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A Guide to the Toyota VVT-i System

Jul 12, 2008
By now, you have probably heard a mechanic or automotive enthusiast tell you that an engine is essentially a large air pump. Basically, the more air an engine can suck in to combine with fuel, the more power it can create through combustion. It also follows that the more efficiently an engine can remove exhaust gases from the cylinders, the better it can manage that power. Air flow from one end to the other is the key to a healthy, strong engine.

There are a number of different components in the motor which can affect air flow, but the main ones are the valves in the cylinder head. These control the amount of air entering the cylinder, and the volume of exhaust air which leaves it. Intake valves open just before combustion, allowing air to flow in and mix with fuels. After this mixture has been ignited, the exhaust valves open and suck the resultant gases out of the engine. The valves are timed by a rotating shaft called the camshaft, which has lobes that push up on the valves to open and close them.

The amount of time these valves stay open, and at which point in the combustion cycle they are open, can strongly impact the drivability and power of an engine. If you want a really fast car, like a race car, you'll need to adjust the camshaft to perform well at the high RPMs needed for a powerful engine. This will mean poor performance at low RPMs, which isn't a problem for race cars. If you're looking for something with a lot of low-end torque, such as for towing, then you should adjust the camshaft accordingly to perform at low RPMs. Of course, this will also mean sacrificing high RPM performance.

Street vehicles are a compromise between reliability, fuel efficiency and power, which can RPM performance, but street vehicles need a broader power band because they function at a wide range of RPMs. A race car can get away with an idle that barely runs below 1000 RPM, but you can't have a street car that stalls at every stoplight. Everyday vehicles usually compromise with a camshaft that works well at the most often used range of engine RPMs, but don't deliver at high speeds.

These types of camshafts obviously aren't too efficient. Since they're trying to do everything adequately, they don't really do any one of them superiorly. Your engine needs to be able to perform just as well accelerating from a stop as it does speeding down the highway, which means that much of the time, it's burning too much fuel and also underperforming.

Automakers have developed something called "variable valve timing" (VVT) to address this problem. Toyota's newest VVT-i engine, the Toyota Tundra's i-Force 5.7L V8, can vary the timing of the valves to match engine speed. It uses engine oil pressure to make slight adjustments to the camshaft, so that more aggressive lobe designs are used when working at higher RPMs. This makes the i-Force capable of running a camshaft configuration which provides fuel efficiency for everyday driving, but that can still turn out lots of power when you press the pedal to the floor.

The dual VVT-i in the Toyota Tundra goes even further - at high RPMs, it allows the exhaust and intake valves to open at the same time, which scavenges airflow as much as possible. The result? A V8 engine that can produce 381 horsepower at 5600 rpm, but also generate 401 lb-ft of torque at as little as 3600 rpm. And what's more, the 2 wheel drive Tundra can still get a respectable 20 miles per gallon on the highway. Possibly the best part about Toyota's variable valve timing system is getting killer horsepower without getting killed at the pump.
About the Author
The author Jason Lancaster operates TundraHeadquarters.com, a web site with info, news, and reviews of Toyota Tundra accessories and Tundra parts.
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