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6 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Their Car Engine

man working with car engine

You probably understand the importance of your car's engine. You're not going to get very far without a working engine. But most of us don't really understand much about how an engine works.

So, in this post, we're going to explore 6 things everyone should know about their car engine.
  1. There are different types of engine
The engine is a lot like the brain of a car. It holds all the power necessary to help your car function. And without it, your car would be nothing. But there's more than just one type of car engine.
Do you know which type of engine you have in your car?
              a. Inline engine
   With an Inline engine, all cylinders are arranged in a line facing upward. The 4-cylinder inline engine is the most popular type      of engine used in cars today, so there's a good chance this may be what your car is running on.

It's lightweight, compact and has fewer moving parts than most other engines. On the downside, it rarely exceeds 2.5 to 3.0 liters.

            b. Straight engine
Tack on two extra cylinders to the Inline 4, and you'll have the Straight Six. In this engine, the cylinders are arranged in a straight positioning that's parallel to the car. The straight engine is most commonly found in luxury cars.
         
c. Vee engine
When you look at this type of engine from the front, it seems a bit like the letter "V." All cylinders face outwards and drive one common crankshaft at their base.

But don't bother looking for this type of engine in an economy car or SUV. You'll only find the Vee engine in high-performance sports cars. This is because the Vee engine allows more cylinders in a more compact space than other engine types.

d. VR and W engines
This engine is a lot like the Vee engine with a few differences. Developed by Volkswagen, the VR and W engines have cylinders that have narrow spaces between them. Today, this engine is found in cars like the Bentley Mulsanne.

e. Boxer
The boxer engine is unique. It uses two cylinders that are laid flat on their sides in two banks. These cylinders point away from each other, allowing gravity to remain low, which enhances handling. You'll find the Boxer engine in luxury models such as Porsche.

f. Rotary (Wankel engine)
The Rotary engine uses rotors instead of pistons. Its design is quite compact with a curved, rectangular shape. There's a central rotor that turns only one way, and it produces intake, compression, power, and exhaust while running. Because of its design, this engine limits torque so that you won't find it often outside of the Mazda RX models.

rotary engine

When it comes to identifying the engine type your car has, it usually comes down to cylinders. So, what exactly are cylinders? We're about to cover that in detail, along with a few other engine parts you should know about.
    
2. These 5 car engine parts work together to power your car
 
We talked a lot about cylinders in the last section, but you probably already knew that the cylinder is an important part of the engine. Whenever you're looking at a new car, the number of cylinders is typically front and center.

And most of us associate the number of cylinders with power, which isn't wrong.

Car cylinders are a lot like pots you use for cooking. It's not the cylinder itself that's powerful, but it's what it holds. Car cylinders contain fuel. And the more cylinders you have, the more fuel you can use at one time.

It's the same with cooking pots. You can cook 2 liters of soup with a single one-liter pot.

Cylinders are made of durable metal and sealed shut on one end. The other end opens and closes. The cylinder has tight-fitting pistons that slide up and down, and two valves can open and close to let something in or shut everything out.
  • Inlet valve - lets fuel and air enter the cylinder (either from the carburetor or fuel injector)
  • Outlet valve - lets the exhaust gases escape
  • Spark plug - this sits at the top of the cylinder and it makes a spark that sets fire to the fuel
  • Piston - this sits at the bottom of the cylinder and attaches to an axle called the crankshaft
  • Crankshaft - this powers the car's gearbox, which drives the wheels
 
3.  The real difference between 4, 6, and 8 cylinders

If there's only one thing you learn about car engines, it's the difference between 4, 6, and 8 cylinders. Since the cylinders are like cooking pots that hold fuel, the more you have, the more fuel you will burn. And when you have more cylinders, you're creating more movement to turn the crankshaft, which provides more power to the car. But as you've probably figured out by now, more cylinders also means that you'll burn through fuel faster.

This is why faster, or more powerful cars are almost always less fuel efficient than most economy cars.

But don't make the mistake of thinking that more cylinders equate to a faster car. That's not always the case. In fact, most trucks run on 6 or 8 cylinders - and an F150 wouldn't win in a race against a 6-cylinder sports car.

More cylinders mean more power. Period. It's up to the design of the car to determine how that power is used.
vehicle motor and cylinders

In fact, the pistons inside the cylinders that are the most important. As you might imagine with all the combustion, the pistons are subjected to an immense amount of heat and stress.

