If you know anything about cars you have probably heard of VTEC. But do you actually know what it is, what it does, or what it stands for? This article is designed to teach you the in’s and out’s of VTEC. After you are done reading you will finally understand why people love thier VTEC engines so much. Please enjoy!
Introduction to VTEC
VTEC (standing for Variable valve Timing and Electronic Lift Control) is a system developed by Honda to improve the combustion efficiency of its internal combustion engines throughout the RPM range. This was the first system of its kind and eventually led to different types of variable valve timing and lift control systems that were later designed by other manufacturers (VVTL-i from Toyota, VarioCam Plus from Porsche, and so on). It was invented by Honda’s chief engine designer Kenichi Nagahiro.
In the regular four-stroke automobile engine, the intake and exhaust valves are actuated by lobes on a camshaft. The shape of the lobes determines the timing, lift and duration of each valve. Timing refers to when a valve is opened or closed with respect to the combustion cycle. Lift refers to how much the valve is opened. Duration refers to how long the valve is kept open. Due to the behavior of the gases (air and fuel mixture) before and after combustion, which have physical limitations on their flow, as well as their interaction with the ignition spark, the optimal valve timing, lift and duration settings under low RPM engine operations are very different from those under high RPM. Optimal low RPM valve timing, lift and duration settings would result in insufficient fuel and air at high RPM, thus greatly limiting engine power output. Conversely, optimal high RPM valve timing, lift and duration settings would result in very rough low RPM operation and difficult idling. The ideal engine would have fully variable valve timing, lift and duration, in which the valves would always open at exactly the right point, lift high enough and stay open just the right amount of time for the engine speed in use. VTEC can be used not only for economy but also for performance.
In practice, a fully variable valve timing engine is difficult to design and implement. Attempts have been made, using solenoids to control valves instead of the typical springs-and-cams setup, however these designs have not made it into production automobiles as they are very complicated and costly.
The opposite approach to variable timing is to produce a camshaft which is better suited to high RPM operation. This approach means that the vehicle will run very poorly at low RPM (where most automobiles spend much of their time) and much better at high RPM. VTEC is the result of an effort to marry high RPM performance with low RPM stability.
Additionally, Japan has a tax on engine displacement, requiring Japanese auto manufacturers to make higher-performing engines with lower displacement. In cars such as the Toyota Supra and Nissan 300ZX, this was accomplished with a turbocharger. In the case of the Mazda RX-7 (turbo) and RX-8, a wankel rotary engine was used. VTEC serves as yet another method to derive very high specific output from lower displacement motors.
Honda’s VTEC system is a simple method of endowing the engine with multiple camshaft profiles optimized for low and high RPM operations. Instead of one cam lobe actuating each valve, there are two – one optimized for low RPM stability & fuel efficiency, with the other designed to maximize high RPM power output. Switching between the two cam lobes is determined by engine oil pressure, engine temperature, vehicle speed, and engine speed. As engine RPM increases, a locking pin is pushed by oil pressure to bind the high RPM cam follower for operation. From this point on, the valve opens and closes according to the high-speed profile, which opens the valve further and for a longer time. The DOHC VTEC system has high and low RPM cam lobe profiles on both the intake and exhaust valve camshafts.
The VTEC system was originally introduced as a DOHC system in the 1989 Honda Integra sold in Japan, which used a 160 hp (119 kW) variant of the B16A engine. The US market saw the first VTEC system with the introduction of the 1991 Acura NSX, which used a DOHC VTEC V6. DOHC VTEC engines soon appeared in other vehicles, such as the 1992 Acura Integra GS-R.
As popularity and marketing value of the VTEC system grew, Honda applied the system to SOHC engines, which shares a common camshaft for both intake and exhaust valves. The trade-off is that SOHC engines only benefit from the VTEC mechanism on the intake valves. This is because in the SOHC engine, the spark plugs need to be inserted at an angle to clear the camshaft, and in the SOHC engine, the spark plug tubes are situated between the two exhaust valves, making VTEC on the exhaust impossible.
