Here's What Happens When You Make Pistons Out Of Plastic

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Screenshot: Garage 54 / YouTube (Other)

It’s been a bit since we last checked on the wacky mad scientists over at Garage 54. Lately, the crew has been playing around with plastic parts, making a set of plastic pistons. Do plastic pistons even work? Let’s find out!

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Like many cars on the Garage 54 shop floor, the poor Volga test subject received a beating so bad that the engine needed to be torn down. Our host Vlad figures that they may as well conduct an experiment. The team once made wooden pistons, and they didn’t work out so well. In true Garage 54 fashion, the guys are returning to the idea of making pistons out of an alternative material and decided to make them out of hard plastic.

The engine isn’t too worn, despite all of the abuse that this car has suffered in various experiments. Only one piston has some damage from overheating.

Vlad mulls over which plastic to use before settling on a Caprolon Polyamide polymer. This stuff is usually used to make bushings and gears; a piston is a bit outside of the scope of this material.

The idea of making engine components out of plastic isn’t new. Automobile Magazine reported that Matty Holtzberg was making plastic engine parts all the way back in the 1970s. Holtzberg made plastic pistons and even experimented with engines mostly of plastic. It’s going to be interesting to see Garage 54's attempt at the same idea.

The team fabricated some plastic pistons from solid stock. The process of making these is fantastic to watch.

Gif: Garage 54 / YouTube (Other)
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The team fits the plastic pistons into the engine and gives it a whirl.

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Screenshot: Garage 54 / YouTube (Other)
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The engine not only started, it also ran with the plastic pistons for quite a bit of time. The engine eventually gets hot enough that the pistons expand and get stuck, essentially seizing the engine. Vlad figures the best remedy is to wait for things to cool down.

Vlad returned to the scene the next day and somehow got the car to start again. This time, the engine had a harder time starting, and it eventually smoked out the shop before it stopped running.

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Gif: Garage 54 / YouTube (Other)

The team let the engine cool down again before giving it a third, fourth — and eventually fifth — go. The engine gets harder to start each time and smokes up the garage with fumes from the burning plastic. At some point the engine stops running entirely, and the team finds out that two cylinders aren’t making any compression at all. To make matters worse, one of the spark plugs has major damage from impact with a piston.

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A teardown reveals that the plastic pistons sustained some heavy damage.

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Screenshot: Garage 54 / YouTube (Other)
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But I’m actually surprised that they aren’t more destroyed. Vlad figured out that the pistons weren’t so much burning as they were deforming. One of the pistons deformed so badly that the piston rings started disintegrating. That cylinder was the one destroying its spark plug.

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Screenshot: Garage 54 / YouTube (Other)
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Frankly, it’s pretty cool that the car even started, let alone ran a whole five times.

While the experiment was a smashing success, I wouldn’t recommend making your car run on plastic pistons. Your ride will seize seemingly the moment the engine gets hot.

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Check out Garage 54 for more outlandish automotive experiments!

DISCUSSION

By
EcoTecPowah

Hi Mercedes,

Can you see if they can make a set of valves and cylinder head for David Tracy?  From his last article, it looks like he could use the help.  Also, it needs cost about the same price of a small bag of chips.