Engine trouble? Get an overview of how a car engine uses a compressed fuel mixture and a spark to generate power. With illustrations of the cylinder, block and crankcase.
The engine is the heart of your car. It is a complex machine built to convert heat from burning gas into the force that turns the road wheels.
The chain of reactions which achieve that objective is set in motion by a spark, which ignites a mixture of petrol vapour and compressed air inside a momentarily sealed cylinder and causes it to burn rapidly. That is why the machine is called an internal combustion engine. As the mixture burns it expands, providing power to drive the car.
To withstand its heavy workload, the engine must be a robust structure. It consists of two basic parts: the lower, heavier section is the cylinder block, a casing for the engine's main moving parts; the detachable upper cover is the cylinder head.
The cylinder head contains valve-controlled passages through which the air and fuel mixture enters the cylinders, and others through which the gases produced by their combustion are expelled.
The block houses the crankshaft, which converts the reciprocating motion of the pistons into rotary motion at the crankshaft. Often the block also houses the camshaft, which operates mechanisms that open and close the valves in the cylinder head. Sometimes the camshaft is in the head or mounted above it.
The cylinders in which the pistons operate are cast into the block, as are mountings for ancillary equipment such as a filter for the oil which lubricates the engine, and a pump for the fuel. An oil reservoir, called the sump, is bolted underneath the crankcase.
Both block and head are usually made of cast iron. But sometimes aluminium is chosen for the head, because it is lighter and dissipates heat more efficiently.
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