Why modern cars have so much plastic under the bonnet? We want to see the engine!

Why modern cars have so much plastic under the bonnet? We want to see the engine!

There is one thing you will not see under the bonnet of a modern car – it’s the engine. Nowadays, it is always hidden under several layers of plastic, moulded to look like some mechanical parts. They don’t even look good and you have to dig through them if you want to do any maintenance or repair work. But why every single car has these plastic engine covers? Why do car manufacturers bother to spend extra time and money to make them?

Not so long ago car engines were designed to be easily accessible and to look good. In the beginning of the previous century car manufacturers actually worked hard to make their engines pretty. They chose different metals, neatly organized fuel lines and wires and painted various parts different colours. All of that was expensive and time consuming, but such manufacturers as Packard, Daimler, Duesenberg and others did it anyway. Even Ferrari was always praised for how well its engines were dressed and how beautiful it looked inside and out, but now it is also falling under the plastic trend. But what changed?



Well, a lot of things. Back when Packard was one of the top premium brands, people actually admired engines. The internal combustion engine was the cutting edge of technology and not that many people could afford to own one. Nowadays cars a mundane and boring – everyone has one and no one wants to look at the engine. We, car enthusiasts, still do, but to be honest we don’t buy that many cars. And so manufacturers resorted to the function-over-form mentality, saving cost in the process. Investing into the looks under the bonnet is not a priority anyway, because no one buys the car just because it has a beautiful engine bay.

The engine of the 1910 Packard. (David Berry, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

A plastic engine cover hides unsightly rat’s nest of wires and fuel lines, while making them still quite easily accessible. A nicely dressed engine bay typically means that some components can be hard to reach for repair. When you have a big piece of plastic hiding everything, you don’t have to worry about the looks – it is the cheapest way to keep the engine bay looking tidy. This is equivalent to cleaning the mess off of your desk straight into the drawer – out of sight, out of mind.

Ferrari used to be famous for its well-dressed engines. (Sfoskett, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.5)

However, plastic is not that bad. Sure, metal looks nicer, but it is easier to control the quality of the plastic. It also doesn’t add too much weight on top of the engine, allowing for a lower centre of gravity. Finally, plastic engine covers can be heat-resistant and absorb vibrations, making the sound of the engine just that little bit quieter.

Even luxury car manufacturers are hiding their engines under some cheap plastic covers. (Autoviva, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

And so, plastic is here to stay. Even luxury car manufacturers are hiding their engines under several layers of plastic. And we cannot blame them. Covers do make the engine bay look clean and tidy, they are light, heat resistant and cheap to make. In fact, it is likely that in the future engines are going to be tucked away even more and not accessible without specialized equipment.




 

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