The Different Types of Car Engines Explained: Here's What to Know
Are you looking for a new engine for your car? Before spending your hard-earned cash, you should know more about what goes on underneath the bonnet.
Knowledge is power - you’re more likely to make the right choice for your car if you have a better idea of the types of car engines out there and how they work.
So, let’s open the bonnet and get started!
It’s all too easy to jump into our cars and roar away without understanding what’s happening under the hood.
For your car to move, its engine depends on internal combustion. In other words, it's small explosions that are controlled but also give out power so that your vehicle runs.
It’s how the fuel-air mix in your vehicle’s cylinders ignite, and it happens thousands of times a minute. When an engine is powered like this, it’s called the combustion cycle.
You’re generally likely to find a four “stroke” engine in your car or truck, and it’s these four “strokes” in your engine that form the essential steps an engine has to take to make your car move.
But first, you need to know that your engine is built around metal tubes that are sealed. These are called cylinders and have a crankshaft on one side and two valves and a spark plug on the other. Inside the cylinders and attached to the crankshaft are pistons.
So, Back to Those Four Strokes:
Intake: When the pistons move up and down as the crankshaft moves, they reach the valves on the camshaft.
When the pistons move down, the timing belt rotates the camshaft. This makes the valves open and releases a mixture of fuel and air in your car. This is called intake.
Compression: When the pistons move up, compression occurs, and this forces the fuel-air mix into a tight space.
Combustion: Before the pistons move back down again, the spark plug creates a spark, and it’s this that creates a small explosion that we mentioned above by igniting the fuel-air mix.
This explosion forces the piston back down fast, and energy is created to push your car forward.
Exhaust: When the pistons get to their lowest point when they go back down again, this motion opens the car exhaust valves.
When the pistons move back up again, this expels gases that have been created by the explosions. The exhaust valve is then shut, and the whole process begins again.
Different Types of Car Engines
Although there’s still debate around who is responsible for creating the car, we can agree that today, there are about four most typical car engines out there.
Carmakers use different layouts for different cars to create more power to a vehicle or to fit an engine into a tight space.
This is the most common engine found in cars, SUVs, and trucks. The cylinders are in a line from front to back and parallel to the vehicle. A straight engine is often found in powerful cars such as BMWs and Mercedes.
This is where the cylinders are upright and side by side across the engine and perpendicular to the car. It’s an ideal layout for a smaller engine such as a hatchback or a family car. It’s also the most common engine found in vehicles.
Called the V because of how the cylinders look when you view the engine from the front. In two rows facing outwards, the cylinders are at a 60° angle and mounted on their side.
It’s a way of packing in a lot of power, and this kind of engine is used in premium cars and supercars.
In this engine, the cylinders lie flat. That’s why this type of engine is sometimes called a “boxer” engine. The cylinders are in two rows and give a low center of gravity. This kind of engine is pretty rare, but most commonly found in the Porsche.
Although the above covers the four most common types of engines, let’s reel back and look at some other types of engines:
Twin Cylinder Engines
These are really rare because you get so little power out of them. However, some carmakers are making lower-powered and more eco-friendly cars, such as cars in the Fiat range.
Three, Five and Six-Cylinder Engines
Three-cylinder engines are rarely used and often used on smaller cars. They make a kind of burbling sound and vibrate, caused by the odd number of cylinders.
The five-cylinder engine used by Volvo has similar properties. Although the six-cylinder engine has a V layout, it’s also rare because it’s commonly found in high-end cars and sports cars.
Eight Cylinder Engines
Again with a V layout, these engines definitely fit into the supercar bracket because of the sheer power they give out.
Sometimes they’re called V8, V10, and V12 engines with a special mention to the 16-cylinder Bugatti Veyron.
Last but not least, in our selection of the types of car engines is the no piston or Wankel engine. Powered by a rotary system to convert pressure into rotating motion, it’s commonly used in smaller cars such as a Mazda.
Ready to Take a Look at the Different Types of Car Engines?
So there you go, a round-up of some of the most popular types of car engines you can buy. Still unsure about which to go for? Let us help. UroTuning is the number one source for OEM and performance parts for your Audi, BMW and Volkswagen.
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