Honda’s next version of VTEC, VTEC-E, was used in a slightly different way; instead of optimising performance at high RPM, it was used to increase efficiency at low RPM. At low RPM, one of the two intake valves is only allowed to open a very small amount, increasing the fuel/air atomization in the cylinder and thus allowing a leaner mixture to be used. As the engine’s speed increases, both valves are needed to supply sufficient mixture. A sliding pin, which is pressured by oil, as in the regular VTEC, is used to connect both valves together and allows the full opening of the second valve.
SOHC 3-Stage VTEC
Honda also introduced a 3-stage VTEC system in select markets, which combines the features of both SOHC VTEC and SOHC VTEC-E. At low speeds, only one intake valve is used. At medium speeds, two are used. At high speeds, the engine switches to a high-speed cam profile as in regular VTEC. Thus, both low-speed economy and high-speed efficiency and power are improved.
i-VTEC (The i stands for intelligent) introduced continuously variable camshaft phasing on the intake cam of DOHC VTEC engines. The technology first appeared on Honda’s K-series four cylinder engine family in 2001 (2002 in the U.S.). Valve lift and duration are still limited to distinct low and high rpm profiles, but the intake camshaft is now capable of advancing between 25 and 50 degrees (depending upon engine configuration) during operation. Phase changes are implemented by a computer controlled, oil driven adjustable cam gear. Phasing is determined by a combination of engine load and rpm, ranging from fully retarded at idle to maximum advance at full throttle and low rpm. The effect is further optimization of torque output, especially at low and midrange RPM.
For the K-Series motors there are two different types of i-VTEC systems implemented. The first is for the performance motors like in the RSX Type S or the TSX and the other is for economy motors found in the CR-V or Accord. The performance i-VTEC system is basically the same as the DOHC VTEC system of the B16A’s, both intake and exhaust have 3 cam lobes per cylinder. However the valvetrain has the added benefit of roller rockers and continuously variable intake cam timing. The economy i-VTEC is more like the SOHC VTEC-E in that the intake cam has only two lobes, one very small and one larger, as well as no VTEC on the exhaust cam. The two types of motor are easily distiguishable by the factory rated power output: the performance motors make around 200 hp or more in stock form and the economy motors do not make much more than 160 hp from the factory.
In 2004, Honda introduced an i-VTEC V6 (an update of the venerable J-series), but in this case, i-VTEC had nothing to do with cam phasing. Instead, i-VTEC referred to Honda’s cylinder deactivation technology which closes the valves on one bank of (3) cylinders during light load and low speed (below 80 mph) operation. The technology was originally introduced to the US on the Honda Odyssey Mini Van, and can now be found on the Honda Accord Hybrid and the 2006 Honda Pilot.
An additional version of i-VTEC was introduced on the 2006 Honda Civic’s R-series four cylinder SOHC engines. This implementation uses the so-called “economy cams” on one of the two intake valves of each cylinder. The “economy cams” are designed to delay the closure of the intake valve they act upon, and are activated at low rpms and under light loads. When the “economy cams” are activated, one of the two intake valves in each cylinder closes well after the piston has started moving upwards in the compression stroke. That way, a part of the mixture that has entered the combustion chamber is forced out again, into the intake manifold. That way, the engine “emulates” a lower displacement than its actual one (its operation is also similar to an Atkinson cycle engine, with uneven compression and combustion strokes), which reduces fuel consumption and increases its efficiency. During the operation with the “economy cams”, the (by-wire) throttle butterfly is kept fully open, in order to reduce pumping losses. According to Honda, this measure alone can reduce pumping losses by 16%. In higher rpms and under heavier loads, the engine switches back into its “normal cams”, and it operates like a regular 4 stroke Otto cycle engine. This implementation of i-VTEC was initially introduced in the R18A1 engine found under the bonnet of the 8th generation Civic, with a displacement of 1,8lt and an output of 140Ps. Recently, another variant was released, the 2-litre R20A2 with an output of 150Ps, which powers the EUDM version of the all-new CRV.