Distortion Failure of an Automotive Valve Spring
The engine of an automobile lost power and compression and emitted an uneven exhaust sound after several thousand miles of operation. When the engine was dismantled, it was found that the outer spring on one of the exhaust valves was too short to function properly. The short steel spring and an outer spring (both of patented and drawn high-carbon steel wire) taken from another cylinder in the same engine were examined in the laboratory to determine why one had distorted and the other had not. Investigation (visual inspection, microstructure examination, and hardness testing) supported the conclusion that the engine malfunctioned because one of the exhaust-valve springs had taken a 25% set in service. Relaxation in the spring material occurred because of the combined effect of improper microstructure (proeutectoid ferrite) plus a relatively high operating temperature. Recommendations included using quenched-and-tempered steel instead of patented and cold-drawn steel or using a more expensive chromium-vanadium alloy steel instead of plain carbon steel; the chromium-vanadium steel would also need to be quenched and tempered.