How a Car Works


When you first start driving, everything is new. Even the simplest of actions takes effort. But unless you’re a car fanatic, or among the cast of Cars 3 – the new characters, driving becomes pretty rote pretty quickly. You likely don’t think very much about how cars work except that you need the keys to make it start. Somewhere in your mind you know there’s a lot going on when you first turn the keys, but that doesn’t mean you understand the full mechanics behind it. Here’s a quick guide to understanding how a car works (specifically, how your car’s engine works.)

Let’s Get this Party Started

When it comes to internal combustion engines, that term refers to an engine that takes the fuel from the tank and air to create the energy to get the pistons moving. This is what will eventually move the car too. The key to remember is that this process is all happening within the engine. An external combustion engine will create the same reactions, but that process happens outside the engine and outside of taking a defensive driving course. It’s the engine or cylinder block that serves as the base of the engine. These are generally made with some type of aluminum alloy. The cylinders are the tubes that are cast into the block, and these are what ensure the pistons within your car go up and down. The more cylinders, the more power it generates. So, a V6 has six cylinders, and so on and so forth. Of course, you’ll also find other ducts on the engine that keep the fuel and coolant moving from place to place.

Small Wonders

Deeply hidden in the darkest corners of your car (well, sort of), you’ll find the chamber where everything comes to together to get the car running. The combustion chamber combines air, gas, and electricity, and then it puts it under a lot of pressure so your car can do its thing. It’s the cylinder head (a metal piece that sits above the cylinders) that allows the room for the combustion to happen. The force created by the combustion pushes the piston down, which then moves the crankshaft in the car. The crankshaft is what turns this vertical motion of the pistons into a circular motion so the car can go. This is basically a chain reaction, because it activates more parts of the car to ensure everything works correctly.

The Details

Once the crankshaft gets going, it activates the camshaft of the engine. This also works with the timing belt which monitors the valves of the car. The sportier cars tend to have four valves for maximum efficiency. If those valves don’t open and close at the right times, then your car is essentially losing energy (and valuable gas too.) The engine will stop working completely if the parts are out of sync. The rocker arms touch the camshaft, and help to open and close the valves. It’s called a rocker because it will actually rock back and forth to work the valves, so you can think of it is the teeter-totter of your car. The fuel injector is what works to get the fuel from the tank into your cylinders. A direct fuel kind of injector will put the fuel directly into the chamber while a ported fuel injection will put the fuel into the intake manifold until it makes it to the chamber.

Each car uses different technology, and every car maker thinks they’ve found the best way to deliver a quality product. While you may never know it all, knowing the basics can help you perform the maintenance you need to keep your car up to speed!

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