When the pistons can move with greater force, the combustion will be more powerful, and the car will move with greater force. This is often what we call turbocharging.

Turbo works by adding air into the chamber, and one of the most significant benefits of turbocharging an engine is that the turbo isn't continually firing. It's only engaged when the driver pushes for more power, and this keeps fuel consumption down.

When it comes to choosing between a 4, 6, or 8 cylinder engine, it's all about personal preference. If you're looking for fuel economy above all else, you'll lean towards the straight 4-cylinder engine. If you want a balance between fuel economy and speed, consider a 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. For pure power behind the wheel. a 6-cylinder turbocharged engine may be where it's at for you.

In reality, the best way to determine which car is best for you is to take a test drive. 

looking under the hood at engine

4. The difference between internal and external combustion

Some engines run on internal combustion. Others run on external combustion. With an internal combustion engine, fuel goes inside the cylinder and undergoes combustion that's contained inside the cylinder.

With an external combustion engine, it's quite the opposite. The combustion takes place outside of the cylinder, and then the heat must then get transferred to the cylinder.

We've only covered internal combustion engines because these are the types of engines cars use. Steam engines are great examples of external combustion engines.

External combustion engines are actually very quiet compared to the internal combustion engines, but they are much less efficient. An external engine also requires a boiler and other components to transfer energy, which makes it a poor choice for any passenger vehicle. There are many reasons why car engines don't run on external combustion, but most people only to know the basic difference to understand why and how the car engine functions.

5. When to change oil and air filters
egine air filter

The oil is lubrication that keeps the engine running smoothly. The oil itself collects debris within your engine and keeps the engine parts lubricated. The oil filter helps filter out the gunk that can accumulate within the oil.

And if you're confused about when you should be changing your oil filters, you're not alone. Most manufacturers recommend changing oil filters at every other oil change while others recommend changing them with every oil change. With most modern engines, it should be fine to replace the oil filter with every other oil change, but you can check with your car service center for personal advice. You may need to replace them more often if you regularly find yourself in stop-and-go traffic, 

And whenever you go for car maintenance and service, the auto mechanic might ask you if you also want to change your air filter. The engine air filter should be replaced between 15,000 and 30,000 miles, depending on your driving conditions. The air filter catches debris and can help extend the life of your engine, so this is a significant change.

6. 11 Engine terms you should know

If you sometimes feel like your auto mechanic is speaking another language, it's probably a good idea to brush up on some engine terminology.
  • Engine block - this part is made of iron or aluminum alloy and it holds the cylinders and other components of the engine
  • Pistons - the pistons are cylindrical structures that move up and down within the cylinder
  • Connecting rod - this part connects the piston to the crankshaft
  • Crankshaft - As the name implies, this part works like a crank to convert the up and down motion of the piston to rotational movement
  • Oil slump - this is also called the crankshaft casing. It's bolted to the engine block and it covers the engine from the bottom. It also holds oil to lubricate the engine.
  • Cylinder head - This part sits above the cylinders. This is what closes the bottom of the cylinder to create the combustion chamber.
  • Valves - These consist of two parts: Valve stem and a valve head. These parts control the inlet and exhaust air within the engine's cylinder. 
  • Camshaft - The camshaft regulates the time it takes to open and close valves.
  • Timing belt - The timing belt is an actual belt that sits around various pullies, and as it rotates, it gives them the camshaft its rotational motion. In most modern cars, the timing belt must be replaced around every 100,000 miles. But you should always check the car's manual for specific instructions.
  • Spark plug - The spark plug is a small but powerful part. This is what creates the ignition needed to start your car. Spark plugs wear down over time, so you'll need to replace this part periodically. Most car manuals recommend replacing more or less often. For example, spark plugs will need to be replaced more often on high-performance vehicles and less often if the plugs were specifically made for long life.
  • Head gasket - Have you ever heard the term "blown a gasket?" This is something you definitely don't want in your vehicle. The gasket is responsible for sealing the internal combustion process, but it also keeps coolant and oil from mixing together.
checking the engine
We all drive cars, so we should have a basic understanding of how a car engine works. Not only will such an understanding be helpful when you're choosing a new car, but it'll also help you maintain your car better as it ages.

 


       

 

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