How VTEC Works

Ever wonder what “VTEC kicking in” actually means? Well, here’s an explainer.

If you’re a car enthusiast, you’ve probably heard the term “VTEC” before, but you might not know what it means. If you don’t, here’s an explainer.

VTEC is a type of variable valve-timing system developed and used by Honda. It stands for Variable Valve Timing & Lift Electronic Control. Like most other variable-valve timing systems, VTEC varies oil pressure to shift between different cam profiles. At higher engine speeds, the cam profile allows greater valve lift, which allows more air into the cylinder. This helps generate more horsepower. Since its introduction in the late 1980s, VTEC has been used in many of Honda’s best performance cars including the NSX, Integra Type R, S2000, and Civic Type R.

But the way VTEC goes about switching cam profiles is totally distinct. Most variable valve-timing systems use increased oil pressure to shift the timing of the camshaft, opening the valves earlier; VTEC uses an entirely different set of cams at high RPMs.

Explaining the process with words alone doesn’t do it justice. Jason Fenske at Engineering Explained put together a video showing exactly how VTEC works, using real Honda engines and visual diagrams. If you want to know what happens inside the engine, definitely give this clip a watch.

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