Should You Buy a Car With Direct Injection?

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Should You Buy a Car With Direct Injection?

Despite advancements in hybrid power-trains and electrification technology, gasoline engines remain the predominant choice in passenger cars because of continued efficiency improvements, most recently through the increased use of direct injection technology. But are you gambling when buying a car with DI, which still has its fair share of concerns and problems? 

Direct-injection is becoming commonplace in new cars thanks to its positive effect on fuel efficiency. “The requirements for higher fuel efficiency being stipulated by the EPA assure direct injection will be an increasingly common technology on cars going forward,” Says Karl Brauer of TotalCarScore.com “A such, automakers will have to figure out how to make it durable and cost effective.”

It’s the next generation of fuel injection, which replaced the carburetor somewhere back in the ‘80s. By result of squirting fuel right into the individual cylinder, the engine gets a higher quality of combustion and an increase in combustion efficiency. This means that a smaller engine with direct-injection can make as much power as a bigger engine without direct injection. By precisely timing and placing the injection of the fuel into the cylinder, engineers have managed to ensure a more efficient combustion. Therefore, it pollutes less too.

NEW TECH, NEW PROBLEMS?

However, direct injection isn’t without its critics. “There is a process of getting the technology to not only work but to be durable and cost effective,” Says Brauer. “The latter always takes time when a new technology first enters mainstream production.”

There are many longevity concerns with direct injection equipped engines. For example, the high pressure injection used in these engines causes a lot of stress on the fuel pumps. Regular fuel pumps in non-direct injected applications operate at much lower pressure than the high-pressure fuel pumps in direct-injected power-plants. The difference is in thousands of PSI.

Some high-pressure fuel pumps, like those used with BMW’s twin-turbo direct injection engine in the 2007-2010 335i, the 2008–2010 135i, 535i and X6 xDrive35i, as well as the 2009–2010 Z4 Roadster sDrive35i have been known to fail prematurely.

Another problem with direct injection is with ethanol fuel. Ethanol is known to speed up the corrosion rate of some metals that are used in an engine. With the higher pressure of a direct injection engine, and thanks to the fuel injector being exposed to in-cylinder explosions, there’s a higher chance of a problem or failure. Because of this, it’s more important to use higher quality fuels.

Finally, the biggest concern with direct-injection technology is with carbon buildup. In a direct injection engine, oil droplets tend to get ‘baked’ on the valve. Carbon buildup can create a lot of headaches in the long-term, with build-up being bad enough to make extra noise during operation and damage the engine. At the very least it can reduce fuel mileage, and affect performance.

This issue can affect other components in your car’s engine, like turbochargers or catalytic converters. Luckily, some automakers have filtering systems in place to catch droplets and debris.

Newer implementations of direct-injection are designed around these problems. Toyota’s D-4S system that is in use in some of its cars such as the Scion FR-S and Lexus GS350 have a second set of port injectors (not direct injectors) that run when needed to help clear off the carbon build up and optimize performance. Wade Hoyt from Toyota’s communications team explains “The main benefit is that it allows the compression ratio to be raised without pre-ignition or ‘pinging.’ Higher compression produces more horsepower.” Wade points out that “All of the D-4S equipped engines have higher-than-usual compression ratios.”

OLD SUPERCAR TECHNOLOGY, NOW IN AFFORDABLE CARS

While becoming commonplace, direct injection technology is not new. The first vehicle with direct injection is said to be the race-car turned production car, the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL. The usage of direct-injection is considered to be one of the key factors in helping the car reach its record breaking top speed of 161 mph. Where the 300SL featured supercar-like engineering like direct injection, the technology is now it’s being used in cars as affordable and frugal as the Hyundai Accent.

Direct injection is helping to extend the dominance of gasoline powered vehicles everywhere. It provides more power, helps with fuel savings and can lower emissions without any change to the way the car drives.

With direct injection used in the tiny 1.6-liter engine found in the Hyundai Accent, the car can make a (relatively) whopping 138 horsepower. The engine in the Honda Civic, which doesn’t have direct injection, needs to up the displacement to 1.8L just to make similar power. The 2.0L Skyactiv-G engine in the Mazda3, which makes 155-hp thanks to direct injection, is seven horsepower more than a non-direct injected 2.0L Subaru boxer engine found in the new Subaru Impreza.

