Your Car Engine Parts and How They Work

  1. Home
  2. Auto Repair
  3. Your Car Engine Parts and How They Work

Your Car Engine Parts and How They Work

Your Car Engine Parts and How They WorkAt Dakota Ridge Automotive in Littleton, we know that many people love their cars, but are you familiar with your car engine parts and how they work? Most people don’t, which is certainly understandable. There are hundreds of parts in your engine. Luckily, our expert technicians are here to help you with any problems your car has, and we’ll explain what’s going on so that you have a better understanding of your car engine.

So, let’s look at your car engine parts and how they work.

What is a gasoline car engine?

Just like it sounds, it converts gas burning inside the engine into motion and moves your car. It is an internal combustion engine.

Internal Combustion

The idea is to put high-energy fuel in a small, enclosed space and ignite it, creating an incredible amount of energy to propel the car. Most engines use a four-stroke combustion cycle to turn gas into motion:

  • Intake stroke
  • Compression stroke
  • Combustion stroke
  • Exhaust stroke


The piston moves up and down inside the cylinder.

Spark plug

Your car needs a spark to ignite the air and fuel mixture, so that combustion can occur.  The spark plug is what gives that spark and it has to happen at just the right time for it to work.


The intake and exhaust valves open and let the air and fuel in, and let the exhaust out.


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

Piston rings

Piston rings work as a sliding seal between the outer edge of the piston and the inner edge of the cylinder.

Connecting rod

The connecting rod connects the piston to the crankshaft. It rotates at both ends to change the angle as the piston moves and the crankshaft rotates.


The pistons are turned by the crankshaft, making them go up and down motion into a circular motion.


The sump is around the crankshaft and has oil, which collects in the bottom of the sump (the oil pan).

The engine has a number of systems that help it do its job of converting fuel into motion.

Engine Valve Train and Ignition Systems

The valves and a mechanism that opens and closes them are in the valve train. The opening and closing system is called a camshaft. The camshaft has lobes that allow the valves to move up and down.

The crankshaft is linked to the camshaft by the timing belt or timing chain links so that the valves are in line with the pistons. The camshaft turns at about one-half the rate of the crankshaft. Many high-performance engines have four valves per cylinder (two for intake, two for exhaust), or dual overhead cams.

The ignition system produces a high-voltage electrical charge and transmits it to the spark plugs with the ignition wires. The charge first goes to a distributor. The ignition wires send the charge to the spark plugs. The engine is timed so that each cylinder receives a spark from the distributor at a time.

Engine Cooling, Air-intake, and Starting Systems

The cooling system has a radiator and water pump. The water circulates around the cylinders and then goes through the radiator to cool it off.

In some cars, the engine is air-cooled instead. In most cars, the air flows through an air filter and then directly into the cylinders.

The starting system includes an electric starter motor and a starter solenoid. The ignition key turns and the starter motor spins the engine so that the combustion process begins.

Hundreds of amps of electricity has to flow into the starter motor. When you turn the ignition key, it activates the solenoid to power the motor.

Engine Lubrication, Fuel, Exhaust and Electrical Systems

The engine’s fuel system pumps gas from the gas tank. It then mixes with the air so the right air and fuel mixture can go into the cylinders.

The lubrication system ensures that the moving parts in the engine get oil so that it can move easily. Oil is necessary for the pistons to allow them to slide easily in their cylinders and the bearings allow things like the crankshaft and camshafts to rotate. Usually, the oil is sucked out of the oil pan by the oil pump, run through the oil filter to remove any grit, and then squirted under high pressure onto bearings and the cylinder walls. The oil goes down into the sump. There it is collected and the cycle repeats.

The exhaust system has an exhaust pipe and a muffler which reduces the sound, and a catalytic converter.

The emission control system is made up of a catalytic converter, sensors, actuators, and a computer to monitor and adjust everything. The exhaust stream has an oxygen sensor that makes sure that there is enough oxygen for the catalyst to work and can adjust things if needed.

The electrical system is made up of a battery and an alternator. The alternator connects to the engine by a belt and generates electricity to recharge the battery. The battery makes 12-volt power available to everything in the car that needs electricity, including the headlights, windshield wipers, ignition system, radio, power windows and seats, computers, and all through the vehicle’s wiring.

The difference between 4-cylinder and V6 engines

The number of cylinders (four or six) in an engine affects the performance of the engine. Each cylinder has a piston that pumps inside of it. The pistons connect and turn the crankshaft. The more pistons pumping, the more combustion and that gives more power in less time.

The 4-cylinder engines usually have straight (or inline) configurations while 6-cylinder engines have the more compact V shape, and so they are called V6 engines. American automakers have had a preference for the V6 engines in the past because they’re powerful and quiet but still light and compact enough to fit into most car designs. Recently, many Americans have come to appreciate the 4-cylinder engine for its fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Automakers are working hard to improve the overall performance of V6 engines. Many current V6 models come close to matching the gas mileage and emissions standards of the smaller, 4-cylinder engines.

So, there’s a quick explanation of your car engine parts and how they work. We are a mobile society and we love our vehicles. Keeping them well maintained and repaired is important because we depend on them so much. You don’t have to understand everything about how a car works because our technicians at Dakota Ridge Automotive in Littleton do. We’ll take great care of your vehicles.

Related Posts

No results found.