How Does a Car Use Energy?

by David McGuffin

The internal combustion engine, which is utilized in most automobiles, has allowed for the transfer of chemical energy into mechanical energy. This provides locomotion for the vehicle as it is driving.

Stored Energy

Energy is stored in the form of potential energy through the chemical compounds found in gasoline or other petroleum products that are used for fuel for the car. These molecular compounds are highly combustible, meaning that they ignite easily, causing a small explosion and creation of heat as the fuel burns. A car also has stored potential energy in the form of electricity within the car's battery.

Mechanical Energy

When the ignition key is turned in a car, the battery sends a high voltage jolt of electricity to the starter, which transfers the electrical energy into mechanical energy as it cranks the flywheel. As the flywheel is turned, fuel is injected and exploded in the pistons, which are connected to the crankshaft, gears and axle.

Energy Usage

According to Fuel Economy.gov, a majority of the energy from the gasoline (up to 62 percent) is lost in engine inefficiencies due to friction, pumping and air circulation, and wasted heat. 17 percent of energy is lost through idling the car in urban settings. Accessories, such as air-conditioning and power steering, use up to 2 percent of the car's energy. Other outlets for a car's energy include its drive line, brakes, aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance.

About the Author

David McGuffin is a writer from Asheville, N.C. and began writing professionally in 2009. He has Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of North Carolina, Asheville and Montreat College in history and music, and a Bachelor of Science in outdoor education. McGuffin is recognized as an Undergraduate Research Scholar for publishing original research on postmodern music theory and analysis.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera luxury car - model toy car image by alma_sacra from Fotolia.com