“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A potpourri of cluelessness

In my reading of various blogs, news articles, forum posts, etc. I've encountered a large number of writings indicative of the strange and distorted ideas people have about the subjects of this blog, that is, of fuel economy, energy use, physics, and life. I've decided to periodically quote some of them along with, where it's relevant, my own comments.

The following is from Physics Forums where the question was "Does RPM affect gas mileage?" An answer was:

"Assume that you travel a set distance at the same speed, first in 3rd gear, then in 4th. Can you see that the engine will turn more times in the lower gear. Each revolution of the engine will "consume" the same amount of air/fuel mixture. Therefore you must consume more air/fuel mixture at the lower gear.

Now a lot of modern engines are getting smarter about feeding fuel so, the assumption of a constant a/f mixture may not be valid. With intelligent fuel metering the millage difference may be small.

The biggest difference to fuel consumption is your rate of acceleration. If you like to feel some acceleration and take pride in your ability to get to 60mph (100kph) then you will see improvement by playing "old lady" for a while.

You do more work when doing 5s to 60 vs 10s to 60. This increased work MUST be reflected in fuel consumption."

Well. The fact is that RPM will affect gas mileage but this guy's argument is full of errors. He (I assume it's "he") correctly states that the lower gear will require more revolutions to travel a given distance than a higher gear, but then claims that each revolution will consume the same amount of fuel/air mixture regardless of the gear. This is false. The lower gear will travel a lesser distance and therefore do less work for each revolution, thus requiring less throttle since the gear ratio will give a greater mechanical advantage. But you'll need to apply this lesser throttle through more revolutions of the engine. Now, due to throttling and frictional losses, you'll be less efficient in the lower gear but it's certainly not true that "Each revolution of the engine will "consume" the same amount of air/fuel mixture." And this was true before cars included computerized controls, it's only a matter of the throttle position.

Next, "Integral" (his screen name, complete with integral symbol avatar) is completely off base with his concept of acceleration and work. Going from 0 to 60 adds the same amount of kinetic energy to the car, and thus takes the same amount of work, regardless of whether it's done in 5 seconds or 10. It's true that taking 10 seconds is more fuel efficient, since the energy is added over a longer distance but Integral confuses work with power. And this is from a Physics Forum where he has enough posts to be a mentor. Further, someone points out his errors and he stridently defends them, even insulting the corrector.

Moving on, "Josh," in reply to a tip at Daily Fuel Economy Tip that suggested minimizing use of electrical accessories said: "This is simply not true …. and alternator is not operated on a clutch therefore it spins at the same speed no matter what is being used in the car. It is not on a clutch like the AC that just kicks in when the compressor comes on."

Of course, this is false. Raising the electrical load causes an increased magnetic field in the alternator field coil, resulting in a larger torque to be overcome by the alternator drive belt, thereby using more fuel.

These are merely misunderstandings of fundamental physical principles and don't reach the heights of looniness achieved by some of the more "outro" world wide web denizens. I'll cover more of each type in subsequent posts.

No comments: