Lubrication, Reversibility & Application of 2-Stroke Petrol Engine

Lubrication of 2-Stroke engine:

Two-stroke oils which became available worldwide in the 1970s are specifically designed to mix with petrol and be burnt in the combustion chamber without leaving undue unburnt oil or ash. This led to a marked reduction in spark plug fouling, which had previously been a factor in two-stroke engines.Most small petrol two-stroke engines cannot be lubricated by oil contained in their crankcase and sump, since the crankcase is already being used to pump fuel-air mixture into the cylinder. Traditionally, the moving parts (both rotating crankshaft and sliding piston) were lubricated by a premixed fuel-oil mixture (at a ratio between 16:1 and 100:1). As late as the 1970s, petrol stations would often have a separate pump to deliver such a premix fuel to motorcycles. Even then, in many cases, the rider would carry a bottle of their own two-stroke oil.

More recent two-stroke engines might pump lubrication from a separate tank of two-stroke oil. The supply of this oil is controlled by the throttle position and engine speed. Examples are found in Yamaha’s PW80 (Pee-wee), a small, 80cc two-stroke dirt bike designed for young children, and many two-stroke snowmobiles. The technology is referred to as auto-lube. This is still a total-loss system with the oil being burnt the same as in the pre-mix system; however, given that the oil is not properly mixed with the fuel when burned in the combustion chamber, it translates into a slightly more efficient lubrication. This lubrication method also pays dividends in terms of user friendliness by eliminating the user’s need to mix the gasoline at every refill, makes the motor much less susceptible to atmospheric conditions (Ambient temperature, elevation) and ensures proper engine lubrication, with less oil at light loads (such as idle) and more oil at high loads (such as full throttle). Some companies, such as Bombardier, had some oil pump designs have no oil injected at idle to reduce smoke levels, as the loading on the engine parts was light enough to not require additional lubrication beyond the low levels that the fuel provides. Ultimately oil injection is still the same as premixed gasoline in that the oil is burnt in the combustion chamber (albeit not as completely as pre-mix) and the gas is still mixed with the oil, although not as thoroughly as in pre-mix. In addition, this method requires extra mechanical parts to pump the oil from the separate tank, to the carburetor or throttle body. In applications where performance, simplicity and/or dry weight are significant considerations, the pre-mix lubrication method is almost always used. For example, a two-stroke engine in a motocross bike pays major consideration to performance, simplicity and weight. Chainsaws and brush cutters must be as light as possible to reduce user fatigue and hazard, especially when used in a professional work environment.

All two-stroke engines running on a petrol/oil mix will suffer oil starvation if forced to rotate at speed with the throttle closed, e.g. motorcycles descending long hills and perhaps when decelerating gradually from high speed by changing down through the gears. Two-stroke cars (such as those that were popular in Eastern Europe in the mid-20th century) were in particular danger and were usually fitted with freewheel mechanisms in the powertrain, allowing the engine to idle when the throttle was closed, requiring the use of the brakes in all slowing situations.

Large two-stroke engines, including diesels, normally use a sump lubrication system similar to four-stroke engines. The cylinder must still be pressurized, but this is not done from the crankcase, but by an ancillary Roots-type blower or a specialized turbocharger (usually a turbo-compressor system) which has a “locked” compressor for starting (and during which it is powered by the engine’s crankshaft), but which is “unlocked” for running (and during which it is powered by the engine’s exhaust gases flowing through the turbine).

Reversibility of 2-stroke Petrol Engine:

For the purpose of this discussion, it is convenient to think in motorcycle terms, where the exhaust pipe faces into the cooling air stream, and the crankshaft commonly spins in the same axis and direction as do the wheels i.e. “forward”. Some of the considerations discussed here apply to four-stroke engines (which cannot reverse their direction of rotation without considerable modification), almost all of which spin forward, too.

