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Our cars are filled with little devices that we pay no attention to. Specifically designed to perform in perfect unison, we simply pop ourselves into the drivers seat and let our vehicles take us wherever we want to go, not giving a seconds thought to the things around us. This article hopes to take the reader on a journey of exploration, focusing on a particular part each week. In this edition of “what the heck’s that for” we’ll be looking at the spoiler, a rather sizable part found on the fronts and backs of many cars.

As some of you may already know, the spoiler fulfills an important aerodynamic function. The name of the device is actually rooted in its function, allowing the design to ‘spoil’ unfavourable air moving across its body. Depending on what type of air you want to spoil, the car manufacturer will usually select this device in order to diffuse the air, providing a cushion affect on the laminar layer.

Rather intuitive, there are ultimately two main variations of the spoiler: that found on the front of the car, called air dams, and that found at the back. Both fulfil the same of purpose but in different areas.

The utility of device is most notably seen in high-performance capacities, where the vehicles aerodynamics may mean victory of defeat in a race. Not to be confused with wings, whose purpose is to produce downforce, the spoiler cuts through the air in order provide stability.

These types of devices have seen a crossover into the more commercial market. This transfer however does not hold the same value, as many of the modern vehicles simply have spoilers for aesthetic rather than aerodynamic features. While some still utilize it to reduce drag and possibly to reduce the fuel efficiency of the vehicles, it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether they serve any purpose at all from a mere visual inspection.

Materials most typically used the spoilers creation may vary quite a bit. ABS plastic has been a favourite among spoiler outfits due its durability and elasticity. Other companies have explored fiberglass possibilities as well as silicon. The ultra-luxurious brands tend to favour carbon figure due to its lightweight.

There are many varieties of spoilers, ranging from the practice to the absolutely austantaticious. As mentioned earlier, front spoilers are call air dams. Designed for racing purposes, they push airflow into the radiator and reducing drag and lift. Another style of spoiler is ‘factory’ based, which is a part that originally came with the vehicle. Rear wings, which are the ones we are most familiar with, are found at the back of the car. Similar to this ‘Lip’ spoilers provide front and back air variation.

A rather unique innovation of these spoilers has taken place with American pick-up trucks. Certainly a cultural creation, truck spoilers are mounted on the edge of the truck lid, and are placed for aesthetic rather than practical reasons. Similar to these, ‘cab’ spoilers act as shield to the rear window and provide shade to the vehicle. These are usually attached to the top of the truck bed rails.

Containing a great deal of innovation and history, the spoiler is indeed quite a unique part. While your car may not have one, it is certainly a device to look out for. Next time you step outside and look at a vehicle watch out for the spoiler, perhaps now you’ll see it in a very different light.