AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Ford Starts Cars without a Starter

June 30th, 2008 at 10:15am

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Ford EcoBoost
Turning an engine off every time you stop at a red light can save a lot of gas, and Ford has figured out how to start an engine without a starter.

Ford is going to get heavily into what they call direct fuel injection on most its engines in the next decade to save fuel. And the company discovered something very clever that it can do with that technology.

When an engine stops, the computer that controls it knows the exact position of each piston. And when you go to start the engine, it knows which piston is ready for its power stroke. So it injects fuel into that cylinder and then instantaneously commands the spark plug to fire, which detonates the fuel, pushes down the piston and…starts the engine.

In other words, Ford has figured out a way to start an engine without a starter, and it’s going to incorporate that technology into its hybrid systems to hold down wear and tear and reduce the cost.

13 Comments to “AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Ford Starts Cars without a Starter”

  1. William R. Walling Says:

    John,
    “Basic design, a single cylinder ‘detonation start’ within multiple cylinders ICE ware WILL fail associated individual components.”
    Does someone within DETROIT truly believe this has concept not been researched during these past 100+ years?
    The late Rube Goldberg would love today’s novel engineering ‘insights’ abounding daily.
    Should you believe this latest novelty true, I understand there is a bridge in N.Y.C. for sale …

  2. Tom Martin Says:

    I hope it works, but it seems that Ford would need to open/close valves without the engine turning.
    Not sure how this would be done.

    If the valve stays open, seems like it would be possible to burn the valve.

    Then again, maybe direct injection doesn’t use intake valves.

  3. Matt Kovac Says:

    William, as far as I know, the first car maker to use modern style direct injection was Mitsubishi in the late 90s, so I’m not sure how people have been working on this for 100+ years.

    And I don’t think anyone needs to tell you that computers are much younger than 100 years old.

    Considering the incredible advancement of automotive computer in the last 10 years, as well as direct injection technology, it does not surprise me that this concept is emerging as viable now.

  4. William R. Walling Says:

    Matt,
    “Basic ICE engine design rules directly contradicts FORDS latest announced ‘novelty’.”
    Core ICE design is 100+ years old, with inprovements over time.
    Computers, considered first – Charles Babbage, 19th century mechanical ‘Difference Engine’.
    Regarding electric automotive computer technologies, visit Europe or Japan vendors for the latest global advancements.
    (Future IT Note: INTEL recently debuted their latest Fab 28 facilities in Israel. Soon in CHINA for CPU’s, motherboard production already in place.)

  5. Matt Kovac Says:

    Walter,
    I think this is something similar to what Ford is proposing:
    http://www.etas.com/data/RealTimes_2006/rt_2006_01_34_en.pdf
    It still needs an smaller, assist starter motor for certain conditions.

    And are you suggesting that because computers were first “considered” in the 19th century, they’ve been available for use in the ICE for 100+ years?

  6. Dustin Says:

    William, instead of your generic comments, please tell us specifically how these ICE “rules” keep Ford from doing what they are doing.

    Also, please go on to explain how your knowledge of this topic trumps that of a major corporation’s team of engineers.

    So it may be an instance of “Why didn’t someone think of this before?”. That doesn’t make it an impossibility.

  7. William R. Walling Says:

    Matt,
    “Electric computer control of ICE operations is decades old, never implied otherwise.”
    Mr. Babbage’s mechanical ‘Difference Engine’ was constructed per his extensive plans in 1991 by collage students, worked fine.
    This and other computing devices throughout history are the basis for today’s automotive computer.
    Please DO NOT confuse this ware with ‘general purpose’ computing product as it remains specific to this industry.
    Simply, computer control is NOT the solution to all maladies as MANY within todays engineering circles believe.
    Ask AUDI about ‘ghosts’ within their ‘interesting’ 5000.

    Dustin,
    “ICE ‘rules’ are available for ALL to review at the SAE library.”
    Regarding expertise within mechanical-electronics, 40+ years within multiple associated industries with a few motorcycle championships.
    As a business principle acquired knowledge and noted automotive industry (media, SAE) contacts concur with my initial statement.
    Legal requirements forbid disclosure regarding ongoing corporate projects.
    Factually, Fords ‘novelty’ IS an impossibly within today’s state of ICE technologies.
    Believe this, someone already did think of FORD’S described concept previously.
    Suggestion, this identified major corporation is failing within business.
    So much for validation of this current team of advanced technologies department staff …
    DISCLAIMER; I have no association with DETROIT competitors of FOMOCO.

