How Much Do You Know About Cars and the Energy That Fuels Them?

Steven Symes

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Do you have a good fuel system for your brain so you can understand the energy that makes cars run? Are you obsessive about fuel delivery systems, in-car fuel systems, and fuel efficiency? 

Alternative fuels are a hot topic these days. People will debate almost endlessly about whether electricity, natural gas, hydrogen, and even diesel are good for the environment, make economic sense, and are desirable to have in a vehicle. In fact, the topic is so controversial, you can start quite a few heated debates and arguments by bringing it up with the right or wrong group of people. 

There's a lot to know about cars and energy, including how to get the most efficiency from the different designs and how the technology has evolved over time. Gasoline cars alone have gone through a number of changes with the introduction of electronic fuel injection, turbocharging, direct injection, and so much more. It's a lot of information to juggle, so are you up to the challenge? Find out just how much you know about cars and the energy that fuels them by taking this quiz right now! 

What is CAFE?

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) is a set of regulations and standards that passed through Congress in 1975 as a reaction to the Arab Oil Embargo, with the intention of avoiding a similar situation in the future.

When a car is running a rich mix, what does that mean?

Normally, modern car ECUs run the air-fuel mixture a little rich, which keeps the engine at a good temperature. Running the mixture lean will produce high temperatures, putting the engine and catalytic converter in danger of damage.

What is CNG?

Cars need to be outfitted for storing and running on CNG, which produces fewer pollutants than burning gas or diesel. In fact, natural gas has been called the "clean fossil fuel."

Why does turning on the air conditioning in your car hurt fuel economy?

When you turn on the air conditioning, it puts an extra strain on the engine. Exactly how much of a strain and what it does to fuel efficiency depends on the vehicle design, but the results can be dramatic.

What does treating your car with an occasional tank of premium gas do for it?

If your car doesn't need premium fuel to run, putting it in the tank won't have any effect. You're literally paying more for zero benefit, so it's best to not do it.

How does a rich air-fuel mixture protect the catalytic converter from damage?

The car's ECU or computer gets feedback from various sensors and adjusts the air-fuel mixture accordingly. If the exhaust temperature is climbing too high, it will use more gas to guard against heat damage to that expensive part.

When was the steam-powered car invented?

While it wasn't anything like cars today, technically Nicolas Cugnot is credited with creating the first automobile in 1769. It ran on steam, like trains, but only moved at the same speed as a person could walk.

What is a mild hybrid?

Mild hybrids usually only have one electric motor, and it is usually joined to the gasoline engine. That electric motor won't move the car by itself, which is the hallmark of a mild hybrid system.

What kinds of electric cars can use a Supercharger station?

Technically, the plugs at Supercharger stations only fit in Teslas. But there are some aftermarket adapters that allow drivers of other EVs to use the stations, which isn't exactly smiled upon by Tesla as a company.

What is a compliance car?

When an automaker only releases enough of a vehicle that runs on alternative fuels, like electricity, it's called a compliance car because it only exists to ensure the automaker is complying with the law. California is home to many compliance cars.

What is one reason why diesel engines are normally more efficient than gasoline equivalents?

Not only does diesel fuel pack more energy, the fact that diesel engines extract it by high compression only adds to their efficiency.

What's another term for detonation?

A pinging engine is experiencing preignition, spark knock, or detonation. This problem, at first, might be harmless, but it can eventually lead to violent explosions in the engine that might damage components, so it must be corrected.

What is the purpose of the gasoline engine in a Chevy Volt?

Some people call the Chevy Volt a hybrid, and there's plenty of debate about whether it is or not. Just know that the car moves forward and back using only the two electric motors. With a full charge and tank of gas, it can go 367 miles.

What's one reason why diesel engines produce so much more torque than gasoline engines of a similar size?

High compression ratios is one reason, along with the fact that diesel fuel is more energy-dense, and diesel engines usually make use of extreme turbocharging.

The Atkinson cycle sacrifices what for fuel efficiency?

The Atkinson cycle is popular in hybrid car engines and other highly efficient vehicles, because it uses a lower compression ratio and a longer power stroke versus the intake stroke, allowing the vehicle to go further on a tank of gas.

What group has ensured California gets more alternative fuel vehicles?

The California Air Resources Board or CARB has been around since before the EPA and has amazing power in the largest automotive market in the U.S., forcing automakers to offer exclusive alternative fuel vehicles in the state.

When GM debuted coal-powered cars in the early 1980s, what kind of engine did they use?

