How Do Car Engines Work? (2023)

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Car engines are 4 stroke engines that require 4 steps to work. These 4 steps are Intake, Compression, Power, and Exhaust. Pistons and spark plugs are the power houses of the engines along with the valves and the crankshaft.

The engine: your vehicle's powerhouse

Your engine is what makes your car go. It provides power to all the mechanical functions of your car. Without engine power, your wheels don't turn, your battery doesn't charge, and you can't go anywhere. A typical combustion engine relies on spark plugs to ignite gas under pressure from the pistons. These mini explosions power the car.

Here are the parts that make up the engine

An engine, like many car parts, is a combination of many smaller parts. When you say "engine" You probably think of the massive heavy engine block. The basics of an engine is contained in one cylinder. These cylinders attach to a crankshaft that connects them. The engine block you think of is just a housing.


A metal cylinder that contains the spark plugs and pistons. Each car can have 2-12 of these. They are sealed and made of insanely strong metal.

Spark Plug

An electrically controlled device that ignites the gasoline in the cylinder. This creates the flames that power the car. They are at the top of the cylinder.


Located inside the cylinder, these pump and force the gas towards the spark plugs. The pressure makes the gas easier to ignite.

Inlet Valve

Allows air and gas to enter the cylinder. The fuel comes from a fuel injector or a carburetor. The air enters from the car's air intake system.

Outlet Valve

Allows the exhaust gases to escape. These gases power the car and then exit via the exhaust pipe.

How does a car engine work?

There are 4 steps to how a car engine works. This is why it is called a 4 stroke engine. Each of these steps happen in a fraction of a second. If any of these steps are off by any amount it could lead to a catastrophic failure.

  1. Intake- The intake valve opens and the piston retracts to draw gasoline in. The piston is moved down by the crankshaft as the car moves.
  1. Compression- The piston moves up the cylinder after the inlet valve closes. the compression makes the gas easier to ignite. Once the piston reaches the top of its path the spark plug fires.
  1. Power- Once the spark plug ignites the gas, it pushes the piston back down powering the crankshaft. This mini explosion is instantaneous.
  1. Exhaust- As the outlet valve is opened the piston comes back up forcing the exhaust out of the cylinder. The whole cycle begins again.

How many cylinders does an engine need?

An engine operates with cylinders in pairs of two. Technically you could have a 2 cylinder engine, but most cars have 4, 6, or 8. A 4 cylinder is the most fuel efficient but produces less power. A 6 cylinder engine is a good middle ground between fuel efficiency and power. A 8 cylinder engine is a powerhouse but requires more fuel per cycle.

Signs your engine is failing

Your engine is what makes your car go. It produces all the power to turn your wheels. If your engine goes out, the car is useless. It's important to catch engine trouble early. Here are some signs of engine trouble:

  • Overheating engine
  • Oil Leaks
  • Misfires
  • Knocking

How to avoid engine problems in the future

The best way to keep your engine from breaking down is proper maintenance and controlling your fluids. Listen to your car. Any off noise needs to be inspected. Most of the issues that cause engine failure have warning lights. Here are some good practices to take:

  • Check your oil and change it regularly
  • Choose the proper oil
  • Don't idle your vehicle for too long
  • Check you coolant levels often

Does my insurance pay for maintenance and repairs?

Insurance companies don't cover regular maintenance and repairs. If you have comprehensive and collision coverage, repairs can be paid for if it occurs because of an accident or wreck. Since insurance doesn't cover regular maintenance, it's a smart idea to not put off repair as they can become a much bigger problem. Another good thing to have is roadside assistance. That way if your car breaks down on the side of the road, you can get help.

When the time arises, is my insurance going to be enough?

When it comes to car insurance, there are several factors to consider beyond monthly cost. A policy that covers you when you need it, has a low deductible, and offers several discounts can be hard to find - which is why we've done the work for you.

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