How does using better spark plugs make your car run more efficiently? Is it wort…

How does using better spark plugs make your car run more efficiently? Is it worth paying extra for those spark plugs? Would it improve your car’s performance?

According to several readers of this web site, there is a difference between standard and high performance spark plugs. The high performance spark plugs produce a more intense spark and ignite the fuel and air mixture more reliably than standard plugs. That would indicate that igniting the fuel and air mixture at just the right moment isn’t as straightforward as it seems. If the plugs don’t fire reliably and don’t light the gasoline at exactly the right moment every single time the cylinder is supposed to fire, the car’s efficiency will suffer.

In modern car alarm systems, people can start the engine with a push of a button…

In modern car alarm systems, people can start the engine with a push of a button from a remote. How is this done?

This question has a long answer, because there’s lots going on. First, there is a radio transmission from the key chain to the car when you push the button. That transmission is carefully encoded so that no one else can trigger your car (the car’s receiver checks for the proper authorization code when it receives the radio transmission). I won’t describe the transmission/reception process in detail, because that’s a whole story in its self. The receiver than activates the car’s electric system, which was cut off when the driver last turned off the car. The electric system is now ready to provide sparks at the proper moments when the engine turns. Finally, the receiver starts the engine turning by activating the starter motor. An electromagnetic solenoid (a coil of wire with a piece of iron inside) pushes the starter motor or a gear from the starter motor against the car’s flywheel (a huge gear attached to the engine’s crankshaft) and power is supplied to the starter motor. The motor begins turning and it turns the engine. The electric system provides sparks and the engine starts up.

I’ve heard about a car (I think some type of Ferrari) that has a clutch-less man…

I’ve heard about a car (I think some type of Ferrari) that has a clutch-less manual transmission.

According to Bryan Tiedemann, Ferarri makes a computer-shifted manual transmission. It begins with a standard manual transmission (gears, input/output shafts, synchronizers) that’s similar to that of many “stick-shift” cars of today. However, instead of having a driver-controlled clutch and shift lever, a computer regulates the actual mechanical clutch movement and it also shifts gears via servos and motors. The driver uses a “shift paddle” on the steering wheel to shift, and the computer does the actual shifting. The automatically controlled manual is better than a normal automatic because manual transmissions give better performance than automatics and no energy is lost as heat in hydraulic couplings.

I’ve heard of people using moonshine as fuel for cars and pick up trucks. Is tha…

I’ve heard of people using moonshine as fuel for cars and pick up trucks. Is that possible and, if it is, how well does it work?

Yes, it’s probably possible. Moonshine (and any distilled spirits) is a mixture of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) and water. Depending on how picky you are during the distilling process, the water content may be as low as 10% (you can’t do better by distilling because 4.4% water and 95.6% ethanol form an azeotrope—a low boiling point mixture blend that can’t be separated by distilling). Ethanol burns nicely and should make a pretty good fuel. Obviously, the less water the better, because water doesn’t burn and may impede the combustion of ethanol. Ethanol is often included in gasoline to reduce exhaust emissions, but only at about the 10% level. Unfortunately, ethanol is also more corrosive than normal gasoline, so people worry about it damaging their engines.