive boils down to your involvement with the vehicle’s power train operation. Four-wheel drive modes are usually controlled by the driver, engaged either by dashboard controls or console shifters. All-wheel drive typically refers to automatic, seamless operation with little or no driver intervention. Either way, you get extra traction in many conditions at the expense of more fuel and maintenance to run an all-wheel/four-wheel drive vehicle versus a comparable two-wheel drive model. 

Transmission: Manumatic vs clutchlessmanual vs CVT transmission

Transmissions have evolved into role players. In the past, it was just a manual or stick shift versus automatic transmission but as technology has advanced, Manuals now want to work like automatics while automatics are into getting shifted around like manuals. Therefore, transmissions have become highly sophisticated. While some interchange the terms, many refer to a manumatic as an automatic featuring a separate driver-operated, gear-changing mode. On the other hand, clutchless manuals may require full-time gear selection by the driver for the smoothest shifts, but usually feature a separate fully automatic mode. A CVT automatic is a continuously variable transmission. It infinitely adjusts its ratio in response to factors like load and throttle position without the perceptible gear changes of a conventional automatic. From the driver’s seat, the response feels much more linear. Depending on the setup, a CVT can also return better gas mileage versus an old-school slushbox.

Having a good knowledge of what's under the hood of a car gives one the confidence needed to face the daily challenges that lay in wait on the roads of Nigeria.

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