The primary components of acar are the power plant, the power transmission, the running gear, and the con­trol system. These constitute the chassis, on which the body is mounted.

The power plant includes the engine and its fuel, the carburettor, ignition, lubrication, and cooling systems, and the starter motor.

The Engine

The greatest number of cars use piston engines. The four-cycle piston engine requires four strokes of the pis­ton per cycle. The first downstroke draws in the petrol mixture. The first upstroke compresses it. The second downstroke—the power stroke—following the combus­tion of the fuel, supplies the power, and the second upstroke evacuates the burned gases. Intake and exhaust valves in the cylinder control the intake of fuel and the release of burned gases. At the end of the power stroke the pressure of the burned gases in the cylinder is 2.8 to 3.5 kg/sq cm. These gases escape with the sudden open­ing of the exhaust valve. They rush to a silencer (muf­fler), an enlarged section of piping containing expand­ing ducts and perforated plates through which the gases expand and are released into the atmosphere.

Greater smoothness of operation of the four-cycle en­gine were provided by the development of the four-cyl­inder engine, which supplies power from one or another of the cylinders on each stroke of the cycle. A further increase in power and smoothness is obtained in engines of 6,8,12, and 16 cylinders, which are arranged in either a straight line or two banks assembled in the form of a V.


Air is mixed with the vapour of the petrol in the car­burettor. To prevent the air and the carburettor from becoming too cold for successful evaporation of the fuel, the air for the carburettor is usually taken from a point close to a heated part of the engine. Modern carburet­tors are fitted with a so-called float-feed chamber and a mixing or spraying chamber. The first is a small cham­ber in which a small supply of petrol is maintained at a constant level. The petrol is pumped from the main tank to this chamber, the float rising as the petrol flows in until the desired level is reached, when the inlet closes. The carburettor is equipped with such devices as accel­erating pumps and economizer valves, which automati­cally control the mixture ratio for efficient operation under varying conditions. Level-road driving at constant speed requires a lower ratio of petrol to air than that needed for climbing hills, for acceleration, or for start­ing the engine in cold weather. When a mixture ex­tremely rich in petrol is necessary, a valve known as the choke cuts down the air intake, permitting large quanti­ties of unvaporized fuel to enter the cylinder.


The mixture of air and petrol vapour delivered to the cylinder from the carburettor is compressed by the first upstroke of the piston. This heats the gas, and the higher temperature and pressure facilitate ignition and quick combustion. The next operation is that of igniting the charge by a spark plug. One electrode is insulated by por­celain or mica; the other is grounded through the metal of the plug, and both form part of the secondary circuit of an induction system.

The principal type of ignition now commonly used is the battery-and-coil system. The current from the bat­tery flows through the coil and magnetizes the iron core. When this circuit is interrupted at the distributor points by the interrupter cam, a current is produced in the pri­mary coil with the assistance of the condenser. This in­duces a high-voltage current in the secondary winding. This secondary high voltage is needed to cause the spark to jump the gap in the spark plug. The spark is directed to the proper cylinder by the distributor, which connects the secondary coil to the spark plugs in the several cylin­ders in their proper firing sequence. The interrupter cam and distributor are driven from the same shaft, the number of breaking points on the interrupter cam being the same as the number of cylinders.

The electrical equipment controls the starting of the engine, its ignition system, and the lighting of the car. It consists of the battery, a generator for charging it when the engine is running, a starter and the necessary wiring. Electricity also operates various automatic de­vices and accessories, including windscreen wipers, di­rectional signals, heating and air conditioning, cigarette lighters, powered windows and audio equipment.


In the force-feed system, a pump forces the oil to the main crankshaft bearings and then through drilled holes in the crankpins. In the full-force system, oil is also forced to the connecting rod and then out to the walls of the cylinder at the piston pin.


At the moment of explosion, the temperature within the cylinder is much higher than the melting point of cast iron. Since the explosions take place as often as 2,000 times per minute in each cylinder, the cylinder would soon become so hot that the piston, through ex­pansion, would «freeze» in the cylinder. The cylinders are therefore provided with jackets, through which water is rapidly circulated by a small pump driven by a gear on the crankshaft or camshaft. During cold weather, the water is generally mixed with a suitable antifreeze, such as alcohol, wood alcohol, or ethylene glycol.

To keep the water from boiling away, a radiator forms part of the engine-cooling system. Radiators vary in shape and style. They all have the same function, how­ever, of allowing the water to pass through tubing with a large area, the outer surface of which can be cooled by the atmosphere. In air cooling of engine cylinders, vari­ous means are used to give the heat an outlet and carry it off by a forced draught of air.

