Kars4Kids Newest Contest

In an effort to encourage language and writing skills development of children (of all ages) we’re excited to announce our latest contest.

This is how it’s going to work:

We are asking for submissions of written material. It can be in any style you feel most comfortable in, essay, short story, poem, etc.

Don’t be shy! We just want to see creativity and good writing. Grammar and spelling are important, but don’t worry too much about it.

There is no age-limit.

We will try to post what we feel are the best submissions once or twice a week.

The winning submission will win a free trip to either NYC or Washington, DC!

To enter, please send your submissions via email. All submissions will be kept anonymous, and the winner will be anonymous as well.

internal combustion engine (breyton)

The History of Cars Part Six: The Internal Combustion Engine

So, where were we? Oh, yes! We just learned about steam powered cars. So now we get to find out about the secret behind modern cars – the internal combustion engine!

A steam engine is an external combustion engine. In the steam engine, as we have seen, there is a special furnace or burner which heats up a tank of water. The heated water then produces steam which powers the engine. So, the combustion occurs outside the engine. This of course involves several large, separate parts, making a small, light engine that runs on steam-power very difficult to produce.

An internal combustion engine is an engine where the heat source, or combustion, is inside the actual engine. It basically consists of some sort of fuel, most commonly gasoline, which is ignited directly in the cylinder. The force of the explosion (the combustion) drives piston, which powers the engine.

In 1859, Jean-Joseph-Etienne Lenoir, a Frenchman, developed an internal combustion engine. (There had been other attempts, but no one managed to produce a practical model.) His engine was called a two-stroke engine, because of the amount of times the piston moved for every complete cycle of the motor. It was powered by coal gas.

lenoir engine

Lenoir’s engine

Although his engine was successful, it was not strong enough to power a carriage. Instead, it was used to power small machinery.

It was in 1876 that an internal combustion engine was developed by a German named Nikolaus Otto that was strong enough to power a carriage. This engine employed a four-stroke cycle, known as the Otto cycle, greatly increasing its efficiency.

Let’s take a closer look at the Otto cycle.

four stroke engine

Otto’s engine was a rotary engine. In other words, the piston, moving up and down in the cylinder, turned a bar called crankshaft. This crankshaft could be attached to a wheel, or whatever it is that is supposed to be turned.

As we mentioned, the Otto cycle goes through four strokes per cycle. Every time the piston moves, whether up or down, is called a stroke.

4StrokeEngine_Ortho_3D_Small (1)

The four-stroke cycle

The first stroke (1) is called the intake. In this stroke, the piston moves down and the intake valve is opened. Since the piston is sealed tightly against the cylinder, a vacuum is created and the fuel is sucked into the cylinder.

The next stroke (2) is the compression stroke. Now, both valves are sealed and the piston moves up. This compresses the fuel, making it more combustible.

Next, comes the power stroke (3). This is when the fuel is united, usually by a spark plug, and pushes the piston back down. This is called the power stroke because it powers the entire cycle.

Finally, comes the exhaust stroke (4). It gets its name from the fact that the engine is quite tired at this point. Just kidding! It’s called the exhaust stroke because the used, or exhausted, gases are expelled. In this stroke the piston goes back up, and the exhaust valve is opened. This pushes the used gases out of the cylinder.

As long as fuel is supplied to the engine, the cycle will continue, and the crankshaft will turn.

This engine model was able to operate at a much higher efficiency than previous types of engines, due in large part because of the compression stroke. Otto himself, however, didn’t think the best use for his engine was for vehicles. He instead wanted it to be used for other types of machinery.

It was his manager, Gottlieb Daimler, who saw the potential of the engine to be used to power vehicles.

But, that will have to wait – until next time!

Grendel's mother, N. D. Hill, 2007

The Kars4Kids Epic Poem

As you recall, dear readers, we had an exciting contest this week. Who can come up with the best ideas for the blog?

We said we’re opening the blog to you, our readers, and we’re going to keep our word!

To be honest, when we read the responses we were very impressed! So many great ideas! But, there can only be one winning idea. So the idea that won, the idea that will get the gift card is:

An epic poem!!!!!

You asked for it, you got it! An epic poem about a car.

This is the first chapter. Read, enjoy, and give us your feedback. If we get enough positive responses, we’ll continue!

As always, you can leave a comment or email us.



