Stop-start Technology Making Its Way to American-Market Vehicles

BMW 3-Series now includes stop-start technology/Image courtesy BMW

Imagine this: You pull up to a stop light in rush-hour traffic and BAM – your engine stops. For many drivers this is a huge fear, but for others, this is the new normal.

Regarding the latter, this is the new stop-start technology that is finding its way into new vehicles. This technology has been in vehicles overseas and is now working its way into vehicles sold in North America.

“Engine stop-start isn’t a brand new technology, but the latest systems benefit from significant advances made in the last few years,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s Director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “This technology is only going to gain momentum as vehicle manufactures work to meet the more stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards set for 2016.”

Reducing emissions is another benefit from the stop-start systems that automatically perform the task of reducing idling, a practice being championed not only by environmentalists but communities nationwide as well.

BMW 3-Series gauges show when the engine is stopped/Image courtesy BMW

According to AAA, stop-start systems can improve fuel economy up to 12 percent which directly equates into fuel dollar savings – an estimated $167 per year on a car getting 20 mpg driving 12,000 miles on $3.75/gallon gas says the motoring organization.

As with most new technology on the road, stop-start systems take a bit of getting used to. There is still that moment of fear the vehicle will not restart when it’s time to go and the last thing we want is all those impatient motorists behind us honking.

I have tested many new vehicles with the new system, including those with mild to full hybrid powertrains, and have yet to find any fault with it. As previously pointed out, this technology has been tested fully overseas and the last thing automakers want to do here is take a reputation hit for implementing technology for technology’s sake.

Kia offers new stop-start technology in its 2013 Rio line/Image courtesy Kia

Here is a roundup of FAQs from AAA experts concerning stop-start systems:
What is stop-start? Stop-start technology automatically shuts off the engine when a driver is stuck in traffic or waiting for a red light to change. By doing so, the system can improve fuel economy up to 12 percent and contribute to a reduction in vehicle exhaust emissions.

How does it work? With an automatic transmission, engine shutdown occurs when the vehicle is stopped for several seconds with the brake pedal applied. With a manual transmission, shutdown takes place with the transmission in neutral and the clutch released. As soon as the brake pedal is released, or the clutch pedal is depressed, the engine restarts automatically.

How much does it cost? On some models, the stop-start system is standard equipment and its cost is included in the vehicle price. Where stop-start is offered as option it generally costs around $300.

How much can it save? If gasoline costs $3.75 per gallon, the owner of a car that normally gets 20 mpg and is driven 12,000 miles per year would save an estimated $167 per year in fuel costs if the vehicle were equipped with an engine stop-start system. In this case, the system would pay for itself in less than two years and offer ongoing savings thereafter.

Are there any downsides to stop-start? A major challenge in developing stop-start systems has been engineering the systems to meet consumer expectations. The engine stop-start transitions must be smooth and seamless, and drivers new to the technology will need to learn that engine shutdown at idle is a normal thing and not a sign of a problem. In some vehicles, heating and air conditioning performance could suffer if the engine remains shut down for an extended time. Finally, the larger and more powerful batteries that are required for stop-start systems will be more expensive to replace when the time comes.

What American market vehicles offer stop-start today? All hybrid cars have stop-start capability, although they use a different technology than the systems on conventional powertrains. The first non-hybrid stop-start systems in the U.S. market are on 2012 highline vehicles from BMW, Mercedes and Porsche. For the 2013 model year, Jaguar will join that select group, but stop-start systems will also become available on popularly priced models from Ford, Kia, and possibly others. Even trucks will start to see some systems with Dodge adding stop-start to its V6-powered Ram 1500 pickup for a one mile per gallon fuel economy improvement.

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