Global energy consumption due to friction in passenger cars

Kenneth Holmberg (Corresponding Author), Peter Andersson, A. Erdemir

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    1205 Citations (Scopus)


    This study presents calculations on the global fuel energy consumption used to overcome friction in passenger cars in terms of friction in the engine, transmission, tires, and brakes. Friction in tribocontacts was estimated according to prevailing contact mechanisms such as elastohydrodynamic, hydrodynamic, mixed, and boundary lubrication. Coefficients of friction in the tribocontacts were estimated based on available information in the literature on the average passenger car in use today, a car with today’s advanced commercial tribological technology, a car with today’s best advanced technology based upon recent research and development, and a car with the best technology forecasted in the next 10 years. The following conclusions were reached:

    • In passenger cars, one-third of the fuel energy is used to overcome friction in the engine, transmission, tires, and brakes. The direct frictional losses, with braking friction excluded, are 28% of the fuel energy. In total, 21.5% of the fuel energy is used to move the car.
    • Worldwide, 208,000 million liters of fuel (gasoline and diesel) was used in 2009 to overcome friction in passenger cars. This equals 360 million tonne oil equivalent per year (Mtoe/a) or 7.3 million TJ/a. Reductions in frictional losses will lead to a threefold improvement in fuel economy as it will reduce both the exhaust and cooling losses also at the same ratio.
    • Globally, one passenger car uses on average of 340 l of fuel per year to overcome friction, which would cost 510 euros according to the average European gas price in 2011 and corresponds to an average driving distance of 13,000 km/a.
    • By taking advantage of new technology for friction reduction in passenger cars, friction losses could be reduced by 18% in the short term (5–10 years) and by 61% in the long term (15–25 years). This would equal worldwide economic savings of 174,000 million euros and 576,000 million euros, respectively; fuel savings of 117,000 million and 385,000 million liters, respectively; and CO2 emission reduction of 290 million and 960 million tonnes, respectively.
    • The friction-related energy losses in an electric car are estimated to be only about half those of an internal combustion passenger car.

    Potential actions to reduce friction in passenger cars include the use of advanced coatings and surface texturing technology on engine and transmission components, new low-viscosity and low-shear lubricants and additives, and tire designs that reduce rolling friction.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)221-234
    JournalTribology International
    Publication statusPublished - 2012
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    This study has been carried out as part of the Finnish joint industrial consortium strategic research action coordinated by FIMECC, Ltd. within the program on Breakthrough Materials called DEMAPP in the Friction and Energy Project. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of Tekes, the Finnish Technology Agency, the participating companies, and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland . Additional support was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Industrial and Vehicle Technologies Programs , under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357.


    • Energy
    • friction
    • lubrication
    • passenger cars


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