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I am still grinning from picking up a 2007 Chevy Silverado 1500 LT 4x4 with the extended cab. 146,000 miles on the clock and 5.3 liter V8 engine.

It has displays for everything the engine is doing in normal operation, one of which is the mode it's in. When asking for power, it's in V8 mode, and when coasting, braking going down hill without accelerating, etc., it's in V4 mode. There is never a perceptible change in either engine vibration, or engine sound. The reason to do this is obvious, fuel economy.

My question is, how are 4 cylinders shut off for fuel economy without changing the sound or vibration of the engine?

I would think that spark, fuel and compression must be stopped for those cylinders. No fuel or spark so nothing is consumed, and those are easy enough to do. It's the compression I'm wondering about.

Are the exhaust valves left open somehow? But that would change the exhaust note I would think. How is this done?

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The link @cory posted is the description from the service manual. Just a repaste and I'll add some images and additional information.

Cylinder deactivation is accomplished by not allowing the intake and exhaust valves to open on the selected cylinders by using special valve lifters. The deactivation lifters contain spring loaded locking pins that connect the internal pin housing of the lifter to the outer housing. The pin housing contains the lifter plunger and pushrod seat which interfaces with the pushrod. The outer housing contacts the camshaft lobe through a roller. During V8 mode, the locking pins are pushed outward by spring force, locking the pin housing and outer housing together causing the lifter to function as a normal lifter. When V4 mode is commanded ON, the locking pins are pushed inward with engine oil pressure directed from the valve lifter oil manifold (VLOM) assembly solenoids. When the lifter pin housing is unlocked from the outer housing, the internal pin housing will remain stationary, while the outer housing will move with the profile of the camshaft lobe, which results in the valve remaining closed. One VLOM solenoid controls both the intake and exhaust valves for each deactivating cylinder. There are 2 distinct oil passages going to each cylinder deactivation lifter bore, one for the hydraulic lash-adjusting feature of the lifter, and one for controlling the locking pins used for cylinder deactivation.

Although both intake and exhaust valve lifters are controlled by the same solenoid in the VLOM, the intake and exhaust valves do not become deactivated at the same time. Cylinder deactivation is timed so that the cylinder is on an intake event. During an intake event, the intake cam lobe is pushing the valve lifter upwards to open the intake valve against the force of the valve spring. The force exerted by the valve spring is acting on the side of the lifter locking pins, preventing them from moving until the intake valve has closed. When the intake valve lifter reaches the base circle of the camshaft lobe, the valve spring force is reduced, allowing the locking pins to move, deactivating the intake valve. However, when cylinder deactivation is commanded ON, the exhaust valve for the deactivated cylinder is in the closed position, allowing the locking pins on the valve lifter to move immediately, and deactivate the exhaust valve.

By deactivating the exhaust valve first, this allows the capture of a burnt air/fuel charge or exhaust gas charge in the combustion chamber. The capture of exhaust gases in the combustion chamber will contribute to a reduction in oil consumption, noise and vibration levels, and exhaust emissions when operating in V4 mode. During the transition from V8 to V4 mode, the fuel injectors will be turned OFF on the deactivated cylinders. The ignition system secondary voltage or spark is still present across the spark plug electrodes on the deactivated cylinders. If all enabling conditions are met and maintained for cylinder deactivation operation, the ECM calibrations will limit cylinder deactivation to a cycle time of 10 minutes in V4 mode, and then return to V8 mode for 1 minute.

Cylinder Deactivation (Active Fuel Management)

General Motors Active Fuel Management engine control system has the ability, under certain light load driving conditions, to provide maximum fuel economy by deactivating 4 of the engines 8 cylinders. The engine will normally operate on 8 cylinders in V8 mode during starting, idling, and medium or heavy throttle conditions. When commanded ON, the engine control module (ECM) will direct the active fuel management system and deactivate cylinders 1 and 7 on the left bank and cylinders 4 and 6 on the right bank, forcing V4 mode. Refer to Lubrication Description and Cylinder Deactivation (Active Fuel Management) System Description.

Cylinder Deactivation Hydraulics

Valve Lifter Oil Manifold Assembly

The valve lifter oil manifold assembly is bolted to the top of the engine block beneath the intake manifold assembly. The oil manifold consists of 4 electrically operated and normally-closed solenoids. Each solenoid directs the flow of pressurized engine oil to the active fuel management intake and exhaust valve lifters. The active fuel management oil pressure relief valve, located in the oil pan, regulates engine oil pressure to the lubrication system and the oil manifold.

When enabling conditions are met for active fuel management operation, the ECM will ground each solenoid control circuit in firing order sequence, allowing current to flow through the solenoid windings. With the windings energized, the solenoid valves open and direct pressurized engine oil through the valve lifter oil manifold into 8 vertical passages in the engine block lifter valley. The 8 vertical passages, 2 per cylinder, direct pressurized oil to the valve lifter bores of the cylinders to be deactivated. When vehicle operating conditions require a return to V8 mode, the ECM will turn OFF the ground circuit for the solenoids, allowing the solenoid valves to close. When the solenoid valves are closed, remaining oil pressure is exhausted through the bleed passages of the valve lifter oil manifold into the engine block lifter valley. The housing of the oil manifold incorporates several oil bleed passages that continually purge trapped air from the manifold and engine block.

To help control contamination within the active fuel management hydraulic system, a small replaceable oil filter is located in the valve lifter oil manifold oil inlet passage. The oil pressure sensor monitors engine oil pressure and provides information to the ECM.

Active Fuel Management Valve Lifters

Active Fuel Management Valve Lifters

When operating in V8 mode, the active fuel management valve lifters function similar to the non-active fuel management valve lifters. The active fuel management oil manifold solenoids are in the closed position, with no pressurized oil directed to the valve lifters. The pushrod travels upward and downward to actuate the rocker arm and valve. The spring loaded locking pins of the lifter are extended outward and mechanically lock the pin housing to the outer body of the valve lifter.

When the active fuel management system is commanded ON, the ECM will direct the solenoids of the oil manifold to open and direct pressurized oil to the valve lifters. Oil travels through the valve lifter oil manifold and engine block oil galleries and enters the inlet port of the valve lifter.

When operating in V4 mode, pressurized oil forces the locking pins inward. The pushrod remains in a constant position and does not travel upward and downward. The outer body of the lifter moves upward and downward independently from the pin housing. The valve lifter spring retains tension on the valve train components to eliminate valve train noise.

When the active fuel management system is commanded OFF, the ECM directs the solenoids of the oil manifold to close, stopping the flow of pressurized oil to the valve lifters. The oil pressure within the lifter will decrease and the locking pins will move outward to mechanically lock the pin housing and outer body.

Engine Block

Engine Block

The active fuel management engine block incorporates additional features to support active fuel management system operation. Engine oil pressure is routed to the valve lifter oil manifold assembly from an oil gallery in the rear of the cylinder block. Cylinders 1, 4, 6, and 7 each have 2 vertical, cast-in-block oil passages . The vertical oil passages permit oil flow from the manifold assembly to the valve lifter bores.

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