# Which force does friction counteract on an inclined plane?

1. Nov 2, 2015

### sharpnova

This is not a specific problem. It pertains to all the problems I'm working on and only requires that I have one concept explained.

If an object is being pulled up a plane by a force parallel to the plane, does the friction work against the parallel component of the gravity or the force pulling the object up?

I have the parallel component of the gravity as weight_object * cos(angle), the pulling force in the exact opposite direction, and the friction as u * weight_object * cos(angle)

The problem is I don't see which way to apply the friction. If the object was sliding down the plane, then friction would work against the gravity force. But shouldn't the friction also work against the act of pulling the object up the plane? I don't know if that means I ignore the friction, apply it in one direction only, or do something else to calculate the "net" friction force.

2. Nov 2, 2015

### BvU

Corny, I'm sorry. But friction opposes motion, so if the gravity wins from the pulling force, friction is with the pulling force. And if the pulling force is greater than the downward gravity component, then the friction is with the gravity, i.e. downwards.
Note that the friction coefficient times the normal component expression calculates a maximum friction force. In the range where | gravity minus pulling force | is less than the maximum friction force, the magnitude of the actual friction force is less than this maximum value (namely such that the acceleration is zero , so that gravity minus pulling force and friction combined add up to zero)

3. Nov 2, 2015

### stockzahn

If there is a relative motion between two bodies for each body the direction of the friction force can be applied against the direction of the motion:

object sliding down → friction force at the object pointing "up" & friction force at the plane pointing "down"
object pulled up → friction force at the object pointing "down" & friction force at the plane pointing "up"

4. Nov 2, 2015

### sharpnova

Thanks that cleared everything up. Is there a way to select a best answer or anything like that here?

5. Nov 2, 2015

6. Nov 2, 2015

### BvU

Let's not turn PF into a mutual admiration society , but: thanks !

PS I like the PF culture in the sense that after a while you can distinguish the relative authorities a little bit. And that's good. Any ranking would be an insult: high rank is no insurance against goofs, whatever the voters may claim.

7. Nov 2, 2015

### sharpnova

Sounds good to me :D

I've never been a fan of stackexchange's voting system. It has made the place somewhat toxic in my opinion.

8. Nov 2, 2015

### haruspex

Sorry, BvU, but I have to intercede here.
It's better to say that friction opposes relative motion of surfaces in contact. The shorter form confuses many students when they have to deal with e.g. a car driving uphill.

9. Nov 2, 2015

### sharpnova

Could you briefly tell me a little bit about what a car driving uphill would be like, friction wise. I'm trying to visualize it and it seems with the wheels rotating, the friction would be eliminated from the equation. But I'm sure that's not the case.

10. Nov 2, 2015

### haruspex

Could the car get up the hill if there were no friction?

11. Nov 2, 2015

### sharpnova

No I don't think so. The wheels would just spin in place. So how would the friction be accounted for there? Since I think the wheels have no relative motion to the ground?

12. Nov 2, 2015

### haruspex

You don't see a contradiction between those two statements? Friction opposes relative motion of the surfaces. It may or may not be able to oppose it so completely that it prevents it.

13. Nov 2, 2015

### sharpnova

I think the friction is why the wheel grips the ground.

Is it just that if the incline were steep enough then the friction wouldn't be enough and then the car would stay in place or ultimately slide back?

14. Nov 2, 2015

### haruspex

That's true, but is not the point I'm making. Assume the car is managing to get up the hill without the tyres' slipping. Which way does the force of friction act?

15. Nov 2, 2015

### sharpnova

I think it's acting... in the same direction as the car's motion? Against the road-parallel component of the car's weight

16. Nov 2, 2015

### haruspex

Quite so. The trap is that some students learn "friction opposes motion", so think it must act down the slope, opposing the motion of the car. The correct view is that it acts to oppose the relative motion of tyre surface against road.
Of course, we've been assuming driving wheels here. The situation is different for non-driving wheels.

17. Nov 2, 2015

### sharpnova

Yep for a wagon or a plane taking off or landing the friction would operate like a classical block-on-an-incline situation.

18. Nov 2, 2015

### haruspex

Not so fast.
Suppose a rear-wheel-drive car is going up hill but slowing down. What is happening to the front wheels?

19. Nov 2, 2015

### sharpnova

Being pushed up by the rear wheels driving and retarded by friction?

20. Nov 2, 2015

### haruspex

The front wheels have no direct knowledge of the rear wheels. They just 'feel' the axle, the road, and gravity.
"Retarded" is a bit ambiguous here. Are you referring to linear motion or rotational motion? Which way does the friction act, and why?