Explain how a car engine works to a 6-year-old? They’ll learn nothing

Hi Baraza,

Over the past one year I have been reading your articles and have to say nowadays I find myself making smart car comments thanks to you, even though I am yet to own one. I was asked by my nephew whether cars have stomachs and the questioning deteriorated towards embarrassing as I tried to explain how cars “drink” fuel and use it to move.  Would you be so kind as to explain the working of a car engine in a way that a six-year-old would understand. Alexius M

I have wracked my mind-brain for a clean week-and-a-half concerning this matter and arrived at the following conclusion: a six-year old will never understand the working of a car engine, no matter how oversimplified the explanation gets.

The best one I can come up with is this: petrol goes into the tank, from the tank it goes to the engine, in the engine it gets burnt out of sight and this burning produces the vroom-vroom sound and makes the car move.

Anything beyond this will start involving talk of combustion cycles, crankshafts, chemical reactions, compression and whatnot, and 1. Six-year olds have no idea what these are, and 2.

Six-year olds have notoriously short attention spans and you will probably lose them long before you start explaining the role of a fuel pump

INACCURACIES

As a car enthusiast, I find your responses to queries from your readers factually accurate…most of the time.

However, your take on the debate between the Merc E240 211 and the Bima E39 had glaring inaccuracies, first of which was that the E240 is a 2600cc V6 engine, and not 2400cc as is commonly assumed.

The E39 Bima has a straight six, or inline engine if you like, that is 2500cc. The differential 100cc is in favour of the Merc.

Secondly, the Merc doesn’t have the electronic issues you mentioned. The starter regulates the cranking and automatically disengages once the motor fires, leading to almost no wear and tear.

The central locking/plipper, electrical windows, etc. are all regulated by a system called Canbas, which makes diagnostics practically kids’ play given the right tool set.

I suspect the people who have had issues have never really had their cars worked on by experts.

COMFORTABLE RIDE
Thirdly, the Merc has a more comfortable ride with excellent response. The 211 was a vast improvement on the 210 and can take on the Bima, both in straight runs and cornering.

The details are in the suspension system. I own both cars and overall, the Merc takes our road conditions well and ages very gracefully compared to the Bima.

I suspect it’s the reason you will find them, rather than Bimas, serving as VIP escorts in the presidential motorcade.

Please Countercheck my facts and revise your views accordingly.
L Khafafa

Interesting. From your response, I can tell you are a Mercedes fan (and possibly pundit), a fact that comes to light given that you have chosen to extol the virtues of the wrong car.

You are talking about a W211 while my response was in reference to the W210; the same car that you say the W211 was a vast improvement of.

The E39 BMW 5 Series was a direct rival of the W210, not the W211. The latter Merc’s BMW competitor is the rather awkward-looking E60 model.

That said, I agree with all your views about the W211, more so in comparison to the E39, but why compare fresh apples with overripe oranges? The oranges don’t stand a chance, do they?

While the E39 vs W210 showdown leaves a noticeable gap between the two Teutonic titans — a gap in favour of the blue propeller — a similar standoff between both their successors makes it harder to pick a winner.

Sure, the W211 is far prettier than the E60 (a minger, if you ask me), but the E60 is more of a driver’s car. The E60 is more responsive, the W211 is more comfortable.

GEARBOX IMPROVEMENT

The E60’s automatic gearbox could do with some improvement; the W211’s manual gearbox could do with some improvement.

The E270 CDI and E320 CDI are paragons of efficiency, the 530d can be an alternative M5 through some simple tweaks and increasing the boost pressure in the turbos.

This leaves one in a quandary. Mid-size premium German saloons are as much about status as they are about comfort, and nowhere will you find gravitas and pamper if you can’t find it in a Mercedes.

But German saloons are also about blowing cheaper machinery out of the water, both on an autobahn at 300km/h and in a twisty backroad on a Sunday morning, and the BMW is the Walther PPK you need for this exercise: it handles better and is faster than the equivalent Benz.

For a good ride, get the Merc. For a good drive, get the BMW.

Hi Baraza,
Congratulations on the good work you are doing to enlighten us about cars.

My question is related to tyres. Who or what determines the use of low- or high-profile tyres? Are there any significant benefits or differences between them?
Fred

Hello,
The use of low or high-profile tyres is determined for the most part by two factors: personal preference and application.

Personal preference: The biggest difference in these tyre types is felt most by the driver/owner. Low-profile tyres trade mostly on looks and appearance, while high-profile tyres offer greater comfort.

More often than not, the low-profile tyres you see fitted on cars are put there because they simply look good, while thicker sidewalls are normally used where a plushy ride is the desired effect.

Application: There is the 10 per cent or so of drivers who install tyres according to exactly how they intend to use them. Low-profile tyres are good for handling and road-holding, which is why any vehicle with sporty pretensions has them.

The thinner sidewalls resist flex to a higher degree compared to taller rubbers, thus eliminating understeer and/or oversteer, and also sharpen the handling.

In a vast majority of cases, tyres with thin sidewalls tend to have a wider tread, which in turn means increased grip levels.

OFF-ROADING
High-profile tyres are ideal for off-roading. The chunky doughnuts allow for a more detailed and deeply grooved tread pattern and also give allowance for regulated tyre pressures (different off-road conditions call for different tyre pressures).

The fatter air cushion also filters out the bumps, holes and surface imperfections that define off-road conditions.

There is also reduced risk of damage to the rims and/or the tyres themselves peeling off the rim in extreme conditions.

Hi Baraza,
I have used Xado Revitalizant and trust me, it works! I used the 1 Stage Engine Revitalisant in my 2005 Nissan Wingroad and there is a significant difference, especially with power output. I read that you also want to use Revitalisant for automatic transmissions in your Mazda Demio (Haha!)… It’s strange since you never tell us the things you use in your car. Do you also run on V-Power?

Hello,
Interesting. So the Russian juice works, eh? I’m almost at the end of the research stage with the Xado gearbox oil and my results will be out sooner rather than later.

One question, though: the power jump you refer to, is it an actual increase in power or is it better engine response? I don’t think an oil additive would contribute anything to the power output of an engine unless there was compression leakage originally which has since been cured.

Now, to my Demio. It has a manual transmission (Duh!), not automatic, and it is the guinea pig in use for the experiment mentioned above. I sometimes run on V Power but have no particular formula.

I put about 20 litres of V Power every now and then, the now and then in question being 1: when I can afford it and 2: if I can afford it and the pump attendant asks, “Premium or V Power?”

Hi,
There is no turning back once you go Prado. I bought a 2006 VVT- I and keeping to the speed limits and below 2500rpm, it uses less fuel to Kisumu than my Noah. Now I find excuses to travel upcountry often. You are right.

Of course I’m right: a 5-door Landcruiser Prado is about all the car you will ever need if your driving covers a wide range of conditions and includes an equally wide range of loads, both human and nonhuman; and your situation precludes the ownership/operation of more than one motor vehicle.

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