The modern ecu programmer controlled engine is electronically controlled. Electronic ignition means that the spark igniting the fuel is triggered at exactly the right time as the piston rises to near the top of it’s stroke. This just didn’t happen very accurately in the Cortina engine because it’s ignition was mechanically controlled. Lots of pulley wheels and shafts prone to wear and error. Electronic ignition is probably the largest contribution to greater engine efficiency.
Next onto electronic fuel injection. Precise control of the fuel pulsed into the engine. Pulsed accurately and in tiny droplets (under high pressure) so that more fuel is burnt in the engine and converted to movement rather than being emitted into the atmosphere in the form of unburnt fuel. The ecu code reader (the engine’s brain) controls this electronic fuel injection with the help of different sensors ‘telling’ it the volume and temperature of the air entering the engine at the same time informing it how wide the throttle is open. So look out for and be aware of throttle position sensor, air temperature sensor, mass air pressure sensor and anti-knock sensor. This last sensor (the anti-knock sensor) ‘is used to detect pockets of air and fuel combusting outside of the normal ignition flame front, which can damage the engine or result in higher fuel costs’.
Compare electronic fuel injection as I have described with the fuel delivery of the Cortina’s carburettor. The ‘carb’ did it’s job well enough but it had to balance fuel and air mixing, throttle opening, ‘rich’ (when the engine is cold) and ‘lean’ mixture of air (depending on air and engine temperature) as well as supply fuel to at least 4 cylinders from usually just the one carburettor.
Small wonder that digit control has made engines so much more efficient overall. According to influential automotive sources ‘Modern cars rely on electronics as much as on mechanics. So engine management is top priority when is comes to keeping a vehicle functioning properly.’
Mechanically the modern engine is more closely machined, most likely is running in synthetic oil (longer lasting, more durable, more friction reducing and greater heat dispersing properties than relatively unformulated mineral oil) and has the great advantage of electronic ignition over it’s predecessors. All these elements and more add up to engines surviving mechanically for very much longer than pre-electronic units.
Unfortunately for the motorist the modern car, while much superior in certain technological ways, can cause problems on the electronic side of things.
Engine management (ecu reader software, essential sensors etc.) requires diagnosis when an error or fault occurs. To an extent this is taken out of the owner’s hands and only garages or main dealers with expensive diagnostic equipment can locate and identify the problem. Sometimes the ‘failure’ or error can be caused by something as minor as an electrical connector failure.
Contributing to engine management problems is the ever-increasing number of sensors being fitted to today’s cars. There is method in what may seem like madness. Emission standards are getting more demanding (Euro 4 and 5). The aim is to lower grams/kilometer of CO2 and to help achieve this level of emissions EGR (exhaust gas recycling) valves are now fitted and linked to the MAP sensor and in turn to a more sophisticated ECU.