By itself, direct injection is pretty good at helping new cars get more range with each tank of gas, but when compared with other engine technologies, it becomes even more impressive. By combining direct injection with turbocharging in the Cadillac ATS 2.0T, the engine can make more than 270-hp, even though it displaces just 2 liters. The new BMW 328i also combines turbocharging and direct-injection to make heaps of power in a small package. The two technologies come together in harmony help make a surprisingly effective package of power and fuel economy.

It’s clear that the adoption of direct injection by automakers hasn’t peaked yet, and durability concerns are known. Additionally, with recent news from Hyundai and Kia that fuel-mileage claims are being downgraded, there’s a chance that some direct injection implementations aren’t as successful as marketed.

With some more time and development, gains in reliability are certain to be achieved. And by combining direct injection with variable valve timing, smart alternators and start-stop features, the extra mileage achieved is certain to make the efficient and effective gasoline engine the dominant powertrain choice for years to come.

  • Maybe a person shouldn’t buy direct injected turbo vehicles, since I’ve yet to see an N/A go through serious recall.

  • James K

    Question: Should you buy a car with Direct Injection?
    Answer: Not if its from Korea.

  • Ron

    The Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T does not have a GDI engine in it. Only the 2013 3.8 V6 which is NA has GDI.

  • Corrected, thanks for the heads up Ron!

  • ademello

    The big question that remains has to do with the long-term effects of GDI on vehicle reliability and service cost, meaning long after warranties have expired and manufacturers can no longer be held liable for anything.  What will GDI mean to people that hold on to vehicles beyond 10 years? Is this a time bomb that will leave people stuck with expensive repair options and vehicles they cannot sell? 

    It is funny how everyone kept on pounding Honda for being so behind technologically by not joining the GDI bandwagon.  Honda is generally more conservative about deploying leading edge technologies, and there is some smart reasoning behind that ideology.

  • A la Lexus IS250.  Oh the poor souls, with no extended warranty, who have to replace the pistons b/c of GDI. 

  • DRJJ

    Careful what you ask for, you might get it! Toyota Camry-conventional transmission and fuel injection!

  • Sorry to disappoint but the 2013 Honda Accord 185-hp, 2.4-Liter, 16-Valve, Earth Dreams DOHC i-VTEC® 4-Cylinder Engine has DI 🙁

  • Sunny

    The savings in fuel consumption may not be able to offset the additional cost of maintenance of the engine due to carbon build-up.

  • DRJJ

    Tell em about the ultra high fuel pressure, related components, costs and risk with DI!

  • John Scott

    I imagine too the extreme exposure to heat will cause carbon build up and earlier failures. Also the injectors will certainly be of higher costs. Add to that a older high mileage direct injected engine will also deal with oil consumption clogging of those injectors. When you have the injector in the intake system you avoid those exposures. I personally would wait to see if the brains in engineering have solved any problems? Or just created new ones for owners.

  • John Scott

    Most auto makers only worry about longevity of components for their warranty period.
    So its safe to say direct injection will most likely serve the car maker well enough for that. Its the longer lifespan of the car for maybe a second or third owner I think will have to deal with direct injections negatives.

  • hoverlover

    I have a 2008 Mini Cooper S with direct injection. The intake valves coked up after 35,000 miles. The repair was covered under warrantee. The service rep said, “We’ll clean off the carbon and re-program the engine so this will never happen again.”
    Today I got my Mini back from the shop after having the carbon removed – again (70,000 miles). The service rep said, “We cleaned off the carbon and re-programmed the engine so this will never happen again.” This one cost me $800. I WILL be talking to Mini corporate about this issue.
    Direct fuel injection sucks.

  • Lew

    The author needs to get his information correct. The Honda Civic does have direct injection as of 2013. My Civic sedan gets between 32 to 34 city mpg and 40 to 42 highway cruising.

  • Auto Motive

    Vehicle maintenance is important which includes using a valve injector cleaning agent between oil changes. I find sea foam to be the best product for this application. I add this to my gas every 10000 miles. I just turned 20k on my Optima Turbo and so far its running like new. Direct injection or fuel injection I use this additive along with synthetic oil in all five of my vehicles. It has worked for me over years and would highly recommend it to all.

