Many issues in auto mechanics are related to noises made by malfunctioning parts or deficient systems of your car; one common example is the rumbling heard when you slip out of first gear into second, when you travel at more than 25 miles per hour or when you let your foot off the gas pedal and the vehicle starts decelerating. This noise, which seems to originate below the center of the car and away from the wheels, is often related to the bearings supporting the drivetrain, a very important automotive system that requires proper maintenance and occasional repairs.
Understanding the Drivetrain
In broad terms, your car can be described as a series of components and systems. The main components include the chassis, the frame, the exterior, and the cabin. The chassis is where systems such as the power plant and the drivetrain can be found. The power plant system is where the engine converts the energy provided by fuel or electricity into force, which is subsequently turned into motion by the drivetrain system, which include parts such as the axle, clutch, transmission, torque converter, shafts, constant velocity joints, and others.
Drivetrains will vary depending on how the cars are engineered. Torque converters, for example, are found in automatic transmission vehicles while clutch pedals are found in manual transmission cars. Furthermore, drivetrains are different when installed in all-wheel drive and 4×4 vehicles.
The drivetrain is directly connected to the engine and is designed to make your driving experience constantly efficient. These are complex systems that house various mechanisms such as the clutch, transaxles and transfer boxes.
As a power transfer system, the drivetrain functionality is mostly mechanical and controlled by a few electronic parts. The power handled by either the differential or transaxle is received by constant velocity (CV) joints that are housed in a cage and protected by a boot. These are the parts that require frequent visual inspection since they are the most likely to be affected by corrosion or other factors.
CV joints feature roller bearings that need to be protected against friction with grease; at Weatherspoon Automotive, CV joints are by the auto service technicians during scheduled maintenance services. Other parts of the drivetrain that require frequent lubrication checks include the differential, which in some cars may be a transaxle that pretty much serves as the transmission; these parts feature planetary gears that need to be constantly lubricated with machine oil to protect against friction and extreme temperatures.
The drive shaft handles most of the torque transfer needs demanded by the transmission; this is a long metal piece that runs across the chassis and is prone to cause vibration and strange noises when it is not functioning properly. If your car is vibrating when accelerating at high speeds, chances are that there are issues with the drive shaft or the universal joints that allow flexibility; the condition of these joints is routinely checked by mechanics who manipulate the drive shaft to see if they have worn out extensively or if too much rust has accumulated around the yoke.
Failure to properly care for the drivetrain could result in expensive damage or even a dangerous situation whereby the system can explode and cause injuries. As with other vehicle systems, scheduled maintenance is essential; as long as key parts such as CV joints are timely replaced and the system is adequately lubricated, expensive repairs will not be needed. The drivetrains in Honda and Toyota models have a strong reputation as being built to last; however, replacing some parts of these systems other than the joints can be costly, and thus preventive maintenance makes more financial sense in the long run.
The Future of Drivetrains
In the European Union, the directive to lower automotive emissions will lead to a major increase in the number of electric vehicles with drivetrains engineered to transfer and convert magnetic power. Third-generation electric vehicles have electromechanical drivetrains that are being improved in terms of efficiency, cost and environmental impact.
The magnetic power generated by the engines of electric vehicles is converted by electronic devices that are part of peripheral systems. Researcher from 10 European engineering schools are looking into ways to integrate semiconductors that can convert direct current into alternating current. In the near future, these controllers can be made part of the engine instead of being peripheral to the drivetrain; this would not only offer more space in the engine compartment but also efficiency since they will be more integrated than the current systems.
Another drivetrain development will consist of smart electronics that can take advantage of the energy produced when cars are braking, which means that the range of electric cars can be extended for the benefit of drivers as the overall energy efficiency is increased.