Plenty of people have been talking about how the Savvy only has an SOHC engine so it is inferior, and old technology. So I decided to post this entry so that people will be better informed on what SOHC or DOHC really is.

SOHC and DOHC are basically two different ways to configure the valvetrain. In the whole valve train setup there are camshafts, lifters, rockers, valves and springs. It is best that the valvetrain is light. Valves open at intervals of 25 times a second at 3000rpm. If the valvetrain is heavy, when the camshaft lifts it the valvetrain will just keep going up until the valve spring catches it. This is called valve float. You can overcome this with stronger (which means heavier) springs, but this extra weight increases the power requirements to open the valve.

The cams are driven by the crankshaft, using either a belt or chain called a timing belt or timing chain. If the timing belt/chain snaps and the camshaft stops spinning, the piston coming back up the combustion chamber might hit the open valves. This is very costly. That’s why you should always change your timing belt/chain at the interval specified by your car manufacturer.

SOHC refers to Single Overhead Camshaft. In the days before DOHC, it was known as OHC, with no need to differentiate between a single or double camshaft. In SOHC, the camshaft is situated in the cylinder head, above the valves. The valves are opened and closed either directly with a shim between the cam lobe and the valve stem, or via a rocker arm. SOHC engine valve configurations typically have 2 or 3 valves per cylinder. It is also possible to have 4 valves per cylinder using SOHC but this translates into a complicated combination of rocker arms and cam lobe shapes. An example would be the 4G92P in my car which is a SOHC but has 4 valves per cylinder.

DOHC refers to Double Overhead Camshaft. This arrangement uses two camshafts in each cylinder head. Two cams per cylinder head means that a DOHC V engine has 4 camshafts because it has 2 banks of cylinder heads. This allows the manufacturer to easily implement a 4 valve per cylinder setup. Most of the time it also allows the engine to rev higher. It also allows better placement of the valves in an optimized setup that gives you maximum performance. But the disadvantage of such a setup is more weight, more cost and more complexity. It takes more stuff to drive two camshafts. The main reason to use DOHC is to drive more valves per cylinder. If a SOHC setup can allow 4 valves per cylinder, having a DOHC engine will not bring that much benefits over SOHC and the additional weight becomes a burden instead. DOHC engines also allows the spark plug to be placed right in the middle of the combustion chamber. This promotes efficient combustion. With SOHC, the camshaft is usually in the middle of the head because it has to drive both the intake and exhaust valves, robbing the sparkplug of it’s optimal location.

In the end, a SOHC 16 valve engine would have better torque on the low end where the DOHC valvetrain’s weight results in lower torque. But at high engine speeds, the 16 valve DOHC engine’s peak torque and horsepower would be greater. That’s the trade-off. With the amount of valves being equal, SOHC has better low-end torque because the valvetrain package is lighter while DOHC has better top-end power.

Other benefits of DOHC would be making it easier to implement variable valve timing technologies (which I will cover in another blog post) and also you can tweak it better with adjustable cam pulleys. If you were to put high-profile cams in your DOHC engine, the cam lobe profile can also be more optimized than a SOHC engine because you can play around with the lobe shape easier with separate camshafts for the intake and exhaust valves.

Why more valves per cylinder? Why not just make 1 huge intake valve and 1 huge exhaust valve? Bigger valves weigh more than the smaller one, so controlling the extra weight as it gets flung open and close becomes difficult. The spring has to be stiffer. A stiffer spring means more energy has to be spent overcoming the valve pressure. This partially oversets the gains which a bigger valve has to offer. Another problem with a single big valve is at lower RPMs the intake velocity will be lower. I’m sure you guys know this… the same amount of air going through a big pipe will have lower pressure than the same air going through a smaller opening. Think of how you can control the water pressure of your garden hose by adjusting the opening size with your finger. Because of the velocity drop, low RPM torque and driveability will suffer. Although two smaller valves weigh the same as 1 big valve, and with the extra rocker arms and springs they can actually end up weighing more, this is offset by less mass to be overcome when opening and closing the valves.

So, are more valves per cylinder really that beneficial? Here’s comparing a Nissan VG30E to a VG30DE. Both are 3 litre electronic fuel injection engines, but one is a SOHC with 2 valves per cylinder and the other is DOHC with 4 valves per cylinder.

We can see that torque at low RPMs are about the same for both engines, but at higher speeds the 2-valve per cylinder engine has reached it’s peak and has to switch to the next gear while the twincam 4 valve per cylinder engine continues making more power at the top-end of the powerband. The powerband is also longer. (Note: I’ve added this graph here to show you the difference between 2-valve and 4-valves, not SOHC vs DOHC. Couldn’t find any graphs for SOHC vs DOHC. Sorry!)

So to sum it all up, SOHC has better low-end power, DOHC has better high-end power and overall maximum power. 4 valves per cylinder is much better than 2 valves per cylinder and it doesn’t matter whether 4-valves is achieved via SOHC or DOHC.