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Summary
  • The carburetor mixes air and fuel before they’re delivered to the cylinders. It’s entirely mechanical and relies on cables and vacuums to operate. 
  • Fuel-injection systems rely on the engine computer to operate the fuel injectors.
  • Although carburetors are simpler components than fuel-injection systems, the latter is more capable of delivering precise air-fuel mixtures at a constant rate.

Carburetion and fuel-injection are the two main types of fuel delivery systems used in internal combustion engines. So how exactly do they work, and how do they differ from one another?

A Throwback to the Classic Carburetor

Carburetors have been around for decades. Their simple mechanism is one of the reasons why many enthusiasts still prefer carburetors in muscle cars and other classics.

Carburetors are entirely mechanical, meaning they don’t rely on computers or other electronics to operate. Instead, they work via cables and vacuum systems.

Sitting on top of the intake manifold and beneath the air filter, the carburetor is responsible for mixing air and fuel before they get to the cylinders.

The Principle of Carburetion

Carburetion is a straightforward process compared to fuel-injection. Basically, if you step on the gas pedal, the carburetor opens up and delivers the air-fuel mixture to the cylinders.

Sounds simple, right? Not quite.

The carburetor is essentially a tube that has a venturi, a restricted air passage in the middle of the tube that helps increase air velocity.

As the velocity increases, a low-pressure pocket forms and helps draw fuel from a nearby jet.

The throttle valve determines the amount of air that goes in the carburetor, so the harder you step on the gas pedal, the wider the throttle valve opens.

Once the jet is done drawing fuel from the tank, the air-fuel mixture then travels to the cylinders for combustion.

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Carbureted engines can have a single or double barrel.

Single-barrel carburetors only have one venturi operating, while double-barrel carburetors have two venturi for additional power.

There are also some vehicles that have four barrels where two of the barrels (primary) are always operating while the other two (secondary) open up at higher speeds.

It’s a Fuel-Injected Auto World

Mainstream cars began to feature fuel-injected systems during the 1970s, leaving carburetors in the dust not long after.

Compared to carburetors, electronic fuel-injection (EFI) systems are more precise when it comes to producing air-fuel ratios.

EFI systems rely on the powertrain control module (PCM) to pulse the fuel injectors on and off and operate the fuel pump relay circuit.

Most EFI systems have the following components:

Types of Electronic Fuel-Injection Systems

There are generally two types of EFI systems: throttle body injection (TBI) and port fuel injection.

Throttle Body Injection

In a TBI setup, the PCM controls injector pulses in two ways: synchronized and non-synchronized.

Back in the day, TBI had a throttle body with injectors that fired fuel like fuel-injected vehicles. The only difference is that this fired fuel directly into the throttle body and into the intake manifold and then mixed into all the cylinders.

Back in the day, TBI had a throttle body with injectors that fired fuel like fuel-injected vehicles.

Anthony Harlin, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician

Later there were fuel injected vehicles with a fuel injector for each cylinder.

In synchronized mode, the fuel injector pulses once for each distributor reference pulse. In a non-synchronized setup, the injectors are pulsed depending on the calibration. The pulses are also independent of distributor reference pulses.

Unlike port fuel-injection systems, the regulators on throttle-body-injection systems aren’t connected to a vacuum. TBI systems also rely on the nozzle on time to determine the amount of fuel the injectors need to deliver.

In a TBI system, a long pulse width means more fuel while a short pulse means less.

Port Fuel Injection

In a port fuel-injection system, fuel distribution is equal for all cylinders because each of them has a separate injector.

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In this kind of setup, fuel is also injected almost directly into the combustion chamber, leaving no chance for condensation in a cold intake manifold.

Although port fuel-injection systems have separate injectors for each cylinder, they don’t fire the same way.

Injectors can be triggered in three ways, namely grouped double-fire, simultaneous double-fire, and sequential.

Measurement Methods for Fuel Delivery in EFI Systems

Fuel-injection systems have two ways of measuring how much air the engine is breathing in to calculate the appropriate air-fuel mixture: speed density and mass airflow.

Speed Density

The speed-density method only calculates the amount of fuel the engine needs and doesn’t measure air quantity. The computer is responsible for calculating the amount of air in each cylinder using manifold pressure and engine RPM.

For the speed-density method to be accurate, the computer needs information from the following sensors:

Mass Air Flow

In a mass air flow fuel-injected system, the air flow is divided by the engine RPM to derive the injection base pulse width.

In this setup, the computer relies on the readings given by the following sensors:

Carbureted vs. Fuel-Injected Engines

carbureted and fuel injected car engines
There’s a reason why carburetors were eventually booted out of the spotlight, but there’s no denying that the old engine still had some advantages over its successor.

There’s a reason why carburetors were eventually booted out of the spotlight, but there’s no denying that the old engine still had some advantages over its successor.

Let’s break down the main differences between carbureted and fuel-injected engines and how one is better than the other.

Maintenance

Maintenance is arguably one of the few parameters where carburetors are better than fuel-injection systems.

The carburetor is a separate component from the engine, making it easier to clean and modify. Meanwhile, fuel-injection systems are a bit more complex and might require a professional to have them cleaned or replaced.

Versatility

Carburetors can be modified according to altitudes and driving styles. But unlike fuel-injection systems, they’re incompatible with diesel engines.

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Performance

Fuel-injection systems can deliver a more precise air-fuel ratio than carburetors because of their electronically controlled fuel induction capabilities.

Meanwhile, carburetors struggle with this concept, especially when the air pressure and fuel temperature are constantly changing.

Fuel Economy

The precision of measuring the correct air-fuel ratio means that fuel-injection systems don’t waste as much fuel as carbureted engines.

Cost

Carburetors are relatively inexpensive to maintain. Fuel-injection systems, on the other hand, can be quite costly.

The Bottomline

The carburetor was once the simplest form of fuel delivery in an internal combustion engine. However, it eventually fell out of the limelight with the introduction of fuel-injection systems, which are much more efficient in calculating air-fuel ratios. Emission demands and fuel economy also led to the carburetor’s demise.

While carburetors were much easier to maintain, fuel-injection systems were better at doing their job, which makes up for their complexity and costly maintenance.

Where to Get a New Carburetor for Your Vehicle

A bad carburetor may cause engine backfires, stalling, flooding, hesitation on acceleration, and other issues that may affect your vehicle’s drivability. As such, it’s crucial to replace it once the carburetor shows signs of damage or wear. Luckily, CarParts.com has a catalog of high-quality replacement parts at the ready.

We take pride in the quality of all our products because we source them from only the most trusted manufacturers in the industry. This means you can expect your new carburetor to last as long as your vehicle’s lifespan, ensuring you get your money’s worth!

Not only that, but we also have warehouses strategically located across the country to maximize the delivery process and increase shipping efficiency. You can expect your order to arrive in as little as two business days.

Shop now and get the best deals on carburetors today!

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Tony Harlin is a Master Gas and Diesel Diagnostic Technician with over 18 years of experience. He works full-time at a large independent automotive shop as a driveability and repair technician working on all types of vehicles with a focus on diesels. ASE certifications include A1-A9, L1 and L2, as well as X1.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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