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What Is an Automotive Linear Actuator?

Andrew Kirmayer
Andrew Kirmayer

Cars have many parts, may of which are never seen. Some of them directly control how the vehicle rides, while others help control functions of other components. An automotive linear actuator, like most linear actuators, makes use of force and motion to push or pull mechanisms in a straight line. It is often found in door mechanisms, panels such as the glove compartment, as well as hood and trunk panels. There are various types of actuators that can be used in an automobile; the size and weight capacity of each typically depends on where it is to be used.

The force and motion generated by an automotive linear actuator is typically focused into mechanical energy. There is often a pivot point at each end, many times in the form of a fish-eye element, from which other parts can connect to the actuator allowing it to pivot. Car parts that are hinged, such as doors, usually have pins and mounting plates along with the actuating device. The entire mechanism can pivot when a door is opened or closed.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Most linear actuators have a component called a drive screw, and the power of a motor typically can rotate this screw through a drive mechanism. This can be a timing belt or worm gear drive. In a typical design, a drive nut is pushed along the screw as it turns, which controls the motion of the rod. The motion range of the actuator is usually determined by the length of the rod, but different actuators can vary in overall size, load capacity, and speed.

There are also several automotive linear actuator varieties. Some are electric and use a motor to power a rotational component of the motion produced. A hydraulic automotive linear actuator typically works in response to pressure, and a piston inside a hollow cylinder produces the motion. Incompressible fluids are often used for operating this device, which can be found in trucks with cab lifts, such as fire engines and tow trucks.

In a door, an automotive linear actuator is usually connected to a control unit on one end and the door handle on the other. The door opens when the actuator touches the handle, but if it moves away then the mechanism is locked. Automotive actuators are often used to keep trunks open as well as help a person to close them. Brake systems can include them in addition to storage compartment covers and powered hoods.

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