Understanding the Science Behind Car Engines and How They Work


Understanding car engines and how they function is essential to understanding how to construct or repair them. If you want to construct a high-performance engine, it’s essential that you comprehend its parts and how they interact together.

A car engine consists of pistons that move up and down inside metal cylinders. Cylinders range in number from four to eight, usually sealed at one end.


Pistons are essential elements in an engine, converting fuel into energy that powers your car. They have a cylindrical shape and form part of the movable portion of the combustion chamber.

They receive the thrust created by combustion of the gas inside the cylinder and transmit it to a connecting rod. They act like a gas-tight plug inside the cylinder, producing suction, compression, expansion and exhaust strokes.

Trunk pistons are large in relation to their diameter, acting as both a piston and cylindrical crosshead that shifts when the connecting rod tilts for most of its rotation. Furthermore, these pistons take on side thrust from an obliquity in the connecting rod due to its long length.

Aluminum alloys are often chosen for their excellent thermal conductivity, though some alloys contain higher levels of silicon to improve heat strength and reduce thermal expansion coefficients so tight tolerances can be maintained when temperatures change.


Crankshafts are essential components of any car engine, converting piston motion into rotational motion and transmitting power from the pistons to the wheels through transmission and driveshafts.

Pistons, located within each cylinder, transfer the pressure created by combustion to the crankshaft and act as seals that keep engine cylinders from becoming overheated.

Pistons experience immense forces, often multiple explosions per second during combustion.

Pistons feature semicircular pieces of metal called bearings that fit into holes at pivotal rotation points. These bearings can be made out of composite metals such as lead copper and silicon aluminum and often feature coatings for increased hardness. Generally speaking, these bearings are attached to piston rods using bolts.

Cylinder Head

Acquainting yourself with the science behind car engines and how they function is essential to guaranteeing your car gets to where you need it to go. For instance, the cylinder head plays a significant role in the combustion process that generates power for moving your vehicle.

The cylinder head contains passageways for essential gases and liquids to pass through, helping cool the engine and remove waste heat that could otherwise lead to overheating.

The cylinder head also contains combustion chambers, where fuel and air combine to generate power. To accomplish this, turbulence is generated in the mixture as it expands during compression stroke.

Cylinder heads come in a range of shapes and sizes depending on the engine they are used on and their intended use. They can be manufactured from iron or aluminum and cast using either an individual casting process.

Valve Train

Most cars are powered by an internal combustion engine. These convert heat energy (made from burning fuel) into mechanical energy by turning a piston, which in turn rotates the crankshaft – part connected to the transmission and wheels of the car.

Maintaining an engine requires precise timing to open and close valves that let air and fuel enter or exit a cylinder. This process is guided by parts known as the valve train.

The components of a valve train differ depending on the engine, but typically consist of intake and exhaust valves, rocker arms, and a camshaft that controls them. Some systems also utilize a pushrod to transfer motion from the camshaft to the rocker arms.

The camshaft is a long shaft that passes through the engine block or head, featuring different lobes positioned differently. These lobes control how much lift valves receive.

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