Many new vehicles have them, but what is the point of plastic engine covers?

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2021 BMW X5 M Competition's engine cover
2021 BMW X5 M Competition's engine cover
PressClub / BMW SA

• The engines of almost all newer cars feature plastic covers.

• One of the main purposes of plastic covers is to maintain a neat appearance in the engine bay.

• Depending on the manufacturer, a plastic cover for an engine can cost anywhere from R600 to R3000.

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They don't make them like they used to is a song title by American country singer Kenny Rogers and one that is in direct correlation with the production of modern vehicles.

There is a vast chasm in how vehicles are engineered and built now compared to three decades ago. Things like the materials used, structural integrities and technology have seen a massive uptake. In contrast, exhaust emission standards have gotten more strict - not to mention engines becoming smaller and faster.

On the topic of engines, there is perhaps one perplexing trend that has become common practice amongst many automakers and their respective models.

The introduction of plastic engine covers is one that often draws a few innocuous remarks for the mere fact that its purpose is to make a vehicle's engine bay 'look nice'. I even asked a salesperson at Barons Volkswagen in N1 City if this were true and indeed it was, and also to keep out any dirt and debris.

Do you think these type of engine covers are more of a hindrance than assistance? Email us your thoughts or leave a comment in the section below.

Toyota Supra
2021 Toyota Supra engine cover

Beneath the cover

Gone are the days when camshaft covers used to bear the manufacturers badge proudly, and you could somewhat easily distinguish what engine it was just by looking at it. On the other hand, the plastic covers feature the automaker's badge and upon removal, leaves you with a rather plain-looking engine.

In terms of having mechanical work done, it is the ire of many a mechanic first to remove all the plastic tomfoolery – dealerships won't mind as it will probably push the rate for labour up a notch. There are many screws to unfasten first before any part of the engine can be touched. Simplicity sacrificed for nicety.

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If someone opened the bonnet of their Mercedes-AMG A45 for example, it would mean absolutely nothing because you'd just be looking at black plastic. It immediately detracts of the excitement one would feel compared to a more 'straightforward' engine appearance. Petrol heads get a special kick-off of seeing things like turbo placement or words like VVT-i and Mivec scribbled next to the oil cap.

Although regular plastic material is relatively inexpensive, that is not the case where vehicles are concerned. Depending on the manufacturer, a plastic cover for an engine can cost anywhere from R600 to R4 000.

Not all bad

Besides being more of a hindrance than a help, the plastic covers keep the engine bay much cleaner. Sand and dust particles can get into every nook and cranny like the injectors or even the air intake, which is never a good thing for any engine.

Water is the arch-enemy of any combustion engine, so the covers act as a vital safety net if it finds its way in the bay. Everything from battery and alternator wires is safely concealed under a blanket of black. Whether people like it or not, plastic engine covers will become the norm at the end of the day.

Mercedes-AMG A45 S
2021 Mercedes-AMG A45 S' engine cover
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