Regular gasoline two-stroke engines will run backwards for short periods and under light load with little problem, and this has been used to provide a reversing facility in microcars, such as the Messerschmitt KR200, that lacked reverse gearing. Where the vehicle has electric starting, the motor will be turned off and restarted backwards by turning the key in the opposite direction. Two-stroke golf carts have used a similar kind of system. Traditional flywheel magnetos (using contact-breaker points, but no external coil) worked equally well in reverse because the cam controlling the points is symmetrical, breaking contact before top dead center (TDC) equally well whether running forwards or backwards. Reed-valve engines will run backwards just as well as piston-controlled porting, though rotary valve engines have asymmetrical inlet timing and will not run very well.

There are serious disadvantages to running many engines backwards under load for any length of time, and some of these reasons are general, applying equally to both two-stroke and four-stroke engines. This disadvantage is accepted in most cases where cost, weight and size are major considerations. The problem comes about because in “forwards” running the major thrust face of the piston is on the back face of the cylinder which, in a two-stroke particularly, is the coolest and best-lubricated part. The forward face of the piston in a trunk engine is less well-suited to be the major thrust face since it covers and uncovers the exhaust port in the cylinder, the hottest part of the engine, where piston lubrication is at its most marginal. The front face of the piston is also more vulnerable since the exhaust port, the largest in the engine, is in the front wall of the cylinder. Piston skirts and rings risk being extruded into this port, so it is always better to have them pressing hardest on the opposite wall (where there are only the transfer ports in a crossflow engine) and there is good support. In some engines, the small end is offset to reduce thrust in the intended rotational direction and the forward face of the piston has been made thinner and lighter to compensate – but when running backwards, this weaker forward face suffers increased mechanical stress it was not designed to resist. This can be avoided by the use of crossheads and also using thrust bearings to isolate the engine from end loads.

Large two-stroke ship diesels are sometimes made to be reversible. Like four-stroke ship engines (some of which are also reversible) they use mechanically operated valves, so require additional camshaft mechanisms. These engine use crossheads to eliminate sidethrust on the piston and isolate the under-piston space from the crankcase.

On top of other considerations, the oil-pump of a modern two-stroke may not work in reverse, in which case the engine will suffer oil starvation within a short time. Running a motorcycle engine backwards is relatively easy to initiate, and in rare cases, can be triggered by a back-fire. It is not advisable.

Model airplane engines with reed-valves can be mounted in either tractor or pusher configuration without needing to change the propeller. These motors are compression ignition, so there are no ignition timing issues and little difference between running forward and running backward.


1966 Saab Sport


A two-stroke minibike

Lateral view of a two-stroke Forty series British Seagulloutboard engine, the serial number dates it to 1954/1955

Two-stroke petrol engines are preferred when mechanical simplicity, light weight, and high power-to-weight ratio are design priorities. With the traditional lubrication technique of mixing oil into the fuel, they also have the advantage of working in any orientation, as there is no oil reservoir dependent on gravity; this is an essential property for hand-held power tools such as chainsaws.

A number of mainstream automobile manufacturers have used two-stroke engines in the past, including the Swedish Saab and German manufacturers DKW, Auto-Union, VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau, and VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach. The Japanese manufacturer Suzuki did the same in the 1970s. Production of two-stroke cars ended in the 1980s in the West, due to increasingly stringent regulation of air pollution. Eastern Bloc countries continued until around 1991, with the Trabant and Wartburg in East Germany. Two-stroke engines are still found in a variety of small propulsion applications, such as outboard motors, high-performance, small-capacity motorcycles, mopeds, and dirt bikes, underbones, scooters, tuk-tuks, snowmobiles, karts, ultralight airplanes, and model airplanes and other model vehicles. They are also common in power tools used outdoors, such as lawnmowers, chainsaws, and weed-wackers.

With direct fuel injection and a sump-based lubrication system, a two-stroke engine produces air pollution no worse than a four-stroke, and it can achieve higher thermodynamic efficiency. Therefore, the cycle has historically also been used in large diesel engines, most notably large industrial and marine engines, as well as some trucks and heavy machinery. There are several experimental designs intended for automobile use: for instance, Lotus of Norfolk, UK, has a prototype direct-injection two-stroke engine intended for alcohol fuels called the Omnivore which it is demonstrating in a version of the Exige.

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