  • Pringles

    By it’s very definition, Direct Injection sprays fuel directly into the combustion chamber, not into the inlet port throats. Sorry to say, but Seafoam added to the fuel will do precisely squat in cleaning the inlet ports of oil vapour on a Direct Injection engine.

  • Mifuel

    The Integra 1.8L engine produces 200hp an engine develop in the 1990’s
    Compare that to Mazda 2.0L Skyactive that only produces 155hp

  • Joe

    You need to get your facts straight. The Accord has DI as of 2013, not the Civic. The Civic may get it in 2015.

  • dibble

    I have been ruining a petrol direct injection Kia Ceed for about 2 years now. Fuel consumption is more or less the same as previous port injection cars. I’ve noticed that the exhaust is heavily sooted – unlike the previous exhausts – which were totally soot free. Is an increase in particulate emissions a price you have to pay for DI?

  • Jeff

    Doesn’t happen with the GM direct injection engines. The intake timing has been calibrated to limit the oil deposits sprayed on to the valves.

  • John Smith

    That’s the difference between an engine that’s hand built and blueprinted and one that’s mass-produced. Another thing to note is the ITR engine had minimal torque and that hp was only produced at redline and the Mazda motor has torque near equal to it hp rating and at much lower RPMs. IOW, the ITR was flat-footed unless you drove it like you stole it – coming from the former owner of a slightly less powerful GS-R and last-gen Civic Si.

  • John Smith

    Dyno reports are showing the motor is under-rated or Honda has done what few others can and reduced driveline losses below 10%.

  • John Smith

    Use fuel system cleaner every other fill-up and de-carbon the engine with a very fine mist of water through the intake regularly. I’d install a catch can between the intake and PCV valve to trap the oil residue. Mini, just so you know, if the worst manufacturer for durability in JD long-term studies, being an English-built overly complicated BMW product with either Brazilian-made Chrysler engines or a Peugeot-designed one – tell me that doesn’t sound like a recipe for disaster.

  • John Smith

    Has to be misted through the intake, but water works too.

  • John Smith

    I know govt. and industry would like to see this happen so that the latter can sell more cars and the former can achieve greater compliance with newer emissions regs and further intrusion of nanny state driving aids and increase surveillance as cars self-identify to pending electronic traffic control networks.

  • John Smith

    Or Germany.

  • John Smith

    DI’s best use is FI vehicles, since it cools the cylinder better and prevents detonation. Everything not boosted has much less need of the technology and its reliability shortcomings, while it may actually increase the life of a turbo motor.

  • Kouperworx

    2008 used the BMW-Peugeot engines, which was a mistake, IMO. The Chrysler-designed engines used until 2006 were quite reliable. Probably the most reliable aspect of the car.

    Source: I’ve owned four different Coopers (two Chrysler Tritec, two Peugeot).

  • Kenneth

    “Use fuel system cleaner every other fill-up…” — My comment is now 1 year later, but still, I’ll point out that “fuel system cleaner” will not clean intake valves that never get touched by fuel (with a direct injection system). It may clean injectors, but that’s not where the real problem lies.

  • Kenneth

    If I were to be a long-term owner, I’d take that any day!!

  • John Smith

    Notice I didn’t imply that it would de-carbon the engine. Considering the cost of DI injectors, I’d want no deposits on those suckers that lead to premature failure. As an owner of a new CRV, I’m now having to deal with this stuff firsthand and never skimp on quality top-tier gasoline, rather than buy the off-brand stuff many C-stores get.

  • Wink Mcgee

    I need to find a GSR before they’re all gone! Way better looking car to then todays. Also something I can actually work on! Owned honda/toyotas that have all been 20 years old or older. Logged hundreds of thousands of miles, with nothing but brakes, exhaust, tires, oil, filters you know regular maintence stuff. My first and last domestic vehicle was a ford, never looked back! Problem I see is japanese vehicles peeked in the early 90’s after that we started getting americanized versions of japanese models, and things went down hill. Now when I look at a tacoma in NA and a 70 series land cruiser sold in every other market but NA, I start to see the BS that toyota NA has become… Heck even the domestic brands offer 4wd diesel vehicles in other markets! I’m sure there’s a bunch of BS reasons why they aren’t offered here, but VW sells diesel passenger cars here so what’s the problem? Would a small over built toyota diesel truck sell here? I think so, toyota doesn’t…

  • Unite2014

    Unfortunately it does happen to GM. There are TSBs on the topic, we have a 2012 Orlando with 2.4L in our shop now. Last resort now it to re & re the head to decarbon.

