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Old April 6th, 2004, 11:17   #1
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Default The absurdity of fixed percentage drivetrain loss

The whole concept of a fixed percentage drivetrain loss in evaluating chassis dyno tests is one of the most absurd things i've ever heard of in my experience as a powertrain engineer, and is the motivation behind this post.

First, a primer: energy (or in the case relevant to this discussion -- power) cannot be created or destroyed. Simple enough? Where then, does that power that is transmitted from the crank, to the wheels, and ultimately to the road, go? Most of it goes to friction and therefore heat.

Second, an illustration: For argument's sake, take a stock 90HP TDI, and we'll arbitrarily say that it has a 15% driveline loss. That means that the engine would be developing about 104HP (90/1.15) at the crank. The loss through the drivetrain was 14HP (104-90). Now, you do a bunch of engine mods without touching the drivetrain, and you now measure, say, 135HP at the wheels. Adding the customary 15% to refer back to the crank, you get 155HP, but the loss through the drivetrain is now 20HP, a difference of 6HP, WHEN NOTHING HAS BEEN TOUCHED THERE!

Do you now see the absurdity of this concept?

Firstly, may I submit that 2WD vehicles with manual transmissions have very good mechanical efficiencies, as evidenced by the fact that 2 quarts of non-pressurized, non-circulating oil is sufficient to keep the entire transmission cool and lubricated. In fact, to attach a number to it, manual transmissions are usually over 90% efficient, and many over 95%. That implies a loss through the transmission of between 5.3-11%. Even the best automatic transmissions with lock-up TCs achieve between 80-85% efficiencies.

Secondly, may I submit that contrary to popular (mis)conception, flywheel weights, rim weights/diameters and tire type (should) have very little contribution to the HP numbers on a rolling road dyno. Heavy flywheels and rims act as inertial dampers but do not destroy or create energy, nor transform it to heat, as would have to happen to if it is to result in a greater or lesser HP value on the dyno. Tires will shed energy in the form of heat by the simple contact with the ground and also though the flexing of the treads and sidewalls, but this amount is negligable in the scheme of things that it is generally ignored unless you are an engineer for an OEM, race car team or tire manufacturer. More on inertia in a moment.

Thirdly, I hope the above underscores that an accurate measurement of drivetrain loss cannot be overgeneralized. For one, it is not constant across the entire measurement range within a given run. In fact, friction increases roughly linearly with speed. In automotive engineering speak, this is quantified by a parameter called the FMEP (friction mean effective pressure), and although it's is not called that, it is manifested in many engine graphs you may read without even realising it. Frictional losses are different at 2000RPM to 4000 RPM, etc., etc. You cannot, therefore, equate the drivetrain loss of a car whose engine is turning at 8000RPM at the maximum rated power to one turning at 4000RPM, because on the basis of the RPM alone, frictional losses at 8000RPM are roughly double that at 4000RPM.

That said, yes, it's true: gear selection when performing a rolling road dyno DOES have an impact on HP, but it is not usually borne in dyno results, because the difference is small and within the inevitable variation from test-to-test and also measurement error.

Further, engine/driveline design considerations mean that there is a wide variance in frictional losses between different cars; the comparison of mechanical efficiencies between manual- and automatic transmissions have already been discussed above. Cars with AWD, automatic trannies, and large-displacement/many-cylinder engines will tend to have higher frictional losses than small-displacement, 2WD, manuals.

Finally, The importance of "motored" or coast-down tests in a dyno evaluation is important and needs to be stresssed, because that is what accounts for your true frictional losses and balances the inertial "ledger sheet" of the different driveline components, including the wheels and tires. The energy that is absorbed in the form of inertia in the flywheel/wheels/tires, etc. is accounted for ("given back," to oversimplify) in this coast-down, and when doing a street (i.e. butt) dyno, also accounts for the very important aerodynamic drag.
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