King Hrothgar great and strong sits in his hall

Surrounded by companions both big and small

Drinking all night till wee hours of morn

Little knowing that outside lurks the demon spawn



Music and feasting for the brave and the strong

But for some soon they will sing their last song

In smashes his way that weird wicked thing!

Stopped in mid-note the song just begun to sing

The vile Grendel so evil and foul

Warriors drop dead just from his howl!

The bloody carnage is terrible to behold!


Grendel having a snack

The once-warm bright hall has turned dark and cold

Yes! Things look quite black for Hrothgar’s star

But the very worst thing? Grendel’s stolen his car!

Weeping and wailing for all his lost things

He knows he must call that great friend of kings

The brave good Carwulf will come to his aid

Just as long as he knows that he’s gonna get paid

With trembling fingers Hrothgar picks up the phone

Praying and hoping that Carwulf is home

What good fortune and luck for our good king!

Carwulf picks up on the very first ring!

Weeping and groaning and shedding a tear

His voice is so quiet one can barely hear

My car! Hrothgar sobs and can say no more

Because it’s not just a car that you buy in the store

mclaren f1 lm

A beautiful McLaren like the one King Hrothgar had

McLaren F1 LM and they only made five

Carwulf must get Grendel – dead or alive!

End of first chapter



When Rebecca came down with laryngitis (probably from one of her Wild West vacations) she was a little annoyed. She was really used to talking. In her own words, she can “be quite a conversationalist.”

But, since she works as a call-center rep here at Kars4Kids, she decided it was work as usual. As for her missing voice? Well, it would just have to make its appearance!

sore throat sign

It soon became clear that it wasn’t going to work. Her voice kept fading in and out, and people on the phone noticed.

Much to her surprise, though, they weren’t annoyed! In fact, advice flew fast and thick.

“You’re sick!” was one donor’s helpful observation.

“I’m a nurse,” another donor presented her credentials. “Do you have post-nasal drip? No need to see a doctor, then. It will go away by itself….” Phew! “…in five weeks.” Oh, no!

“I’ll make this quick. You have to boil a lemon. When the pulp is nice and soft, put honey on and eat it.”

“Take a shot of whiskey and honey.” (Rebecca did not get permission to do this at work.)

“Where are you located? Maybe I can bring by some chicken soup?”

Of course, the most common suggestion was to drink tea with honey.

sore throat

All in all, Rebecca was quite overwhelmed with all the sympathy. But, she realized she had to rest her voice. So for now, she’s concentrating on non-phone related work until her voice is back.

Then she can give out her own sore throat advice.

The steam-powered tractor developed by Cugnot

The History of Cars Part Five: Steam Powered Cars

So far in our series, we learned about different steam engines and their purposes. Now we are going to actually talk about the first cars – hooray!

When we talk about cars being invented, many people might be surprised to learn that there is no one person who can claim credit for “inventing” the car. And, to clear up a myth right from the start, Henry Ford definitely did not invent the car! Automobiles were around long before he was born.

Being that the first engines were steam engines, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the first automobiles were steam powered. The first vehicle that was powered by a steam engine was a military tractor built in 1770 by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in France. It travelled at the maximum speed of two and half miles per hour, and had to stop every 10 to 15 minutes. The purpose of this vehicle was to transport heavy military equipment like cannon barrels. After a few trial runs, the French Army decided that the machine was not very useful and decided not to use it.

The steam-powered tractor developed by Cugnot

The steam-powered tractor developed by Cugnot

(There is also some evidence that a steam powered vehicle was invented in China by Ferdinand Verbiest, a Flemish missionary, in 1672. But it is not certain whether he actually had a model built.)

Over the next few decades, as steam technology developed, more attempts were made at developing practical steam-powered cars. While there were many working models, the steam engines generally were very heavy and were most efficiently used on railroads.

In Great Britain, there were steam powered stagecoaches that carried paying passengers. But these were apparently very dangerous to pedestrians, and in 1865 a law was passed requiring a man to run ahead of these vehicles waving a red flag and blowing a horn!

It was only when internal combustion engine technology was developed enough to be used practically that gas powered cars began to dominate the industry.

And that will have to wait until next time!

Hurricane force winds blast a walker off his feet on Bournemouth beach, on March 10
Picture: BNPS

The Winds of Change Blow Benevolent Breezes on the Blog

As many of you, our loyal readers, have picked up by now, this blog is a dictatorship run by a tyrant. A kind, benevolent tyrant it is true, but a tyrant nonetheless.

