Q: What is VTEC?

December 17, 2013 12:53 PM

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There are many technological enhancements that can help engines run more effectively. Honda uses a patented design called "variable valve timing and lift electronic control," or VTEC. This system helps improve the efficiency of Honda's engines by using computerized engine controls. Consumers should familiarize themselves with these systems and determine whether it's worth investing in a VTEC-type engine.

Honda originally designed the VTEC system in the early 1980s to improve the horsepower of 4-cylinder engines without decreasing fuel efficiency. Since then, other manufacturers have developed similar designs. The VTEC engine configuration allows cars to go quicker while preserving their ability to save gasoline. The system is the first of its kind to use multiple camshaft profiles so that the engine works equally well at high and low revolutions per minute (rpm). This means that your engine will run effectively regardless of the vehicle's speed.

To understand the value of the VTEC system, you need to understand the basics of how a car engine works. A 4-cylinder engine contains four pistons that move up and down to control the flow of air and fuel into the engine's combustion chamber. A camshaft is a rotating shaft with lobes that open and close the combustion chamber's air intake and exhaust valves. The camshafts move in accordance with the movement of the pistons to let air into the engine at specific times.

The problem is that as the car moves faster, the pistons in the engine also move faster. The number of times the pistons go through a full cycle in a minute is measured in rpms. In most engines, camshafts open and close the valves at one specific, consistent rate, but at higher rpms, valves open and close too quickly to get an optimal air/fuel mixture. Thus, vehicles burn more fuel at higher speeds.

The VTEC changes this by using computers and multiple lobes on the camshaft. The computer takes many factors into account including oil pressure, engine temperature and how fast the engine is revving and uses this information to determine when the air valves need to open and close. It then signals the correct set of lobes on the camshaft to open the valves at the right time. This allows the engine to perform optimally at all speeds.

Although the VTEC was originally designed by Honda, similar systems -- not called "VTEC" -- are used in many different types of Foreign cars including Toyota, Porsche, BMW and Nissan.

If you are in the market for either a new or a used car, consider purchasing a vehicle with a VTEC-type engine. They use computerization to help the engine maintain a high power level and burn less gas. They could be worth the added investment for some car shoppers who want engines to perform optimally regardless of the speeds at which their vehicles are driven. In short, it means the driver can get an impressive blend of performance and efficiency regardless of whether the vehicle is being operated in stop-and-go traffic or on long stretches of highway.

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