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A Practical Guide to Aerodynamic Modification

Updated August 15, 2023 Tuft testing shows the streamlines on a car as the yarn aligns itself with airflow while you drive. Gas prices have recently reached their highest level in nearly a decade. You may find yourself looking at your car, wondering if it’s possible to use less fuel on your long commute and keep some money in your pocket. You may have heard of people who modify their cars to get better fuel economy. You might have even seen cars like the Aerocivic, a weird-looking contraption that was reported on in mainstream media articles during the gas price spike of 2008-09. Would doing something like that work on your car? Can you modify the aerodynamics of your car at home? The good news is, you can! The better news is, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) make your car look like the Aerocivic. Air drag has an influence on the fuel economy of cars, and that influence is greater the faster you typically drive. You can also do a lot more with airflow than just reduce drag. Many peo

Common Misconceptions in Aerodynamics: Part 8

Rear spoilers and wings still work even if a car has front-wheel drive. The claim: Spoilers are only for RWD cars since they make downforce at the rear. This myth has been around for a long time. I couldn't find any  examples of this misconception that didn't pile on additional myths. See if you can spot them all. This one can only be described as "confidently wrong." The reality: This myth is just one representation of a larger misconception. Online commenters seem to be fond of making pronouncements such as this, declaring with absolute certainty that some device or other will or will not work in a certain way. Often, their comments are accompanied by simple explanations. “That rear spoiler isn’t doing anything for your car because it’s FWD.” Or, “The angle of your wing is wrong; you should have a -5 degree angle from horizontal to make the most downforce.” Or, “Your spoiler is too high because it needs to ‘reach up’ only to the Template and it will create a locked

How to Road Trip Efficiently

This summer road trip season may be my last for a few years, since I will be enrolled in school again full-time starting Monday and plan to take summer classes next year. Knowing this, I decided to go on my longest trip ever: starting from my home in Illinois, I drove to Phoenix and stayed with family, then over to Pasadena, up the Central Valley to San Francisco, through the Redwood Parks to Tacoma (my hometown), then across Washington and Idaho to Bozeman where I have more family, and finally to the Black Hills of South Dakota and then home—more than 6,000 miles in all. Top: Sunset at Colonel Allensworth State Park, California. Above: The Coastal Redwood is absolutely incredible; these trees in northern California, the Giant Sequoia to the south, and the Dawn Redwood in China are the last remnants of the Cretaceous forest that once covered most of the globe, according to the placards at Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Since I’m paying tuition now and need to be frugal, road tripping ef

How to Test

Setting out to modify your car’s aerodynamics can be daunting. Where should you start? What should you do first? What changes will give you the most bang for your buck?   Unfortunately, you’ll find a variety of answers to these on the internet—many of which will consider themselves the definitive, correct response, and most of which aren’t based on actual data or first-hand experience. Ignore them.   Identify Goals   The first thing you should do is identify your goals . If you don’t have something in mind you want to accomplish, you can’t plan out a way to get there. And the more specific you can be about where you want to end up, the better ability you will have to make effective modifications that accomplish your goals. Take some time first to identify these. Then, make a testing plan: what changes you want to test, how you will test them, and what you will do if the tests are successful or not. This plan can change as you go along (my plans change every few weeks or so

Developing (Or Not?) a Splitter

Updated August 10, 2023 Splitters are a popular modification for racers; stop by a forum like Grassroots Motorsports and you’ll find thread after thread on adding a splitter to an existing car. Road cars? Not so much, and I suspect most people who screw an eBay lip to the front of their cars do so for looks. But I wonder, could a splitter on a road car do anything beneficial, in terms of improved stability or reduced drag, or…something else? Should I fit one to my car? Let’s find out. Initial Testing   I mocked up a splitter last year out of corrugated plastic. This isn’t the best choice of material—ideally, you’ll want something stiffer and able to be bolted to the car—but I tried to design it in such a way that I could still get useful information from it. I folded the coroplast over itself, so it’s fairly stiff, and I wrapped it over the existing (short) splitter so that, when taped down on the top and bottom, it doesn’t flex much and any force the splitter develops should be transf