  • bob

    What do you consider ” TOP TIER ” gasoline and how would you know if you are ACTUALLY getting anything better then the other stations sell,and even if it is “better gas ” is it going to actually stop the intake valve problem ?
    A crv is not exactly a high performance vehicle or anything special that should require anything more then pulling into any gas station and filling it up with regular gas.
    IF direct injection forces people to start looking around for just the right gas at just the right station and still make you cross your fingers and hope for the best,just to fuel up an everyday commuter then WOW we have a problem.

  • John Smith

    Shell and Chevron are and there’s a whole website devoted to Top Tier brands. http://www[dot]toptiergas[dot]com/retailers/

    USA

    76 Stations

    Aloha Petroleum

    ARCO

    Beacon

    BP

    Chevron

    Cenex

    Conoco

    Costco Wholesale

    CountryMark

    Diamond Shamrock

    Entec Stations

    Express Convenience Centers

    Exxon

    Hawaii Fueling Network (HFN)

    Holiday Stationstores

    Kwik Trip / Kwik Star

    MFA Oil Co.

    Mobil

    Ohana Fuels

    Phillips 66

    QuikTrip

    Road Ranger

    Shamrock

    Shell

    Sinclair

    Suncor Energy Inc

    SuperAmerica

    Texaco

    Tri-Par Oil Co.

    Valero

  • chevron1144

    How do inlet valves get loaded with carbon above the seat if the only thing passing through them is air?

  • Jeff1

    I had a ’08 Buick Enclave that required a DI cleaning that cost a few hundred dollars. Then the catalytic went out at 75K miles; the whole exhaust needed to be replaced at a cost of about $1300. I noticed the oil trap had a lot of oil in it as well. Thinking some of this oil made it’s way into the exhaust system and rotted it out. The Buick has since been sold, way too many issues (not mentioned here). After that experience, I would have a hard time buying another DI engine. The added power and MPG gain was not worth the extra repairs, maintenance costs and service visits.

  • Zack A

    An extra few MPG is great… until you realize that you have a car with direct injection and a CVT tranny. Direct injection causes carbon build up in EVERY car it’s been deployed in. That’s just a fact. People are having engine tear downs due to carbon build up at as low as 60K miles. CVT trannys are another problem. They don’t last and are very expensive to replace. The only exception are the Toyota and Lexus models. Toyota was smart in that they paired direct injection with port injection. The engine goes through cleaning cycles where it uses the port injection to clean off the valves.
    Considering the higher cost of ownership of these vehicles – they completely mitigate any fuel savings and put you in the red compared to a car like the Toyota Camry which still has a traditional automatic tranny and uses port injection. Oh – and it gets 35 MPG too. May not be best in class – but talk to me in 100K miles and let me know how you feel about that CVT and direct injection then.

  • Zack A

    Because of PCV systems. They pull and burn air form within the engine and consume a small amount of oil in the process.

  • barry

    why is it that ALL diesel engines have direct cyl fuel injection and they can last 1 million miles or more with out carbon build up?

  • barry

    guys diesel engines have been using direct fuel injection for ever. the engines get 1 million miles or more before they have any problems. the valves do not have carbon build up. yes they all have PCV systems.

  • starskeptic

    You apparently have never heard of Google…

  • barry

    Google? is that a fuel system problem? I have never heard of the engineering term.

  • starskeptic

    Houston, we have found the problem…

  • Kumquat

    No.

  • JDMHero

    Yes, they produce higher particulate emissions. For Europe the A4 comes with port injectors solely for emission reasons. Here in the USA we’re not lucky & get to eat the repair bills.

  • JDMHero

    They don’t. I have a CM871 right now and got rid of a 6NZ C15 with 3 million mi. on it.

