Using Plastics in Automobile Powertrain Manufacturing

About 50 percent of the materials making up the average vehicle are a type of plastic. While this includes the dashboards and console as well as the tubs used to make up the vehicle's trunk space, plastics are also an essential material under the hood. Our automotive thermoforming company is looking at the powertrain specifically, and how and why plastics are making up such a large percentage of the powertrain components.

What Is the Powertrain?

The vehicle's powertrain refers to the system that propels the car into motion and specifically includes the engine, including the cylinders and crankshaft, transmission, driveshaft, axles, and differential. From the engine's first firing to the power generated transmitting to the wheels, each component is working together to move the vehicle.

How a vehicle handles and steers, the speed of acceleration, and how smoothly it handles are all determined by how well the components function and operate, both individually and in conjunction with one another.

Why Are Vehicles Transitioning from Metal to Plastic Under the Hood?

Over the past several years, plastics have gradually overtaken metal under the hood, but why is that?


Plastic materials are generally much less expensive than metal, and automotive injection molding or thermoforming is generally less expensive than die-casting or machining metal parts. Fabricating tooling for injection molding or thermoforming is not only less expensive, but the tooling lasts through higher volume production runs compared to die-cast tooling that has to be fabricated after only 100,000 uses. This makes the vehicle itself less expensive as well as getting replacement parts and maintenance more affordable to the consumer.

Fuel Efficiency

While a vehicle's volume is around 50 percent plastic, those plastics only make up around 8 percent of its weight. Using plastic in place of metal makes the vehicle as much as 30 to 40 percent lighter which improves fuel efficiency and reduces emissions.

Improved Performance

Today's plastics are designed to hold up to heavy use, high temperatures, and exposure to chemicals without corroding, warping, or wearing. Metal is more likely to corrode, rust, and wear in these harsh conditions, leading to expensive repairs and part replacement.

Additionally, molded-in fittings and custom molded pans and tanks offer space saving solutions in small and compact areas of the vehicle.

Where Are Plastics Used in a Vehicle's Powertrain?

While there are aspects of the powertrain that have to remain metal for the foreseeable future, plastics have been under the hood since the late 1940s, starting with valve stems, bearings, bushings, and wiring clips. However, it wasn't until the 1970s that plastics made their way to the powertrain, starting with nylon air intake manifolds.

Today, polypropylene is used for reservoir tanks and polyphenylene is used in high-temperature areas, such as coolant pumps. Nylon is the most frequently used plastic in the powertrain, making up intake manifolds, air duct systems, and oil pans.

Contact Us for Automotive Injection Molding and Thermoforming

At Advanced Plastiform, Inc., we provide durable, high-performing plastic parts and components to automobile manufacturers and third-party suppliers across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic,  including North CarolinaSouth CarolinaPennsylvaniaMarylandTennesseeGeorgia, and Virginia. We offer low per-unit costs and shorter lead times while ensuring accuracy, consistency, and quality To learn more about our automotive injection molding and thermoforming services or get a quote, reach out to us today!

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