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Car engine - working, components, layouts and problems

Starting a car engine is as easy as turning a key or just pressing a button in modern cars. But did you ever wonder the mechanism behind it and what makes this so easy for you? If yes, then you’re in the right place. Today, we will answer crucial questions related to engines and more!

What is a car engine?

The engine of your car is what helps it turn fuel into motion. This fuel can be a petroleum product or electricity if you own an electric vehicle. In the car engine, fuel gets converted into movement through a process called internal combustion. Engines make use of small and regulated explosions that generate power and then harness this power to make your vehicle move. In turn, this power helps your car move from place to place.  

You might be thinking, “what is the point of a small explosion?” Well, small-scale blasts in tiny and enclosed spaces release a lot of energy in the form of expanding gas. The place where these explosions occur, that is the piston of the engine, is a very compact space. Now imagine a hundred such minor explosions in a minute, that’s how much energy your car engine produces per minute.  

What is your car engine made of?

Inside the car engine - piston ignition, engine valves and crankshaft

At the core of the engine are the cylinders in which the combustion reaction occurs. Your vehicle can have anywhere between three to twelve cylinders and these are arranged in a variety of ways (discussed later). But cylinders aren't the only component of a car engine. Listed below are some of its other major components:

Spark Plug - Ignites the fuel and air mixture in the piston to initiate combustion.

Car engine - spark plug

Valves - open at the perfect time to let air and fuel flow into the engine for the combustion reaction.

Piston - Moves up and down inside the cylinder to regulate pressure for more powerful explosions.

Piston Ring - Acts as a seal between the piston and the cylinder so that the fuel and other such components stay in their proper places and do not leak to other chambers at the wrong times.

Connecting Rod - Connects the crankshaft and the piston, and it rotates as the piston and crankshaft move.

Crankshaft - Helps convert the movements of the piston into a circular motion.

Sump - Contains some amount of oil.
V6 car engine parts - pistons and crankshaft

What are common problems?

There are few things as frustrating as an engine that won’t turn or start. I swear this is more likely to happen when you’re late!

Experiences of this sort indicate that there’s something wrong with your car engine that needs your attention. I am going to explain some common issues that can occur:

1. Bad fuel mix - A bad fuel mix occurs when your car engine is getting inadequate amounts of either fuel or air for the combustion process. There can be several reasons for this such as:

  • You might be low on fuels so your car engine is only getting air
  • There isn’t enough air getting in
  • The system could be malfunctioning and not allowing enough fuel into the chamber
  • Or your fuel might have contaminants such as water in it.

2. Low compression - Failure to compress the charge of air and fuel might cause the engine to perform effectively. It could happen due to worn-out piston rings, broken or loose valves, a faulty cylinder, etc.

3. Lack of spark - The combustion process needs a spark to start. If the spark is weak or non-existent, the car engine will not work. If you’re facing this issue you might want to check and know:

  • Is the spark plug or the wiring connected to it has worn out
  • Is the wiring missing
  • Are the spark timings off

4. Dead battery - With a dead or drained battery, you will not be able to turn on the engine.

5. Worn out bearings - Without bearings to help with free movement, the crankshaft will not be able to turn and therefore your engine will not start.

6. Malfunctioning valves - Valves need to open and close at the perfect time to let the air and fuel in and out. Without this happening, the engine will not be able to work at all.

Car engine head - damaged valves

7. Low oil - The piston needs to move freely in the cylinder and the oil helps with this. Without sufficient oil, the car engine will freeze and will not function.

What are common car engine layouts?

There are three main types of engine layouts we find in modern vehicles:

1. Inline Engine - It is the most common engine layout and usually has three or four vertical cylinders placed together in one row. More powerful cars can have straight six-cylinder engines. In the modern world, the straight-six has given way to V6.

2. V-engine - This design is for six, eight, and twelve cylinders’ engines. The cylinders are placed at an angle to each other, usually a 90-degree angle.

3. Flat engine - Also known as a horizontally opposed car engine, it has cylinders placed on opposite sides. These engines are similar to V-powerplants but come with the added advantage of saving space.

How To Improve Car Engine Life Span:

An engine is an expensive car component (perhaps the most expensive!) and replacing it can cost an arm and a leg. But, fortunately, if you treat it properly, you do not have to worry about replacing it soon. Here are some easy ways to prolong the life of your car engine:

1. Avoid short trips - Constant heating up and cooling aren’t good for the engine of your vehicle. It is why shorter trips do more damage to it than longer ones do. Avoid taking your car out for single small trips or those with too many stops.

2. Use synthetic oil - Synthetic oils do an amazing job at increasing your vehicle’s performance as well as protecting its components.

3. Refuel often - Fuel can have contaminants sometimes and these settle at the bottom of your fuel tank. Once your car is low on fuel, these contaminants get pumped into your car engine and lower its performance and lifespan.

4. Install a fresh fuel filter - Fuel filters keep pollutants out of the engine, so a dirty filter will not be efficient. This filter is easy to replace, so make sure you change them regularly.

5. Do not forget oil changes - Oil in the engine serves as lubrication to minimise friction between the various metal components. Without sufficient lubrication, the components will wear out. So, make sure to keep your oil fresh and above the minimum level.

6. Change the air filter:
Your air/fuel mixture needs the right amount of oxygen to maintain combustion. In the absence of sufficient air, the motor tries to compensate for it thereby increasing the overall temperature of the car engine and causing major issues.

Conclusion:

The car engine is the heart of your vehicle and controls many aspects of your vehicle. Engines operate by a simple combustion process and nearly all vehicles have adopted this process, which makes repairing them easy. Knowing what issues your car is having and detecting them before they escalate will save you from major financial losses related to engine replacements.

Your car engine is just another car part and not a super machine, so make sure you use it properly. Do not take your car out for every small chore you have to run and let the engine warm-up before you get your car on the road. Keep up with vehicle maintenance and make sure your mechanic pays due attention to your car engine during routine checkups.