Thanks to the oil crisis, GM took the coal-powered tech it had been toying with since the 1950s and tried to bring it to market. It built a few prototypes, but the project folded for various reasons, including the fact the tech was clunky.

When was the first electric car created?

Robert Anderson, a Scottish inventor, is generally credited with creating the first electric carriage. His design used non-rechargeable batteries, so it wasn't exactly practical. It was Thomas Davenport, an American, who invented a more practical electric car in 1835.

How do you fill up a hydrogen fuel-cell car?

There are a few more steps involved with filling up a car with hydrogen fuel, considering it's under pressure and you must ensure the car and pump are communicating with each other to prevent overfilling the tank. But the overall process is similar to filling up with gas.

What's one negative effect of using ethanol in gasoline?

Not only will ethanol lower your car's mpg, it attracts water. That's bad for engines that sit for significant periods of time, like lawn mowers, generators, and even hobby cars. Ethanol does cut down on pollution and helps reduce reliance on foreign oil.

Why does gas evaporate so quickly?

Water doesn't evaporate nearly as fast as gasoline, thanks to the fact that the hydrogen bonds with the oxygen molecules quite readily. Molecules in gasoline have weak bonds, so it evaporates rapidly.

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

The factors that affect charging time for an electric car include the size of the vehicle battery, the speed of the charger, how much charge the battery already has, the car's max charging rate, and even the ambient temperature.

How does outdoor temperature affect how much gas you get for your money at the pump?

While it's true that gas expands when heated, fuel stations keep the liquid in insulated underground storage tanks. That means the gasoline stays the same temperature no matter what time of day you buy it, so you'll never get more or less for your money unless the price changes.

What is the majority of CNG made of?

CNG doesn't have a color, odor, or taste. It's also high compressed, so it takes up one percent of the volume it normally does at standard atmospheric pressure.

Which of the following isn't needed to combust gasoline in an engine?

The chemical reaction in a car's engine actually requires a pretty simple combination of elements for combustion: oxygen, fuel, compression, and a spark.

Why do some cars shoot flames out of their tailpipes?

An extra-rich fuel mixture, which is common in motorsports or highly modified cars, means fuel makes its way into the exhaust system, where it burns up, creating the flame effect.

Why is gasoline called petrol in some parts of the world?

While some countries think calling gasoline gas is weird, petrol or petroleum is a non-specific way of referring to the raw crude that can be refined to make gasoline, as well as diesel, oil, kerosene, and more.

What in gasoline keeps any water in suspension?

To prevent water in gasoline from evaporating and accumulating on the walls of the gas tank or elsewhere, oil companies add some alcohol to the fuel mixture. It holds the water in suspension and allows it to combust along with the gas.

What keeps you from accidentally putting diesel fuel in a gasoline-powered car?

Putting diesel in a car that runs on gasoline will result in serious damage, so you obviously don't want to do that. Because diesel fuel nozzles are bigger, they won't fit in the gas hole, at least when you go to certain gas stations. Still, it's a good idea to always double check what you're putting in your car.

What does nitrous do in an engine?

Nitrous oxide, when heated to around 570 degrees, splits into oxygen and nitrogen, which is what happens when the spark plug ignites in the cylinder. With that extra oxygen, you can tune your car to use more gasoline, resulting in more power temporarily being made by the engine.

How will using fuel additives boost a car's fuel efficiency?

Unfortunately, some people think using fuel additives will boost their car's fuel efficiency dramatically, but the EPA studied more than 100 of these products and found that none lived up to the claims printed on the bottle, and concluded some of the additives caused engine damage.

What principle from diesel engines did Mazda use to create its new Skyactiv-X gasoline engine?

Like diesel engines, the Skyactiv-X puts the air and fuel mixture under considerable pressure. The spark plug doesn't ignite the mix but instead heats up the air above the fuel to increase the pressure further, to the point of combustion, which boosts fuel efficiency considerably.

What does a fuel stabilizer do?

Fuel stabilizers essentially are a blend of lubricants and antioxidants. They're designed to keep the fuel from evaporating out of older cars and forming sticky resins that will wreak havoc with injectors or carburetors.

Where did hot rodders learn to use nitrous on their cars?

During World War II, the United States Air Force would fog nitrous oxide into bombers' engines as they made runs, in an effort to escape fire from enemy fighters. GIs remembered this trick when they returned home, so they started using it on their cars, with amazing results.

Do cars burn all the fuel that goes into the engine?

Not all fuel gets combusted in the cylinders most of the time, meaning car engines don't run as efficiently as you might think. Automakers are constantly trying to figure out how to extract a greater percentage of the energy in the fuel as a way to use less of it, without hurting performance.

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