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What Are Direct Injection Engines?

Apr 13, 2021 ·

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The engine is one of the most important parts of any vehicle. There are a number of engine types out there that offer unique features to vehicles. One option is a direct injection engine.

Direct injection engines have become more and more popular due to their ability to help vehicles maintain a higher fuel efficiency. Direct injection technology helps optimize gasoline engines so they burn fuel more efficiently, utilizing different manifolds for air and gasoline.

Wondering more about how these engines work and the benefits they offer? Keep on reading.

What Is Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI)?

Gasoline direct injection (GDI) is a type of fuel injection that delivers highly pressurized fuel directly into the engine cylinders.

Traditional port or throttle body injection systems deliver fuel into the intake port above the intake valve. In port or throttle body engines, air mixes with the fuel in the intake port and the mixture enters the cylinder via the intake valve.

Direct injection engines can run with much less fuel than traditional fuel injection, reducing emissions and increasing fuel economy. The engine control module (ECM) selects the ratio of fuel to air for the engines to run efficiently in all situations.

Although direct injection diesel engines are common, the technology is relatively new in gasoline engines. In addition to improved fuel efficiency, direct injection allows the use of higher than normal compression ratios, which increases power.

How Direct Injection Works

Direct injection engines use two fuel pumps, a low-pressure pump and a high-pressure pump. The low-pressure pump sends fuel from the tank, through the fuel filter and into the high-pressure pump.

The engine’s camshaft drives the high-pressure pump, allowing fuel pressure as high as 2,500 pounds of force per square inch (PSI). This highly pressurized fuel travels through fuel rails and directly into the engine cylinders via specifically designed fuel injectors. During normal engine operation, cylinder pressure is quite high. The high-pressure fuel pump overcomes cylinder pressure, allowing finely atomized fuel to enter.

Direct injection engines are physically different from port or throttle body injected engines. An additional access point to the cylinder exists to allow for the fuel injector. GDI engines also utilize a high-pressure fuel rail and high-pressure fuel pump — as well as corresponding high-pressure relief valves in case of a malfunction.

Advantages of Direct Injection

There are many benefits to using a direct injection engine, including:

  • Easier cold starts
  • Better fuel economy and lower emissions due to better fuel atomization
  • Works well with E85 flex fuel, which is a high-level combination of ethanol and gasoline
  • Reduced turbo lag on turbocharged engines
  • Fuel acts as a coolant, allowing for higher compression ratios

Disadvantages of Direct Injection

There are a few disadvantages to direct injection engines as well:

  • Dirtier intake valves (no fuel flows across them to keep them clean)
  • Harder to increase fuel flow for high-performance applications
  • Designed for fuel pressure, not high flow
  • Can lack power and efficiency at high RPMs
  • More advanced compared with a regular injection engine, making for more complex repairs and expense during installation

Direct Injection Modes

There are a few primary techniques used for creating a distribution of fuel around the combustion chambers in a direct injection engine. These GDI modes are:

  • Wall-guided: A wall-guided system positions the injector at an angle between the inlet valves and has a distinctive piston shape that directs fuel toward the spark plug. When injected, a specially shaped piston dome deflects the fuel mix up toward the spark plug. The piston then helps further push the combustible mixture toward the spark plug. 

Wall-guided injector

  • Spray-guided: This system positions the injector centrally in the top of the combustion chamber next to the spark plug and sprays fuel directly down and across the spark plug. This design is generally more efficient than wall-guided systems because the fuel sprays directly toward the spark plug rather than traveling along the piston crown.

Spray-guided injector

Dual Injection

Some manufacturers use dual injection, which is a blend of direct and port injection. The combination can overcome some of the challenges with direct injection, specifically dirty intake valves and high-RPM efficiency challenges. In dual injection engines, the ECM determines which injectors to use based on engine demand.

Train to Work on Direct Injection Engines at UTI

Automotive manufacturers are constantly adapting to changing emissions standards. GDI engines are becoming more and more common in the market, and the ability to diagnose and repair them is not going away.

Not long ago, high-pressure direct injection was only found in high-end vehicles, but GDI engines are quickly becoming the norm in the automotive industry.

You can learn to work on GDI engines, as well as other major engine types, in the Automotive Engines Service & Repair Course that is a part of the Automotive Technology program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI). This program helps prepare students to gain the hands-on experience and education they need for a career in the automotive industry.1

The program is available at campus locations nationwide. Classes begin every three to six weeks so you can get on track to your career sooner. To learn more, visit our program page and request information to get in touch with an Admissions Representative today.

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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

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