42 - Gallons, Life and Volts

Phil Ramsey

When you think of the number 42, what does it bring to mind? Because Machinery Lubrication is primarily concerned with lubricating oil, the first thing I would expect you to say is the number of gallons in a barrel of crude oil. However, the number 42 can mean different things to other professionals.

In the early stages of a new relationship, one of my daughters informed her boyfriend that she read a lot of science fiction. He tested her claim by asking her the meaning of life. Her answer was simple, “The meaning of life, the universe and everything is 42.” She quoted the line from Douglas Adams’ science fiction classic, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and he says that’s when he fell in love.

In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide,” characters waited a number of years while some planet-sized supercomputer calculated the meaning of life, the universe and everything in it. After a long wait came the answer “42.”

If you want to have some fun this weekend, search the Internet for “meaning of life 42.” Some college students, with too much time on their hands, attempt to justify the answer 42. Forty-two is a serious pursuit for these people, and what is surprising is that some of their theories make sense. Pay special attention to the one about number systems based on 13.

To me, an automotive technician, 42 means the upcoming voltage in your new cars. Twelve volts has done well for a long time, why increase to 42 volts? The answer lies in the increasing power demands on an automobile’s electrical system. These demands come from two areas - the shear number of creature comforts we demand, and the search for more efficient and less polluting engines.

In the late 1960s, a car with power accessories (such as windows, seats or air-conditioning) seldom demanded more than 500 watts from the electrical system. These 12-volt times 50-amp systems were adequate. However, electrical cooling fans, high-volume stereo systems, antilock brakes and computer-controlled emission systems have recently been added.

Vehicle loads are expected to exceed 2.5 to 3.0 kilowatts soon. With 42 volts, more power can be transferred with smaller wires, connectors and cables, which will reduce the space demands under an already crowded dashboard and hood. 36-volt batteries and 42-volt generators which keep them charged are manufactured today for 2004 models. Go to www.delphiauto.com for more details.

There is a long list of inventions for better control of engine power and efficiency. Computer-controlled valve springs will modify the valve timing far better than any camshaft ever could. It will eliminate camshafts, pushrods, lifters, and timing chains and gears along with their weight and parasitic horsepower demands.

Power-steering pumps, air-conditioning compressors and coolant fans will be electrically powered to remove the parasitic horsepower losses from these items. Steering itself will become electrically powered, eliminating even the hydraulics from the car. All of these things are lighter, more energy efficient, and more accurately controlled by the computer systems. You will save money by hauling around less weight, and burning less gasoline to do it.

In the near future, belts will disappear from under the hood. A motor/generator, directly geared to the motor, will serve as both generator and starter. This combination starter and generator will also activate upon braking, converting braking energy to generated battery charging. Traditional door locks will disappear. Doors will unlock and swing open upon voice command. Only people who are recognized as designated drivers will be allowed to enter.

Some states are discussing requiring a breathalyzer test to start the car. Heated seats are already here. Individual air temperature controls are already here. In my shop, I’ve already worked on cars with “heads-up display” (HUD) - like those used in fighter planes. Voice-activated cell phones will eliminate the danger of DWD, or driving while dialing. Entertainment and navigational satellite connections are being sold today. Forty-two volts are coming!

As you might guess, 36-volt batteries won’t be cheap in the beginning. Dead batteries are inconvenient and costly. The present-day 12-volt car battery is reliable with a minimum amount of care. But it is certain that a battery will die at the most inconvenient time or place. Never will it occur in your own driveway. Following are some quips and tips to save you time and money with 12- and 36-volt battery systems.

I drove my mother’s 1962 Impala to college, and kept it as a second car until I sold it in 1975. When I sold the car, it still had the original Delco battery. I asked my dad why this one lasted so long. He went to the car, opened the hood and explained that two things kill a battery - vibration and using it while it wasn’t fully charged.

The Delco was still held solidly in the battery rack and I had never had a battery die without fully charging it before using it. Vibration will crack the thin plates, and they will get thinner as higher-voltage batteries are contained in approximately the same size case for the under-the-hood space considerations. For this reason, make sure the original hold-down system in your car is intact.

A severely discharged battery that is rapidly recharged undergoes thermal stress and will crack the lead plates in the battery. Cracks lead to shorts and shorts lead to dead batteries.

To make your battery last longer, keep the battery terminals clean by periodically scrubbing them with a toothbrush and a small amount of soda pop.

Get yourself an inexpensive trickle charger of about two to four amps. Every home needs one. We have cars, lawnmowers, 4-wheelers and other machines powered by 12-volt system batteries. Most are not used regularly enough to keep the battery fully charged. Make sure the battery is securely locked down as the manufacturer intended.

About four times a year, slowly charge the battery overnight, or more often if you’ve left the lights on. You will save downtime and replacement costs following these tips. Also, batteries are difficult to recycle. By extending their life we can save money and help the environment.

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