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How Fuel Injection Systems Work

In trying to keep up with emissions and fuel efficiency laws, the fuel system used in modern cars has changed a lot over the years. The 1990 Subaru Justy was the last car sold in the United States to have a carburetor; the following model year, the Justy had fuel injection. But fuel injection has been around since the 1950s, and electronic fuel injection was used widely on European cars starting around 1980. Now, all cars sold in the United States have fuel injection systems.

In this article, we'll learn how the fuel gets into the cylinder of the engi­ne, and what terms like "multi-port fuel injection" and "throttle body fuel injection" mean.

For most of the existence of the internal combustion engine, the carburetor has been the device that supplied fuel to the engine. On many other machines, such as lawnmowers and chainsaws, it still is. But as the automobile evolved, the carburetor got more and more complicated trying to handle all of the operating requirements. For instance, to handle some of these tasks, carburetors had five different circuits:

Main circuit - Provides just enough fuel for fuel-efficient cruising

Idle circuit - Provides just enough fuel to keep the engine idling

Accelerator pump - Provides an extra burst of fuel when the accelerator pedal is first depressed, reducing hesitation before the engine speeds up

Power enrichment circuit - Provides extra fuel when the car is going up a hill or towing a trailer

Choke - Provides extra fuel when the engine is cold so that it will start

In order to meet stricter emissions requirements, catalytic converters were introduced. Very careful control of the air-to-fuel ratio was required for the catalytic converter to be effective. Oxygen sensors monitor the amount of oxygen in the exhaust, and the engine control unit (ECU) uses this information to adjust the air-to-fuel ratio in real-time. This is called closed loop control -- it was not feasible to achieve this control with carburetors. There was a brief period of electrically controlled carburetors before fuel injection systems took over, but these electrical carbs were even more complicated than the purely mechanical ones.

At first, carburetors were replaced with throttle body FIAT fuel injector systems (also known as single point or central fuel injection systems) that incorporated electrically controlled fuel-injector valves into the throttle body. These were almost a bolt-in replacement for the carburetor, so the automakers didn't have to make any drastic changes to their engine designs.

Gradually, as new engines were designed, throttle body fuel injection was replaced by multi-port fuel injection (also known as port, multi-point or sequential fuel injection). These systems have a fuel injector for each cylinder, usually located so that they spray right at the intake valve. These systems provide more accurate fuel metering and quicker response.

When You Step on the Gas

The gas pedal in your car is connected to the throttle valve -- this is the valve that regulates how much air enters the engine. So the gas pedal is really the air pedal.

When you step on the gas pedal, the throttle valve opens up more, letting in more air. The engine control unit (ECU, the computer that controls all of the electronic components on your engine) "sees" the throttle valve open and increases the fuel rate in anticipation of more air entering the engine. It is important to increase the fuel rate as soon as the throttle valve opens; otherwise, when the gas pedal is first pressed, there may be a hesitation as some air reaches the cylinders without enough fuel in it.

Sensors monitor the mass of air entering the engine, as well as the amount of oxygen in the exhaust. The ECU uses this information to fine-tune the fuel delivery so that the air-to-fuel ratio is just right.

In order to provide the correct amount of fuel for every operating condition, the e­ngine control unit (ECU) has to monitor a huge number of input sensors. Here are just a few:

Nox sensor - Tells the ECU the mass of air entering the engine

Oxygen sensor(s) - Monitors the amount of oxygen in the exhaust so the ECU can determine how rich or lean the fuel mixture is and make adjustments accordingly

Throttle position sensor - Monitors the throttle valve position (which determines how much air goes into the engine) so the ECU can respond quickly to changes, increasing or decreasing the fuel rate as necessary

Coolant temperature sensor - Allows the ECU to determine when the engine has reached its proper operating temperature

Voltage sensor - Monitors the system voltage in the car so the ECU can raise the idle speed if voltage is dropping (which would indicate a high electrical load)

Manifold absolute pressure sensor - Monitors the pressure of the air in the intake manifold

The amount of air being drawn into the engine is a good indication of how much power it is producing; and the more air that goes into the engine, the lower the manifold pressure, so this reading is used to gauge how much power is being produced.

Engine speed sensor - Monitors engine speed, which is one of the factors used to calculate the pulse width

There are two main types of control for multi-port systems: The fuel injectors can all open at the same time, or each one can open just before the intake valve for its cylinder opens (this is called sequential multi-port fuel injection).

The advantage of sequential vw fuel injector is that if the driver makes a sudden change, the system can respond more quickly because from the time the change is made, it only has to wait only until the next intake valve opens, instead of for the next complete revolution of the engine.

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