# Review: Understanding Chemistry through Cars by Geoffrey M. Bowers and Ruth A. Bowers

For over fifty years I have been interested in cars and the basic principles of internal combustion engines of all types. Dr. Geoffrey M. Bowers and Ruth A. Bowers, MEd have written the unique Understanding Chemistry Through Cars. I was delighted to review this book because it is not a typical book used for teaching chemistry and there are very few books that can bridge chemistry and cars to the extent being presented in this book. The book is a great resource with many examples of applied chemistry that should be of interest to students. Each of the book’s seven chapters follows the same format. After a very short prologue, a list of chemistry concepts followed by expected learning outlines are presented. Five appendices are formatted in a similar fashion. Each chapter in this book contains tables, figures and a bibliography which sometimes include commercial patents.

Chapter 1 presents the properties of gases, kinetic-molecular theory of gases, and tire pressure and pressure units as well as simple gas laws such as Guy-Lussac, Boyle’s, and Charles. The authors discuss struts and shock absorbers and include recent developments in shock absorbers, magnetorheological fluids1. There are discussion of the advantage of tires being filled with nitrogen versus air and how water present in the air can cause corrosion and chemical degradation of tires. A section on air bags gives a detailed account on sodium azide, potassium nitrate and silica. Alternative sources of nitrogen in the air bags such as imidazoles and hydrazides (both less toxic than sodium azide) are described. Systems that can generate carbon dioxide in the air bags are mentioned.2

Chapter 2 covers combustion, energy and the internal combustion (IC) engine which is illustrated with clear figures. A list of combustion reactions for simple molecules is given. The process of fractional distillation of crude oil is presented in this chapter. Octane number is explained in great detail. There is a section on hybrid vehicles. There is even a section on turbochargers and superchargers. A biodiesel section explains nicely how waste material can be used to power a car.

Oxidation and reduction are introduced in Chapter 3. The stiochiometry of n-octanol oxidation is analyzed, which nicely bridges chapters 2 and 3. Widely used alkaline batteries are presented as an example of redox chemistry. The chemistry of the common lead-acid car battery is described. The definition of cold cranking amperes (CCA) which is the current in amperes that a battery can generate when outdoor temperature is 0°F or - 18° C is given. Some of the simple remedies for the lead-acid car battery in the winter are mentioned. Lithium ion batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and catalytic converters are considered. Other electrochemical topcis include anticorrosion fuel additives and chrome plating.

Chapter 4 covers different types of intermolecular forces and their impacts on solubility. Solubility plays critical role in the cooling system of an engine (one does not want a solid in the cooling system of engine). Aqueous fuel emulsions are primarily used in diesel engines. Diesel fuel emulsifiers are mainly surfactant molecules which have hydrophobic and hydrophilic moieties. A section on detergents presents the harmful effects of road salts and salty aerosols which promote corrosion of iron and steel. A section on lubricants discusses how friction can be reduced  between solid contacts and how they disperse the heat. Viscosity as a major feature of lubricants is outlined. Differences between engine-lubricating and transmission-lubricating oil is presented. The multifunctional role of wax in car surface protection from water and ions and car paint as protection against UV radiation is described.

Chpater 5, “Managing Heat”, begins with heat loss (which is a major cause of inefficiency of cars) and describes types of cooling systems and defines a coolant. Water is a major component of coolants and colligative properties are described. A heat exchanger (radiator) is typically made of aluminum metal with a large surface area. Air-conditioning was introduced as early as 1930 in Packard automobiles. Hazardous early chemical refrigerants (ammonia and methylene chloride) were replaced by the chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), which in turn have been replaced by hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). All refrigerants are powerful greenhouse gases. The authors emphasize that use of advanced refrigerants without deleterious effects is years away. A section on braking, rotor types and calipers is included.

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