This is because until now we have written about whatever we felt like, and you, our readers, had no say at all in what you were given to read.

However, as the song goes, the times they are a-changing. We have decided, in a truly magnanimous gesture, to open up the Kars4Kids blog! This means that you will have a say in what gets written in this blog.

That’s right – you read that correctly. You will have the opportunity to decide what we write about!


And we’re not done. In this age of perestroika, glasnost – the Kars4Kids Spring! – we are giving away gifts.

“What?” you say. “I always thought just writing these lovely blog posts was a gift in itself! Does their generosity know no bounds?”

You better believe it. And you better act fast, because this is how it works:

The first ten dear, loyal readers who submit their suggestions for the blog will be entered into a raffle. And the prize is – a gift card!! Yes, an authentic gift card, much like the ones given out at the Kars4Kids office to hardworking employees.


So what type of suggestions are we looking for? We want you to tell us what type of posts you want to see in upcoming blog entries. The ideas can be as wild as your imagination and can be, but are not limited to:

  • To continue our series on the history of the car and its component parts.
  • A series on the people who were pioneers in the automobile industry – the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • A novel, related in some way to cars but can be in wide variety of genres – science fiction or fantasy, mystery, historical or period fiction, horror, etc!
  • A poetry series, where we try to wax poetic about car – related themes.
  • Guest blogs, where we accept your submissions and publish them (these are almost always accepted regardless).

We also want input on how often you want the blog updated, be it weekly, biweekly, daily, whatever you think.

To summarize for you busy blog readers: just respond to our query with your input, and if you are among the first ten respondents, you’re in the raffle!

You can respond via email, saul@kars4kids.org, or in the comments section. We will need your email address if you wish to be in the raffle.

One more thing – the best suggestion will automatically get a gift card, besides being entered into the raffle.

So hurry – we want to see those ideas!

watt at work

The History of Cars Part Four: James Watt

Our exciting series on the history of cars continues!

In our last chapter, we learned about the amazing Newcomen atmospheric engine. The Newcomen engine was very successful, and engines were installed all over England. These engines, however, were expensive to run and worked relatively slowly, at about 12 strokes a minute.

Newcomen’s engines were therefore quite limited in what they could be used for, and were used mainly for pumping water out of mines.

It was James Watt who came up with a way to vastly improve the efficiency of the atmospheric engine, and opened the way to the industrial revolution.

watt at work

James Watt studying a steam engine model.

James Watt, born in Scotland, was a self-educated mechanical engineer. From his childhood, he was fascinated by mechanical instruments. Because of ill-health, he did not attend school much, but spent his time tinkering with tools, solving geometric problems, and reading. He became well known for his talents in mechanics, and was employed by the University of Glasgow as an instrument maker.

In 1763, Watt was given a model of the Newcomen engine to repair. After examining it, he realized that it was very inefficient.

The problem was the cylinder. Like we saw previously, the engine worked by filling a cylinder with steam and then condensing it by spraying cold water into the cylinder. What Watt realized was how much heat was being wasted. First, enough water was heated to fill the cylinder with steam. Then, cold water had to be sprayed into the cylinder to cool that steam, which also cooled the metal cylinder itself in the process. The process then had to be started again. So, for every cycle, the cylinder was reheated and cooled, reheated and cooled, over and over! Watt estimated that altogether three fourths of the heat went to waste.

Watt eventually came up with an ingenious solution to this problem. He figured out that in order to keep the cylinder hot and still be able to condense the steam on each stroke a separate condenser was needed. This condenser would be kept perpetually cold, and the cylinder would always be hot. This solved the problem of wasted steam.


A diagram of Watt’s engine. The condenser (H) can be seen under the cylinder (J).

In principle, Watt’s engine worked in almost the same way as Newcomen’s. The piston was still pulled down with atmospheric pressure. However, the vacuum was created by letting steam into the condenser, instead of cooling it in the cylinder itself. Another important difference was that steam was also let into the top of the cylinder to help push the piston down, giving it more power. These improvements more than doubled the engine’s efficiency by saving so much steam and increasing the speed.


A Boulton & Watt steam engine dating from 1817.

Together with other improvements, Watt’s engine was so successful and versatile, it is credited with being the start of the industrial revolution. Watt went on to achieve worldwide fame, and the unit of electrical power, the watt, is named in his honor.