You may have noticed that when you look under the hood of your newer car, you probably haven’t seen anything resembling a carburetor. Or, if you’re restoring a classic car, you may notice a large bulky contraption sitting on top of your engine and wonder what that is all about. Cars previously used a mechanism called a carburetor to provide the necessary fuel to the engine and spark plugs to get the engine going. But nowadays they don’t use such a system.
When did cars stop using carburetors? Most car manufacturers stopped using carburetors in the late 1980’s because newer technology was coming out, such as the fuel injector, that proved to be more efficient. There were only a few cars that continued to have carburetors, such as the Subaru Justy, until about the early 1990’s.
There were a lot of contributing factors that went into the decision from manufacturers to stray away from carburetors. If you’ve ever worked on a car with a carburetor, you probably also understand why the switch was made. Fuel injectors have made a huge difference in fuel economy. I did some research about the switch in the late 80’s and found some interesting information.
Why They Stopped Using Carburetors
In order for an engine to function, the introduction of air and fuel mixture is necessary for combustion to occur. Carburetors were initially the mechanism used to perform this function in cars. Carburetors were created back in the early 1900’s when the first vehicles were being made. Even the Wright brothers used a carburetor-like contraption on the first airplane they flew.
Carburetors offered a simple solution for car engines to get the air the fuel mixture they needed to function properly, which is why they were created in the first place. Carburetors are generally easy to work on, however they do pose many problems which is why the eventual discontinued use of them happened.
Carburetors put the air and fuel mixture into the engine cylinders using a vacuum that is initiated by the engine. Carburetors have parts called jets which are very small holes that the air and fuel flows through. It is common for these jets to get clogged up with dirt and other impurities because the holes were so small in such a susceptible place. Ethanol gas is especially hard on carburetors because ethanol gas often absorbs water which can ultimately make a carburetor malfunction.
Carburetors were often the culprit for poor engine performance. This can include sluggish acceleration, less power, and noticeable decrease in fuel efficiency. This is because the carburetor isn’t giving the proper air and fuel mixture the engine needs which is usually caused by the choke getting too sticky and staying on all the time.
Another problem carburetors sometimes cause is providing the engine too rich of a mixture, meaning its giving the engine more fuel than needed. This can cause a car to exhaust black smoke, backfire, or possibly even overheat the engine.
Often times you would have to push on the gas pedal a little to get a carbureted car to start. Sometimes people would push the gas too hard which would “flood the engine” or make the carburetor provide too rich of a supply.
Stalling and idling issues were often associated with carburetor problems, too. This was usually caused by dirty or plugged up jets and other small parts inside a carburetor which caused the part to not give the engine enough fuel and air mixture.
Carburetors weren’t necessarily a nightmare to have, but as society naturally moves towards increasing technology, manufacturers started going with the fuel injection system that was more reliable and efficient.
What Replaced The Carburetor
The fuel injection system is what eventually replaced the carburetor. For those who want the best type of performance from their engines, fuel injection systems are usually the first and popular choice. Port fuel injection and direct injection are the two main types of fuel injection systems you’ll find in a car. The only big difference between the two types of fuel injection systems is where they spray the fuel (direct injection sprays directly into the engine cylinder and port injection sprays into the intake ports).
The biggest benefit of using a fuel injection system is the correct ratio of fuel and air it gives to the engine; air and fuel can be precisely released and injected into the engine cylinders according to what the engine load conditions require. Essentially, a fuel injection system has the ability to calculate the exact needed fuel and air and give the engine what it needs with the ability to constantly readjust what it’s giving.
Fuel injection systems do have a drawback though. Because it is such a sophisticated system, it is often more expensive to fix than it would be to fix a carburetor. The process of installation is a bit more complicated because of the electrical components required.
The Differences Between a Carburetor and a Fuel Injector
Obviously, the main goal for both a carburetor and a fuel injector is to give the engine the proper fuel and air mixture it needs to run efficiently. They each have the same basic functions, but there are also some major differences between the two of them.
The advantages of a carburetor is that they are fairly easy to operate, clean, and fix. They are also less expensive if they need to be replaced. Servicing them is quick and easy and they can be looked into without disrupting the engine and it’s timing.
The disadvantages of carburetors are that there are some parts inside of them, such as the diaphragm, that can easily get ruined or torn even if it is slightly touched or bumped in the wrong way. In order to tune a carburetor, you have to do it manually with a large screwdriver. The biggest disadvantage is the air and fuel mixture is not consistent and can often cause performance problems with the engine.
The advantages of a fuel injector are the optimum fuel delivery which makes it more efficient. Fuel injectors are able to sensitively increase the air-fuel mixture through acceleration easily and tuning can be done easily through a certain type of computer (which can be as simple as hooking it up to a computer and putting in a few numbers).
The disadvantages of fuel injectors including the headache it is to service them as they are more high tech. Maintenance and replacements cost a lot more and tuning them and producing new fuel maps require more expertise, meaning most people can’t do it in their own garage on a Saturday afternoon.
Do They Still Make Cars With Carburetors?
Today, there are no major manufacturers that produce cars with carburetors, only fuel injector systems. This is mostly due to emission requirements and fuel efficiency as well as the reliability of fuel injectors verses carburetors. With that being said, there are still many cars out on the road that have carburetors because they were made before manufacturers stopped using carburetors. The cars are mostly classic or antique cars that people usually don’t drive very often anyway
There are other types of vehicles you may see that more commonly have carbureted systems such as ATV’s, snowmobiles, motorcycles, and jet skis. The newer ones will most likely have fuel injection systems as their emissions protocols have become more strict over the years, but a lot of people still own the older versions of these vehicles so you’ll still see them around.
A lot of people who own vehicles that have a carburetor end up converting to fuel injection which is actually entirely possible. People do this because of fuel economy and stricter emissions and registration rules. Though it is possible to convert to fuel injection, it is a little tricky and will probably require a mechanic to do all the exact tuning needed to get your vehicle’s full conversion completed.
How much does it cost to replace a fuel injector? Depending on the make and model of your car, a new fuel injector can cost anywhere between $500 to $1,500. Fuel injectors are made to last a while so it’s a good idea to check other possible culprits to your problem before going with this expensive fix.
Does a fuel injector affect gas mileage? Since the switch to fuel injectors, gas mileage on cars has improved dramatically. There is usually no waste in fuel with a fuel injector so you can be assured the gas you put in your car is going directly into your engine with no waste.