Parts of an Engine
Let's use the same diagram you saw in the previous article on internal combustion to identify all of the different parts in a simple four-cycle engine (see Figure 1 again below).



Figure 1

Here's a quick description of each one, along with a lot of vocabulary that will help you understand what all the car ads are talking about.

Cylinder
The core of the engine is the cylinder. The piston moves up and down inside the cylinder. The engine described here has one cylinder. That is typical of most lawn mowers, but most cars have more than one cylinder (four, six and eight cylinders are common). In a multi-cylinder engine the cylinders usually are arranged in one of three ways: inline, V or flat (also known as horizontally opposed or boxer), as shown in the following figures.


Click on image to see animation
Figure 2. Inline - The cylinders are arranged in a line in a single bank.


Click on image to see animation
Figure 3. V - The cylinders are arranged in two banks set at an angle to one another.


Click on image to see animation
Figure 4. Flat - The cylinders are arranged in two banks on opposite sides of the engine.

Different configurations have different smoothness, manufacturing-cost and shape characteristics that make them more suitable in some vehicles.

Spark plug
The spark plug supplies the spark that ignites the air/fuel mixture so that combustion can occur. The spark must happen at just the right moment for things to work properly.

Valves
The intake and exhaust valves open at the proper time to let in air and fuel and to let out exhaust. Note that both valves are closed during compression and combustion so that the combustion chamber is sealed.

Piston
A piston is a cylindrical piece of metal that moves up and down inside the cylinder.

Piston rings
Piston rings provide a sliding seal between the outer edge of the piston and the inner edge of the cylinder. The rings serve two purposes:

  • They prevent the fuel/air mixture and exhaust in the combustion chamber from leaking into the sump during compression and combustion.
  • They keep oil in the sump from leaking into the combustion area, where it would be burned and lost.
Most cars that "burn oil" and have to have a quart added every 1,000 miles are burning it because the engine is old and the rings no longer seal things properly.

Combustion chamber
The combustion chamber is the area where compression and combustion take place. As the piston moves up and down, you can see that the size of the combustion chamber changes. It has some maximum volume as well as a minimum volume. The difference between the maximum and minimum is called the displacement and is measured in liters or CCs (Cubic Centimeters, where 1,000 cubic centimeters equals a liter). So if you have a 4-cylinder engine and each cylinder displaces half a liter, then the entire engine is a "2.0 liter engine." If each cylinder displaces half a liter and there are six cylinders arranged in a V configuration, you have a "3.0 liter V-6." Generally, the displacement tells you something about how much power an engine has. A cylinder that displaces half a liter can hold twice as much fuel/air mixture as a cylinder that displaces a quarter of a liter, and therefore you would expect about twice as much power from the larger cylinder (if everything else is equal). So a 2.0 liter engine is roughly half as powerful as a 4.0 liter engine. You can get more displacement either by increasing the number of cylinders or by making the combustion chambers of all the cylinders bigger (or both).

Connecting rod
The connecting rod connects the piston to the crankshaft. It can rotate at both ends so that its angle can change as the piston moves and the crankshaft rotates.

Crank shaft
The crank shaft turns the piston's up and down motion into circular motion just like a crank on a jack-in-the-box does.

Sump
The sump surrounds the crankshaft. It contains some amount of oil, which collects in the bottom of the sump (the oil pan).