This comes from an automechanic newsletter that I receive for using OBDII tools. This tool is from AutoTap which is a very nice product, however, they wouldn’t release application programming interfaces (APIs) so I returned it. Regardless, this information [below] can be seen with any OBDII interface and outlines the process by which the car determins the air fuel ratio inside the ECU. The 14.7 ratio was a value more applicable for carburetors since the ECU will change that value on the fly in response to a variety of driving conditions.
Mike Fahrion back in your inbox with today’s topic – how your car’s computer maintains the ideal fuel mixture under all conditions. It’s pretty impressive when you think about it. In today’s cars, regardless of temperature, altitude or mileage we’ve come to expect that we can basically start a car and go without any change in drivability. On top of that, today’s engines are able to do that with considerably higher efficiency and dramatically lower emissions than ever before.
First let’s take a quick look at what happens when you step on the gas. The computer reads the throttle position (TPS), checks the coolant temperature (ECT), checks the intake manifold air flow and pressure (MAF and MAP), intake air temperature (IAT) and engine RPM. With all that info the computer then performs a "look-up" function. Similar to finding a coordinate on a map, except this map has many more dimensions than horizontal and vertical! Once the computer finds the correct coordinate for all of those operating conditions, it finds the result it was looking for – exactly how much fuel to inject for that condition in order to get almost the perfect mixture, giving you the best performance, economy and lowest emissions. All of this is continuously recalculated, dozens of times per second.
Impressive! But why is it almost the perfect mixture? Because dozens of things could influence your engine to the point where that factory-programmed value isn’t quite right. To "close the loop" of information flow, there is a program running on your car’s computer that uses information from our friend the Oxygen Sensor to check if the mixture is right where it needs to be. If it’s a little off, the computer uses that information to come up with a fudge factor. The name of that fudge factor is Long Term Fuel Trim (LTFT). That value is the amount of correction that the computer will automatically apply to the value that it looks-up. Measured in percent, we typically see stay well under + or – 10% when driving. If it gets over + or – 25%, the check engine light will turn on and a code is set telling you that the fudge factor has become excessive and your engine is running either abnormally rich or lean.
I’ve simplified this just a bit. Here are a couple of the complications (and there might be a few more that I haven’t learned yet). There’s another fuel trim called Short Term Fuel Trim. There are also a bunch of those lookup tables for different driving conditions, each one can have a separate fuel trim fudge factor.
So – what does this mean to you? A few things.
First, when you get a code that your car is running too rich or lean, don’t rush out and buy new Oxygen Sensors. That’s just shooting the messenger. Those codes are usually caused by bad information from one of the other sensors that the computer uses to do its lookup.
Using AutoTap to monitor your engine’s Long Term Fuel Trims gives you insight into its health. Nice low numbers mean that your engine is pretty content using factory-programmed values. Big numbers mean that, for some reason, a big fudge factor is being applied.
Finally, you’ll get the best engine power with a nice low fuel trim number. Why? Because your engine quits paying attention to the Oxygen Sensor at full throttle. It still applies the last known fuel trim correction, but since maximum power requires a bit richer mixture than what is ideal for the perfect mix of economy and emissions, you typically get the best performance if a large correction doesn’t need to be applied.
So whether you’re checking the health of your car, investigating a used car before buying, maximizing horsepower or optimizing your gas mileage, a $199 investment in AutoTap gives you the info you need to get the most our of your car.
I hope this week’s email gives you a bit more insight into how things work under the hood. More topics are in the works so watch your inbox.
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