What are Some Different Components of an Automobile Engine?

Sherry Holetzky

The make up of an automobile engine varies based on the expected performance. For example, a greater number of cylinders are required for more power and highly tuned parts made to withstand greater heat are required for heightened speed. An automobile engine made for a truck or SUV requires more power than an engine made for use in a small car or minivan.

A car engine's pistons are attached to a crank shaft.
A car engine's pistons are attached to a crank shaft.

Within an automobile engine, you will find cylinders. Within each cylinder is a piston. The piston cycles up and down opening and closing the intake valve. In small engines, there is often just one cylinder, while in larger equipment or vehicles, there can be many more. The range for a common automobile engine runs from four cylinder to eight cylinder, with six cylinders being a commonly used construction. When you hear someone say a car is a V6 or a “six banger” that means it is a six cylinder engine.

Car engines are internal combustion engines that provide automobiles with motive power.
Car engines are internal combustion engines that provide automobiles with motive power.

As the piston moves downward, fuel and air are combined and pulled into the combustion chamber via the intake valves. When the piston changes course, the valve closes. This leads to increased temperature and pressure of the fuel and air mixture. The piston rings create a seal between the piston and the cylinder, which helps keep the fuel and air mixture from leaking.

Cars use spark plugs for internal combustion.
Cars use spark plugs for internal combustion.

Then another part takes its turn. The spark plugs give off a spark, which in turn causes the air and fuel mixture to begin burning. The heat generated by this process causes the mixture to expand, which pushes the piston back down, generating power. Now, the piston must continue its cycle, working its way back up.

During the upward movement, the exhaust valve rather than the intake valve will now open, releasing air and fuel that has not been burned. This mixture will make its way through the engine, to the manifold, and will ultimately be expelled through the exhaust pipe. This process repeats as long as the automobile engine is running.

The cylinder, the piston, piston rings, the intake valve or valves, combustion chamber, spark plugs, exhaust valve, and the exhaust manifold are all basic components. The automobile engine, while innovative and useful, is based on simple parts and processes that work together, essentially to turn fuel into energy. What is described here is the way an automobile engine works with a common four-stroke cycle.

The intake manifold draws air and fuel from the carburetor.
The intake manifold draws air and fuel from the carburetor.

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Discussion Comments


@Logicfest -- It is true that there are a lot of computers, emissions control systems and other stuff added to modern engines but those don't make up for all the complexity.

No, engines themselves have gotten more complicated in a drive to increase fuel efficiency and power. Such things as fuel injection, overhead cams and turbo chargers are fairly recent innovations that add to the complexity of an engine. There was a time when an engine was a lot simpler in that they had simple carburetors instead of fuel injectors to deliver fuel, single camshafts instead of multiple ones and a turbo was simply uncommon.

In other words, finding your way around a modern engine that is more efficient and more powerful than one from the "good old days" would be difficult even without all the computers and other items attached.


The parts that make up an engine have remained somewhat simple over the years, but servicing an engine is a lot more difficult than it used to be. That is because there is so much "stuff" attached to modern engines in the way of emissions controls, safety features and the like that finding your way around the engine bay is very difficult. And even if you can make sense of it all, the likelihood of unplugging or unscrewing some unknown component that turns out to be necessary is high.

Compare that to the good old days when you could pop open the hood of a car and actually see the ground. You could easily reach all engine components back then. Ah, but things have changed.

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