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Pistons: The View Down The Track

From all-new products to advances in materials, machining and treatments, manufacturers reveal the latest trends for these vital engine components.

By John F. Katz

Pistons and rings have already advanced beyond most experts’ imaginations of even a decade ago. So it seems entirely appropriate to ask, “What’s next?”

Total Seal in Phoenix, Arizona, said Keith Jones, has “some new products that are going through the patenting process right now. I can’t discuss them further, but they will be game-changers.”

“Advances in materials, machining, and treatments (such as coatings) are already allowing and pushing new concepts in design and engineering,” Ed Urcis of CP-Carrillo, Irvine, California, added, “while developments such as direct cylinder injection, variable valve timing, and turbo and supercharging have created new and different demands on parts that may require a redesign of pistons and related components from what they are at present.”

For now, however, we’ll leave you with some sales advice you can use today.

“The piston is one of the last things that you should buy when building an engine,” Nick D’Agostino of Wiseco Psitons, Mentor, Ohio, advised. “So many other parts can influence the requirements of the piston that it is best to leave the piston ordering toward the end of the parts gathering process.”

Urcis reminded us that, “Wrist pin selection is not given enough consideration. It never hurts (except the pocketbook) to spend too much for a wrist pin that is better than needed, but the opposite—using an inadequate pin—can bring catastrophic results. More than a few piston failures are actually caused by inadequate wrist pins. Wrist pins are made from steel, which has good elasticity and memory. The pin may be flexing and bending while the engine is running, but upon inspection it may check out perfectly. But the piston pin bores that are actually re-shaped by the pin’s undulations will not return to their original dimensions when the engine is stopped. This situation can usually be detected by noticing that the piston pin bore has gotten smaller from top to bottom and wider in the other direction. A stronger and/or thicker pin is called for in this circumstance.”

“Pistons, pins and clips are often discussed and considered individually,” Trey McFarland of Mahle Motorsports, Fletcher, North Carolina, added, “but they are a balanced system, with each part needing to complement each other. A change to any one of these components needs to be evaluated for the effect it will have on the others. An unbalanced system will result in poor performance and even failure.”

And for sportsman racers, Beeri Meza of Arias Pistons in Gardena, California, added, “it’s not always best to use the same pistons that professionals use—not only because of the price, but because the parts used by professional racers don’t always fit the intended application.”

“If you have good communication with your piston manufacturer,” Bob Fox of Diamond Racing Products, Clinton Township, Michigan, concluded, “then your manufacturer can deliver a better product. If the manufacturer knows how to collect the right information, and knows what to do with it, you’re going to end up with a happier engine.”

The View Down the Track

Advances in materials and machining, as well as coatings, are guiding piston and ring manufacturers toward new developments in design and engineering in concert with direct cylinder injections, variable valve timing, turbocharging and supercharging.

Performance Racing Industry