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If an 8-cylinder car gets 20 mpg on the highway, what would happen if half of its cylinders were shut down? How about transforming a 6-cylinder engine into a 3-cylinder?
That's the simple idea behind cylinder deactivation. When the engine's full complement of cylinders is needed"while accelerating, trudging uphill, hauling a trailer"all of them operate normally. But when the car or truck is cruising, with only a light load, shutting down several of the cylinders is sure to increase fuel economy.
Not that the difference is enormous. Eliminating half the cylinders certainly doesn't double gas mileage, or anything close. Still, this step improves it enough to make quite a difference in overall running cost, as gasoline prices reach ever-higher levels.
GM paved the way"and lost its way"with innovative V8-6-4
Unfortunately, cylinder deactivation still carries a bit of stigma among some older drivers with long memories, and it stems from General Motors. At the time of the second national fuel crisis, in 1979, GM decided to manufacture an engine dubbed the V8-6-4. As its name suggests, this was essentially a V-8 engine, like many others in the GM lineup. Part of the time, though, either 2 or 4 of its cylinders could shut down, leaving either 4 or 6 in operation.
Developed by the Eaton Corporation, the innovative variable-displacement (also called "modular-displacement") engine was standard in all 1981 Cadillacs except for the Seville bustleback sedan (which could have it as an option). Depending on driving conditions, the V8-6-4 would run on 4, 6, or 8 cylinders, switching from one mode to the other and back again as needed.
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