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    dynos Empty dynos

    Post  psbarham on Mon Jul 12, 2010 2:34 pm


    Also called chassis dynamometers, these are used to measure power at the driving wheels. This avoids the inconvenience of having to remove the engine to test it if a tuning modification has been made. However, it means that the power figures obtained will be lower than the flywheel power because of the frictional losses in the drive train and tyres. This leads to one of the biggest sources of confusion, error and plain misinformation in the tuning industry. You see, as discussed above, all major manufacturers quote flywheel power so it is understandable that people want to know if the hard earned cash they spent on tuning mods increased the power of their engine and by how much. To know this for certain means knowing how much the transmission losses are. There is enormous pressure on rolling road operators to be able to quote flywheel bhp rather than wheel bhp and most operators now run proprietary software systems which "supposedly" print out flywheel power.


    Yes - I know - the whole chassis dyno tuning industry quotes flywheel figures and here's me saying none of it works. So I'd better explain some more and then you can make your own mind up.

    First, let's look at how a chassis dyno works. The car is driven onto a rig so that the driving tyres are resting between two steel rollers. The torque is measured at different speeds in exactly the same way as an engine dyno works except that it is torque at the rollers rather than torque at the flywheel. The braking load is applied to one of the rollers by either a hydraulic (water brake) or electrical system again in just the same way as the engine dyno would apply a torque to the crankshaft of the engine. The same universal equation at the top of the page can then be used to calculate bhp at the rollers by knowing the torque and the rpm of the rollers (NOT the rpm of the engine at this stage) - but if the engine rpm is measured simultaneously then we can know roller bhp at a particular engine rpm. The BIG problem with all this is if any tyre slip is taking place. Remember these are smooth steel rollers which over time get quite polished. How much grip do you think you would get if roads were made of polished steel rather than tarmac? The effects of tyre slip are complex (i.e. I don't pretend to fully understand them myself!) but what I do know is that you can get some really strange bhp figures from highly tuned engines on narrow tyres and the readings are invariably too high not too low.

    What is a transmission loss ? Well all mechanical systems suffer from friction and a proportion of the power fed into a system will get dissipated by friction and turn into heat and noise. Note the key phrase there - "power fed into a system". For there to be a loss there must be an input - simple and obvious yes but we'll see the relevance in a minute. When your car is parked overnight with the engine switched off, the transmission losses are obviously zero. When the car is running then some proportion of the flywheel power will be lost in the gearbox, final drive, drive shaft bearings, wheel bearings and tyres. For a given mechanical system these losses will usually stay close to a particular fixed %. For example if the loss percentage was 10% (just picking a nice round number for ease of explanation) and the car cruising on a level road was developing 20 bhp at the crankshaft then 2 bhp would get absorbed as friction. Under full power, say 100 bhp, then 10 bhp would get absorbed.

    Now it is true that not every component in a transmission system absorbs a fixed % of the input power. Some components like oil seals and non driven meshed gears (as in a normal car multi speed gearbox) have frictional losses which are not affected by the input torque. These losses do increase with speed of course but at a given rpm can be taken to remain constant even if the engine is tuned to give more power. We'll look at real world transmission loss percentages later. Finally, the biggest source of loss in the entire transmission system of a car is in the tyres - they account for half or more of the total losses between the flywheel and the rollers. Each set of driven gears, i.e. the final drive gear or the particular gearbox ratio that you happen to be testing the car in, only absorbs about 1% to 2% of the engine's power.

    Coast Down Losses
    OK - so how do these software systems that supposedly measure transmission losses so as to "predict" back to the flywheel bhp work. The power curve at the wheels is taken in the usual way as explained above. Then, at peak rpm, the operator puts the car into neutral and lets the rollers slow down under the drag of the tyres and transmission. The software then measures this drag (or "coast down loss") as "negative" power and adds it to the wheel power to get back to the supposed flywheel power. BUT - and hopefully you've all spotted the problem now - the engine is not feeding any power into the drive train while the car is in neutral - in fact it isn't even connected to the drive train any more!! Whatever drag this is that's being measured it has nothing at all to do with the proportion of the flywheel power that gets lost as friction when the engine is powering the car in the normal way. The engine could now be an 800 bhp F1 engine or a 30 bhp mini engine for all it matters because it isn't connected to the gearbox or feeding any power into it.

    Obviously this "coast down loss" is something to do with the transmission and tyres but it is not the true transmission loss - in fact this coast down loss should never be expected to change for a given car at a particular rpm regardless of how much you tune the engine whereas a true transmission loss will increase as the engine power increases because it is dependent to a large extent on the amount of power being fed into the transmission. I've seen a car that over time was tuned from 90 bhp at the wheels to 125 bhp at the wheels and the "coast down loss" stayed the same for every power run to within a fraction of a horsepower - exactly as you would have predicted. As the engine was tuned to give more power the "true" transmission losses must have also increased to some extent but these chassis dyno systems don't, and can't, show this happening.

    True Transmission Losses
    So is there any way of really measuring the true transmission loss of a car? Yes - only one - by measuring the flywheel power on an accurate engine dyno, the wheel power on an accurate chassis dyno and taking one away from the other. There is no way on God's green earth of finding out the true transmission loss just by measuring the power at the wheels.

    So hopefully that's got you all thinking a bit more now instead of just taking for granted the "flywheel" figure you were given last time you took your car to the rollers. Even worse is the fact that some of these software systems allow the operator to just program in the % transmission loss he wants the system to add to the wheel figures. So if that isn't a nice easy way to show some big fat flywheel bhp then I don't know of a better one. It's certainly a lot easier than actually doing some proper development work to make the engine perform better - just dial in a bigger transmission loss and bingo - the same wheel bhp now turns into a bigger flywheel bhp - happy customer, happy dyno man - just a shame it was all sleight of hand. See the end of this article if you doubt that this sort of thing really happens.

    So what should you do when you take your car to a rolling road? Firstly, make sure you get printouts that show the wheel bhp and not just the flywheel bhp. Then at least you can see if they look sensible in comparison. If you have a desperate need to know the flywheel bhp then you will have to estimate it - there's no other way short of using an engine dyno.

    The average front wheel drive road car with between 100 and 200 bhp loses about 15% of the engine bhp as transmission losses.

    The average rear wheel drive road car with between 100 and 200 bhp loses about 17% of the engine bhp as transmission losses.

    The 2% increase in losses over front wheel drive is because the differential has to turn the drive through 90 degrees at the back axle which soaks up a bit more of the engine's power.

    4wd cars will have higher losses because of the extra differentials and other power transmission components. The tyre and main gearbox losses will be the same though. Correlating the performance of vehicles with the both 4wd and 2wd options (Audi's and the Sierra Cosworth are examples) shows 4wd transmission losses to be about 5% higher than rwd. 22% seems to be a good average.

    What each individual car loses is an unknown - it will depend on tyre sizes and pressure, suspension angles and other things, but it shouldn't be far from the figures above. For sure though, no 2wd car in the world, unless it has flat tyres and a gearbox full of sand, loses anything like 30% of the engine's power in the transmission and tyres as many rolling road operators would try to have you believe. In general though it is fair to say that low powered cars have higher % losses than high powered cars. This is because some of the frictional losses are independent of engine power and so represent a bigger drain on a small engine. For example, a 60 bhp Fiesta will have around 14 to 15 bhp total transmission and tyre loss (25%) whereas a 90 bhp XR2 will only have about 17 to 18 bhp loss (20%) - a smaller % obviously. By the time you get to RWD cars with engines in the 300 to 500+ bhp range, losses can eventually drop to as little as 12% to 14% or so.

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