Carb Class: Basic Principals of Carburetor Operation

By: Quick Fuel | 05/19/2010 < Back to Motor Life Home

Carburetors, contrary to popular opinion, are a very basic device similar in relative design since Henry Ford and his Model T. The same basic things make them tick no matter who designed it. People over the years have heard horror stories about carburetors or maybe even had a bad experience firsthand (who hasn’t been at the race track and witnessed a carburetor fire in their lifetime?) but that should not keep you from learning how one works. So without further ado, it’s time to dispel the myths, lies, and black magic. The first thing required for a carburetor to function properly is atmospheric pressure. Pressure is the most important variable tied to a carburetor’s performance, and without it one simply will not run! Most carburetors will have a vent tube that acts as a “port” to the fuel bowl; this “port” provides the carburetor with pressure from it’s ambient surroundings and forces the fuel to move through the metering passages as required based on engine demand. Manipulation or changing the length of the fuel bowl port can have dramatic affects on the fuel curve of a carburetor and should only be done with the assistance of a professional engine dyno. Many people think that fuel pressure is what moves fuel through a carburetor and they are which is incorrect. Fuel pressure simply pushes the fuel to the carburetor, atmospheric pressure takes over from there. Another phenomenon a carburetor requires is something we refer to as draw. Draw is essentially what the engine wants from the carburetor in terms of air and fuel. When an engine starts going through the RPM range, draw will increase (naturally as engine speed increases air and fuel demand will as well). As draw increases a carburetor must react to properly mix the air and fuel together. Air and fuel mixture is very important and varies depending on the type of fuel you use as well the elevation you are racing at. The word carburetor gurus use for the process of mixing air with fuel is “atomization”. Atomization is where things get tricky and some black magic comes to play; carburetor manufacturers, modifiers and other fuel system related companies are always searching for more efficient ways to atomize fuel and air. So how does the atomized fuel get to where it needs to be? This is a question that many might know the answer to - the Venturi effect - named after the Italian physicist Giovanni Venturi, the Venturi effect is a phenomenon where pressure is reduced after air flows through a constricted area. The constricted area in questions is easy to spot as it is the skinniest part of the “barrel” on a carburetor. To explain a little further, air rushes past the area with the smallest circumference causing it to speed up and form an area of low pressure right below the venturi, this low pressure will in turn pull (remember our term draw) atomized fuel from the booster venturi and send it along to the intake runners. One thing nearly all carburetors have in common no matter how many barrels is the venturi. To sum it up; a carburetor will not run without atmospheric pressure, something to mix the fuel and a means of getting the fuel to combustion chamber - these are the basics and the details are where performance is found. Carburetor development has come a long way since Henry Ford’s Model T and each new season of racing brings some innovation giving racers an edge. Still foggy on the principals or want to know more? Give us a call, we love talking about these contraptions and helping people make the most of their race car.

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