Cars Simplified: Everything Automotive Explained

An Introduction To Automotive Engines

Engines are what powers a vehicle in a number of ways. Conventional engines convert combustion energy (from fuel, air, and an ignition source) into rotational energy. In addition to creating rotational energy, engines also (through means of an alternator) keep on-board electronic systems (like headlights and the radio) running, which includes its own ignition system, part of what the engine needs to run in the first place. The engine starts bringing in material to convert into combustion energy via the intake system and moves used energy-producing materials away with the exhaust system.

Engines can be positioned at the front, back, or in the middle of a vehicle, which affects the drivetrain layout. They can be mounted to the car parallel to the wheels or 90° sideways, depending on which way is optimal for the design of the vehicle. They almost always have a transmission bolted to them. Your vehicle more than likely has a piston engine, the most common type in vehicles over the past 100 years. There are, however, other types of engines which are sometimes found in speciality cars.

Introduction to Vehicle Engines by Engineering Explained

Engine Concepts

This is information which isn't about parts, but more about how they interact to create power and keep the engine running.

Engine Exhaust Components

The exhaust system gets the by-products of power generation out of the system so more power can be generated in the next cycle.

Engine Intake Components

The intake system attempts to bring in the best and most air into the engine, so power can be produced. It is also where the fuel is usually added, and the power output is controlled.

Engine Internal Components

These parts are found inside the engine, and are most involved in the power-making process. Most of them require lubrication, since they would have a lot of metal-to-metal contact without it.

Engine Cooling System Components

The cooling process takes place inside and outside the engine, and is still a very analog process, with most electronics being there to monitor the cooling system or make basic control changes.

Modern Engine Cooling Systems

Modern cooling systems have a few new features that improve basic functionality, and even heat up the engine when it is still cold to improve performance between start-up and up-to-temperature (closed loop) operation.

Other Engine Components

Most of these components you can find without taking the engine apart. Some of these parts may sometimes be found on the inside of some engines, but on the outside of others.

We also have a list of engine sensors.

Various Engine Designs

Engines come in many designs, some of which are quite advanced and exotic.

You can also read our Introduction to the Automotive Body and Introduction to the Automotive Chassis articles for beginners as well, or return to the home page and find something more advanced.