Automotive Technology: A Physics Lab on Wheels

Posted by Kirk VanGelder on Jan 14, 2019 4:53:00 PM


In this day and age, students with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) knowledge and experience are sought after by a growing number of employers, but these subjects often are seen as  fit for only top academic students. Meanwhile, automotive technology classes are ignored or seen as less important.

Maybe it’s time to challenge that view. 


Physics = Auto Tech?

According to, physics is “the science that deals with matter, energy, motion, and force.” In other words, physics governs how STEM is applied in everyday life, which means an understanding of the subject will provide a solid foundation for understanding the principles of STEM.

So, why do we say automobiles are physics labs on wheels? Because they operate completely on the principles of physics. This means that for students to understand how an automobile operates, they need to understand the physics that governs them. 


Auto Tech = Matter

The components, lubricants, and electrical systems of an automobile are made up of various types of matter. That matter interacts and functions in distinct ways, depending on the type.

For example, some matter is used to reduce friction on moving parts while other kinds are used to provide friction to slow down the vehicle. Some matter is used to transmit electricity or extract energy from electricity. These are only a few of the hundreds of ways matter is used in vehicles that are important for students to understand. 


Auto Tech = Energy

Various forms of energy are transformed into other types when a vehicle is being operated. For example, gasoline is transformed into heat energy inside the internal combustion engine. The heat energy is then transformed into mechanical energy, which provides power for the vehicle. Finally, the mechanical energy is transformed into kinetic energy by the drivetrain.

This is the energy of the vehicle simply driving down the road. When the driver wants to slow the vehicle, the brakes are applied, which transforms the kinetic energy into either heat energy or electrical energy.

In order for students to diagnose customer concerns related to vehicle operation when they enter the workforce, they first need to gain a strong understanding of the various types of energy and how they are created. 


Auto Tech = Motion

Motion is another branch of physics that relates to the transfer of force from one point to another, which can also be seen throughout the automobile.

Reciprocating motion of the piston is transferred to the crankshaft by the connecting rod. The crankshaft then converts the reciprocating motion to rotary motion. The steering system takes the rotary motion from the steering wheel and turns it into side-to-side motion to steer the vehicle. Operation of the brake pedal causes hydraulic fluid to move through the brake system, which transfers the application motion to the wheel brake units.

Failure to transfer motion by any of the components or systems in a vehicle will prevent it from operating correctly. Therefore, automotive students need to have a clear understanding of this concept, as well. 


Auto Tech = Force

Force is used throughout the vehicle to both power and control it. Some of the force is derived from onboard energy sources such as the engine and battery, while other forces come from the driver operating the steering and braking systems.

Automotive students need to understand and measure the forces used in tightening the fasteners that hold the parts together so they can use this knowledge to diagnose the problem when there is an issue with any of the forces in a vehicle. 


Auto Tech = Physics

Vehicles provide a comprehensive, hands-on physics lab for students to explore, as they are made up of a variety of systems and thousands of parts, each relying on physics to operate. While students can deduce some of the concepts of physics in this way, using materials—like CDX—that explain the underpinning physics, makes it easier for students to gain this understanding. When combined with hands-on vehicle experience, students gain a deeper understanding of STEM principles that they will then be able to apply in many situations. Not only will this education prepare students to be successful automotive technicians, it will also prepare them for other STEM occupations.


If you want to introduce engaging materials into your classroom and help give your students a deeper understanding of the real-world situations they will encounter, browse CDX’s catalogue of tools, including the all-new Second Edition of Fundamentals of Automotive Maintenance and Light Repair. 

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Topics: Fundamentals of Automotive Technology ONLINE, Curriculum