    The only DI diesel right now is Volvo D13, & the problems are worse than GDI, starting with failures reported at 100k mi., & rebuilds usually in the 400-500k mi. range.

    I’d of been bankrupt 10 times over had I bought one 3 years ago. Thank God I didn’t.

  • JDMHero

    Plz see my reply below. Have you ever even read any literature describing how diesel operates even?

    +1 to starskeptic – you’re much more subtle than I would be =)

  • JDMHero

    I wish more people would realize this. On the bright side it’s keeping the auto industry more alive than ever before =)

  • JDMHero

    Yes, they produce higher particulate emissions. For Europe the A4 comes with port injectors solely for emission reasons. Here in the USA we’re not lucky & get to eat the repair bills.

    FYI, when particulate traps get mandated on GDI cars – I would highly recommend looking into leasing when that happens…

  • Wewon Bigly

    I also wish people realized that it was Obama’s draconian new CAFE ‘54.5MPG by 2024’ regs that forced car companies to implement these flawed designs. They had no choice in order to eek out that extra 1 MPG.

    It’s incredible how much destruction Obama has done to our nation. A one man wrecking ball.

  • JDMHero

    I don’t want to get into the whole “who was better or who was worser” argument; but if you look at it from the perspective of “Doing your job”, then I don’t argue with having higher restrictions.

    If you look at the sheer # of ICE’s in the world and the amount produced each year, you can see that there is a very definite and pronounced problem with the pollution that is being created.

    For example, when you look at the pollution in Shanghai, it looks bad, right? Now when you also understand that 95% of autos there are also new and meet the same smog regulations that we have here… “OMG THAT IS BAD WHERE DID THOSE HUGE BLACK SMOG CLOUDS COME FROM???” (<– this should be your reaction)

    When you're greeted with that kind of information and realize that the long-term consequence of that pollution is an ever-increasing amount of damage and $-cost associated with crazy weather, which also results in loss of National GDP (For example, when your oil rigs get totaled in the Gulf by a record-strong hurricane); you know you have to do something about it. When you're the POTUS, it's directly your job.

    So from this perspective, I understand where the restrictions come from. Am I a fan? Actually yes.

    The real issue:
    The piss-poor designs and implementations that auto-makers have done to meet these regulations. They need to be ashamed of what they've done, really.

    The only people who have done DI right are toyota with D-4S technology, as it holds up the efficiency benefits of DI while also meeting the emissions requirements needed (no particulates). They are honestly taking a hit to their profit margin by selling you 2 fuel systems, when they could just as easily only build in one, stiff the planet, and line their pockets with the savings. Honestly, hats off to Toyota here!

    Audi's close; but with a solution that is EU-market only – they literally are at the bottom of the scum-bag bucket because they are clearly prioritizing profits there by witholding an emissions-related solution to the market where they absolutely have to have it in.

  • JDMHero

    Look into an Oil Catch Can; I use Elite Engineering ones in my own cars, and no they are not even DI.

  • Wewon Bigly

    Way too much to respond to here. You’ve clearly made up your mind that government is good and corporations are bad.

    So you really believe that car manufacturers are sitting on some magical new technology that will give infinite amounts of MPG, but would rather use technology that’s known to cause expensive problems? If so, no point in discussing further.

    As far your statement that Shanghai’s pollution is coming primarily from cars with our same EPA regs– If that were true, our cities look like Shanghai. No, rather, their pollution is coming primarily from old tech coal burning plants and other industrial pollutants.

    Lastly, it’s hard to “motor happily” when I now know my brand new engine is already getting dirtied and will need regular expensive maintenance every 20k or so to keep running in top shape. At least I’m informed now and will be watching closely for cars that come with dual injectors. Cheers.

  • DLW

    I have two 08 Cadillac STS. One is a V and one is a 4.6 V8 and both have DI. The 4.6 has 106K and the V has 44K. So far the only problem I’ve had was the alternator failed on the V. Everything else has been scheduled maintenance. I do run a gasoline cleaner occasionally.

  • HudiBlitz

    @ DLW – *Neither* of your Northstar engines has direct injection. Not to flame you, but why would you go through the trouble of posting a comment without knowing that?