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The Physics Of Car


How Cars work

As we all know cars run on gasoline, which is a fuel that gives off 50
megajoules (56 106 J) per liter when it undergoes complete combustion.
Car work by burning said gasoline to convert its chemical energy into
kinetic energy through a series of mechanical processes in the engine,
although about 80% of that energy is lost to the surroundings in the form of
thermal energy (heat), the remaining obtainable 20% of the original
56,000,000 joules is still a lot of energy.
20% x 56,000,000 = 11,200,000 J (per liter)


How Cars Work (Continued)

To give a more direct sense of fuel to car motion conversion, in ideal

conditions it theoretically takes about 5 tablespoons of gasoline to
accelerate an average car weighing about 2 metric tons to 60 kilometers
per hour, and about a third of a cup more for every minute you keep it
going at that speed. Which might not sound like a lot, but that energy is
the equivalent of dropping a stegosaurus (which is a little heavier that an
African elephant) from a three story building (10m).
1 1 2
E=2 = 2 2000 17 = 289 KJ

What Happens When You Stop It?

If the car were to stop that energy has to go somewhere (according to the
law of conservation of energy).
If the brakes do the stopping the energy dissipates in the form of heat through
the wheels and tires. (Which is why wheel are usually made of High-Speed
Steel or HSS for short, because of its high latent heat it can withstand a lot of
energy before overheating).
Or in the case of a collision the energy is lost through the bending and
deformation of the chassis (body) of the car.


Slower Stops Are Better!

Just like a smooth break is better that a quick and sudden stop, car bodies
have to be carefully designed to deform when they crash, in a way that
lengthens the time of the of impact, so a complete stop would be achieved
through less intense deceleration.
A lot of deceleration in a short amount of time creates a very sudden loss of
momentum and energy, which isnt good for the humans soft and
considerably delicate and fragile internal organs.

A simple solution

So one might suggest that lengthening the nose of the car would increase
the crushable space, and so is the ideal solution, but in addition to adding
weight and looking very odd, people would find it uncomfortable and
difficult to drive, so manufacturers are stuck with the standard 50 to 60 cm
standard nose length of crushable space in which to dissipate the energy
of the falling stegosaur.


A Simple Solution (Continued)

This means while deforming the cars body has to maintain a resistive force
of about of the thrust capacity of an f6 jet engine, while still maintaining
a steady enough deceleration rate, to keep the driver and passengers

280,000 1
1120,000 of
0.25 2 4

An Ideal Solution!

A little over half of that energy is absorbed by the crumpling of the 2 rails
that hold the bumper of the car, absorbing shock and gradually slowing
down the car (not to mention of course that the bumper itself also plays a
small role in dissipating the energy through its deformation), and most or in
ideal situations all of the rest of the energy is absorbed by the rest of the
metallic structures of the vehicle.


An Ideal Solution! (Continued)

This accurately engineered destruction allows the car to decelerate at a

high yet reasonable and constant rate, just slightly over what pilots
experience during training, which isnt good but is still survivable.

An Ideal Solution! (Continued)

On the other hand, if cars were rigid like they were in the 1950s, they would
stop so fast that the driver would experience a force 15 times larger than that
experienced in pilot combat training, which is capable of infliction severe
damage to vital internal organs.


An Ideal Solution! (Continued)

Thankfully, engineers today have learned to make car bodies out of an

aluminum based alloy which isnt only easily deformable but is also easy to
shape and manufacture and is twice as light as steel, which contributes to
the fuel economy of the car. Engineers in certain companies are starting
to put the cars engine in the back, giving even more crushable space
and a lower chance of injury, all cars now also come equipped with air
bags that help prevent the driver and passengers from hitting the front of
the car forcefully.

A Little Bit Of Stats

In 1950 there were over 33,000 deaths on US roads due to car crashes, now
that number is less the a hundred, due to advancements in safety
precautions and law enforced regulations. (Now, according to statistics, more
than 85% of drivers use seatbelts).
Safety regulations are expected to keep advancing, in hope of reducing the
number of deaths to zero.