It is all very exciting to get into your car and whiz across the road with full throttle and gives a different kind of adrenaline to you. Yet have you ever given a second thought as to how the car or any other automobile for that matter, works?
Well, I will focus my attention mainly on cars here and try to answer the question “how do cars work?” from a layman’s perspective, where you do not require any prior knowledge or technical background to digest the basics of the subject matter.
Anything that moves needs energy and the car moves when the wheels rotate. These wheels are powered by the engine which is the heart of the car. The exact working of an engine is certainly beyond the scope and level of the article, but broadly speaking, an engine has an arrangement wherein the energy of the fuel is converted into rotary motion of a shaft.
The engine spins a very high speed which is of the order of thousands of revolutions per minute or RPM. The speed of the engine is controllable to a certain extent by controlling the amount of air and fuel which goes inside it, yet even at the slowest of the speeds, the rotation rate of the engine is too great to be practically useful on the road. I mean just imagine that you are sitting in your vehicle and the moment you start your engine, the car goes at 100 miles an hour straight away. This concept might be very interesting for an astronaut but I would certainly be scared out of my wits in such a scenario.
Therefore there is an arrangement known as a gear box which acts as the intermediate system between the engine output and the wheels of the car. A gearbox is nothing but an arrangement wherein the large revolution rate or RPM is converted into a relatively low RPM at the other end. To understand it in the most basic terms, consider a pulley arrangement wherein a large pulley is connected with a belt to a smaller pulley. When the smaller pulley rotates several times, the larger pulley just finishes one rotation. Of course the arrangement within the gearbox is much more advanced than this simple pulley arrangement, the end effect is nearly the same, at least for purposes of understanding the concept.
There is another arrangement of cutting the connection between the wheels and the engine which is known as the clutch. So when you press your clutch pedal, you simply disconnect the engine from the wheels.
The other parts are quite well known like the steering gear which helps to change direction, the braking system to bring the vehicle to a safe halt, the suspension system to absorb shocks so that your bones don’t have to. All these are pretty much elaborate systems in their own right and need separate study in detail.
Another thing that I must add is that the above description is of a very basic car. Even the engines comes in various varieties and nowadays we have even solar powered cars, electrical cars, hybrid cars and so forth. Similarly there are lots of advances in all the other systems described above; still this article would give you sufficient working knowledge of your dream machine.