The Starter

The petrol engine must usually be set in motion be­fore an explosion can take place and power can be devel­oped; moreover, it cannot develop much power at low speeds. These difficulties have been overcome by the use of gears and clutches, which permit the engine to work at a speed higher than that of the wheels, and to work when the vehicle is at rest. An electric starter receiving its current from the storage battery, turns the crank­shaft, thus starting the petrol engine. The starter motor is of a special type that operates under a heavy overload, producing high power for very short periods. In modern cars, the starter motor is automatically actuated when the ignition switch is turned on.

The Power Transmission

The engine power is delivered first to the flywheel and then to the clutch. From the clutch, which is the means of coupling the engine with the power-transmission units, the power flows through the transmission and is delivered into the rear-axle drive gears, or differential, by means of the drive shaft and universal joints. The dif­ferential delivers the power to each of the rear wheels through the rear-axle drive shafts.

The Clutch

Some type of clutch is found in every car. The clutch may be operated by means of a foot pedal, or it may be automatic or semi-automatic. The friction clutch and the fluid coupling are the two basic varieties. The friction clutch, which depends on solid contact between engine and transmission, consists of: the rear face of the fly­wheel; the driving plate, mounted to rotate with the fly­wheel; and the driven plate, between the other two. When the clutch is engaged, the driving plate presses the driven plate against the rear face of the flywheel. Engine power is then delivered through the contacting surfaces to the transmission.

Fluid coupling may be used either with or without the friction clutch. When it is the sole means of engaging the engine to the transmission, power is delivered exclu­sively through an oil medium without any contact of solid parts. In this type, known as a fluid drive, an engine-driven, fan-bladed disc, known as the fluid flywheel, agitates the oil with sufficient force to rotate a second disc that is connected to the transmission. As the rota­tion of the second disc directly depends on the amount of engine power delivered, the prime result of fluid coupling is an automatic clutch action, which greatly simplifies the requirements for gear shifting.

Manual and Automatic Transmissions

The transmission is a mechanism that changes speed and power ratios between the engine and the driving wheels. Three general types of transmission are in cur­rent use: conventional or sliding-gear, Hydra-Matic, and torque-converter systems.

The conventional transmission provides for three or four forward speeds and one reverse speed. It consists of two shafts, each with gears of varying diameters. One shaft drives the other at a preselected speed by meshing the appropriate set of gears. For reverse speed/an extra gear, known as the idler gear, is required to turn the driven shaft in the opposite direction from normal rota­tion. In high gear, the two shafts usually turn at the same speed. In low, second, and reverse gears, the driven shaft turns more slowly than the driving shaft. When a pair of gears permits the driven shaft to turn more rapidly than the driving shaft, the transmission is said to have overdrive. Overdrive is designed to increase the speed of a car.

The Hydra-Matic type of transmission combines the automatic clutch provided by fluid coupling with a semi­automatic transmission. A mechanical governor, control­led by the pressure exerted on the accelerator pedal, regu­lates gear selection through a system of hydraulically controlled shift valves. Hydra-Matic transmission pro­vides for several forward gears.

The torque-converter type of transmission provides an unlimited number of gear ratios with no shifting of gears. The torque converter is a hydraulic mechanism using engine power to drive a pump, which impels streams of oil against the blades of a turbine. The tur­bine is connected to the drive shaft and causes it to ro­tate.

Both Hydra-Matic and torque-converter systems are controlled by a selector lever on the steering column, which provides also for reverse and sometimes for emer­gency-low gears.

The Running Gear

The running gear of the car includes the wheel-sus­pension system, the stabilizers, and the wheels and tyres. The frame of the car may be considered the integrating member of the running gear. It is attached to the rear axle and to the front wheels by springs. These springs, along with the axles, the control and support arms, and the shock absorbers, constitute the wheel-suspension system. In modern cars the front wheels are independ­ently suspended from the frame in a manner that per­mits either wheel to change its plane without appreci­ably affecting the other. This type of front-wheel sus­pension is known popularly as independent suspension. The stabilizers consist of spring-steel bars, connected between the shock-absorber arms by levers, to decrease body roll and improve steerability.

The Control System

Steering is controlled by a hand wheel, mounted on an inclined column and attached to a steering tube inside the column. The other end of the tube is connected to the steer­ing gear, which is designed to provide maximum ease of operation. Power steering, adapted for passenger cars in the early 1950s, is generally a hydraulic mechanism used as a booster to reduce the effort of steering.

A car has two sets of brakes: the hand or emergency brake and the foot brake. The emergency brake gener­ally operates on the rear wheels only. The foot brake in modern cars is always of the four-wheel type, operating on all wheels. Hydraulic brakes on cars and hydraulic vacuum, air, or power brakes on lorries apply the brak­ing force to the wheels with much less force on the brake pedal than is required with ordinary mechanical brakes. The wheel brakes are generally of the internally expand­ing type, in which a convex strip of material is forced against a concave steel brake drum.


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