The VTEC engine has been Honda’s biggest selling point for three decades, and rightfully so. The technology revolutionized engines by allowing seamless transitions from high to low RPM and vice versa.
The benefits are endless, from fuel efficiency to high performance, which is why many owners are curious whether their vehicles have the system.
The easiest way to know if your Honda has VTEC is to check the valve cover – most older vehicles have the word “VTEC” engraved on it. If you own a recent model, either remove the valve cover and check the camshaft rocker arms or look for the VTEC actuator.
If your Honda uses a distributor, this actuator will be directly next to it. On newer models, you’ll find it on the backside of the head or near the oil filter.
You can also confirm whether the company mentions the technology in your owner’s manual. However, don’t be surprised if they haven’t, as VTEC advertising today isn’t as common as in the early years.
What is the Honda VTEC?
VTEC, short for Variable Valve Timing & Lift Electronic Control, is a system that raises the levels of a four-stroke engine without sacrificing vital aspects like stability.
The result is improved performance, higher fuel efficiency, and reduced pollution.
A contributing factor in developing VTEC is Japan’s taxes on large, high-performance vehicles.
The government policy forced vehicle companies to research small vehicle engines extensively. The result is the Wankel engine in Mazdas, forced induction in Toyotas, and, of course, the VTEC engine in Hondas.
Honda kept improving the technology, introducing i-VTEC (intelligent-VTEC) in 2001.
The system utilizes the Honda VTC (Variable Timing Control) and gained popularity in 2002 when the company integrated it into most 4-cylinder vehicles.
As the years went by, various car companies developed their own versions of the VTEC engine. However, the technology remains synonymous with Honda vehicles.
Do All Hondas Have VTEC?
Most Hondas today have some form of VTEC technology. However, only high-performance vehicles could boast of having it in the first years of release.
Example engines include the Type R in the 90s, which generated 110 horsepower per liter.
At the time, this kind of power was unheard of in a regular vehicle (even a Ferrari only had 94 horsepower per liter) and significantly contributed to Honda’s rising popularity over the next few years.
Honda V6 engines in the NSX-R also had VTEC technology, though they functioned differently; the system only operated on the intake side. Still, the technology in these engines has developed through the years, and now they also incorporate the exhaust.
Continued advancements have enabled the integration of VTEC technology in all Honda models. So, even if your engine doesn’t have “VTEC” engraved on the cover, you’re still more likely than not to have it.
What Makes the VTEC Engine So Special?
Knowing how an engine works is crucial to understanding why many are in awe of VTEC technology.
A vital aspect of your engine’s functionality (whether it emits an odor, makes loud noises, or drives well) is its cam profile. Performance is also part of the equation, and two extremes highlight why the industry has turned to VTEC technology.
One extreme is an engine that has no problem operating at a high RPM but struggles to attain high levels once it’s at a complete stop. The other is an engine that’s steady at a low RPM but loses it when you crank it up, making the ride less stable, comfortable, or enjoyable.
Such engines are set to a single cam profile, whereby what works for a high RPM doesn’t work for a low one.
Enter the VTEC Engine
VTEC works by modifying your engine’s cam profile and ensures transitions from high to low RPM (and vice versa) are smooth and indetectable.
The camshafts are vital in this process as they control the valves. VTEC works by manipulating the valve lift, valve timing, or both.
Valve lift is how far the valve opens or the distance between the top of the valve plate and the bottom of the valve guard. Increasing the valve lift creates more space in the intake and exhaust ports, improving the vehicle’s performance at high RPMs.
More space at a lower RPM is much different (and potentially detrimental), as the air moving into the machine comes at reduced speeds.
Valve timing – the time the valve remains open – is just as important as valve lift.
Through VTEC technology, Honda figured out that manipulating these functions led to a significant boost in performance.
It all comes down to the number and positioning of the cam lobes.
The cylinders in VTEC-integrated engines have three camshaft lobes in both the exhaust and intake ports, which open and close the valves in tandem with piston movement.
Two of these lobes are your simple, regular mechanisms, ensuring everything operates well at a lower RPM. Once the engine attains a high RPM, control of the valves shifts from the low-RPM lobes to the middle lobe.
Valve timing also changes to accommodate these high-performance levels.
During the transition between camshaft lobes, it’ll feel like your vehicle loses power – however, it’s only for a moment before the resulting acceleration kicks in.
All modern Hondas have a form of VTEC technology. The system helps improve performance and fuel economy without sacrificing the experience (e.g., comfort, balance, ride quality, etc.).
If you want to confirm whether your Honda has VTEC technology, you can:
- Check the engine cover.
- Check the camshaft rocker arms.
- Look for the VTEC actuator.
- Check your owner’s manual.
- Confirm with a Honda dealer.
Likely, if you have a Honda produced after the year 2000, you have VTEC technology under your hood.