  8. Adam Says:

    For what it’s worth, this idea of a static start is not like the old air-craft engine idea of blasting shot-gun charges — the engine starts with a concatenated sequence of charges happening opportunistically in cylinders as the come into the desired piston position.

    If I were to try to crack this hoary old chestnut myself, I’d be looking at valve management to spin the engine with no compression or fuel or spark — as soon as the rotating assembly gathered the necessary energy (presumably within less than one revolution) it would be a simple matter to time the first ignition (of a small amount of fuel and a nice long spark) and from there, you’re in business.

    I’d also be interested in using “spare” compression cycles of the engine (interim deceleration, closed throttle) to store a compressed volume of combustion chamber gasses (potentially within the engine case itself) to be released back through the head and valves to initiate the rotation of the engine and “cold” starting without the machinery of a starter motor per se. This compressed gas reservoir could also be used to pump engine coolant into an insulated container (as with the Prius) to improve cold start emissions by bringing the entire engine up to operating temperature.

    Personally, I would discourage folks from decrying the auto makers for attempting to make improvements even if some of the US auto makers are years and decades behind overseas competitors. With the likes of “the big three” all facing a decade of financial problems and even bankruptcy for GM, what they need is market demand for forward-looking products (like the Volt) instead of complaints about the same old iron they’ve been peddling for the last century. If US buyers weren’t taking home the F150 as one of the most popular vehicles in history (and basically unchanged in 30 years) then Ford would stop making the bloody thing. If I were in charge of the blue oval and the most reliable seller was the F150, I’d still make it. I might have brought out some of the GM ideas like cylinder management, regenerative braking, etc. (not that it’s done them a fat lot of good) but I’d still have to make the bread and butter cars like the F150.

    This contrived oil price escalation will have intended consequences (profit) and unintended consequences (the end of the oil-based fuel engine for consumer products.) The oil companies have played a risky game that’s won them short term gains but it’s already apparent that they’ve signed their own death warrant by mistake.

  9. Dustin Says:

    I just don’t get it, William. Either you’re on drugs when you’re writing this, or I’m on drugs when reading it. And I’ve never done drugs. But I don’t understand a word you’re saying.

    Once again, all I’m reading is generalities. Please specifically explain why this concept doesn’t work.

  10. William R. Walling Says:

    Dustin,
    “Check your supplier.”
    Myself and others within industry are daily attempting to save (likely salvage) these ‘historic’ markets within America.”
    Transportation is not alone.
    I would love for ALL engineering ‘novelties’ to work as announcements now occur globally.
    Sadly, most don’t function as advertised thus,
    1) Draining dwindling corporate finances
    2) Diverting engineering ‘focus’ away from wares or processes the DO work and will help their cause.
    An overview of ongoing global ‘novelties’, within all industries, is truly astounding.
    For a real chuckle, check the ‘assigned’ or ‘applied for’ U.S. Patents, MOST don’t work!
    Reasoning, since the 60′s an applicant doesn’t have to produce and submit a functioning ‘work’ for approval but merely a concept.
    Ever wonder why the U.S.P.T.O is changing their policies currently and/or Foreign governments refusing intellectual protection for such?
    ‘Stuff that works’ as suggested matters to industry, me and a ‘global’ public.
    Regarding this ‘novelty’, simply read the above commentary from Adam. (Good work!)
    Apologies to John for ‘draining’ his IT services.

  11. Ruben Mares Says:

    Didn’t a Mercedes in the 1950′s use DFI and i’m pretty sure that the late (2001-05) VW 1.8t engines used it too. Finally, with starting on an engine without cranking (or turning it on) it is a poor choice of words.

  12. Robert R. McCarty Says:

    well Mr. Walling I waited 4 years to post this! but HA HA its here and working on nissans fords and dodges

  13. Robert R. McCarty Says:

    My dodge truck with the pentastar v6 has it. it turns off at a stop light. as soon as you touch the gas pedal it effortlessly takes off. very strange at first. it freaks people out when they ride with you