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Eco-upgrading your car

20 September 2014

Most people think that modern cars are about as fuel-efficient as you can get.

Super-complex computer modeling has allowed designers to whittle away at crucial factors such as drag coefficients and such, whilst engineers have come up with ways of using amazing new materials in ways that reduce weight and the rolling resistance associated with it.

Despite the fact that the basics fundamentals of the automobile have changed little in its more than a century of development, the details have been improved immensely.

Whereas the old Model T Ford was largely made from steel, iron, wood and rubber -- today's "state of the art" Japanese marvel may contain exotic alloys, clever composites and an array of computers that make NASA's moon-mission technology look like a child's toy.

But is there more that can be done to improve the fuel-efficiency of modern vehicles?

Well yes... just take a look at what someone in the UK has done

Okay, so the XJ-S Jaguar isn't exactly a "modern" vehicle -- in fact it's 30 years old but The Register has run a story showing how one person has enhanced the fuel efficiency of their old dunga to such an extent that it puts many modern cars of this size to shame.

Crikey... there's some clever (and very sensible) stuff here.

Something as simple as a smarter charging system that boosts the charging current drawn from the alternator when you're decelerating which effectively creates a form of regenerative braking.

Doing the same with the air-con also seems to deliver a worthwhile improvement in fuel efficiency.

Drag has been reduced by creating smoother airflow under the vehicle by way of an underpan and careful replacement of some parts has knocked the weight down.

One interesting element of the weight-savings was replacing significant elements of the heavy copper wiring loom with much lighter aluminium wiring.

Incandescent bulbs for brake-lights, parking lights etc were replaced with LEDs to reduce the load on the electrical system -- thus reducing the amount of fuel required.

The power steering and coolant pumps were replaced with electric versions which save power by only running when necessary -- instead of being a constant load on the engine.

Now each of these small improvements on its own would likely contribute only a small benefit but, combine them all and you end up with a huge tank like the XJ-S delivering 43 miles per gallon -- a figure that would have been unimaginable back in 1984 when the car was made.

Since I drive a 1991 Toyota ute, I'm not really up on the state of modern vehicle technology but I wonder how many of our modern vehicles use many or all of these fuel-saving features. I know quite a few vehicles now use electric power-steering pumps but how about aluminium wiring, regenerative charging, smart aircon, etc?

Since we've pretty much reached the theoretical limits of efficiency for the internal combustion engine -- and since the ICE looks set to be largely replaced by the electric motor over the next decade or two, it seems that other methods will have to be found to improve the energy-efficiency of our vehicles. It's all very interesting stuff!

Well *I* find it interesting :-)

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