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How a Car Engine Works – A Simple Explanation
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01 Jul, 2024

How a Car Engine Works – A Simple Explanation

Despite the rapid adoptions of electric vehicles, the internal combustion engine (ICE) is the beating heart of most vehicles on the road today. Understanding how an ICE works is crucial for hundreds of millions of drivers worldwide, and this brief guide brought to you by Wrights Car Care will break down the workings of a car engine in a way that’s easy to grasp, even if you’re not a mechanic.

If your vehicle shakes when driving, makes unusual noises, or produces a burning smell, then it’s probably time to visit an auto repair shop. Early intervention can save your engine from fatal problems. Call Wrights Car Care to schedule a convenient appointment today.

The Basics: What is an internal combustion engine?

An internal combustion engine is a complex machine that converts fuel into mechanical energy. This energy turns the wheels and moves your car forward. The engine achieves this through a series of controlled explosions, or combustions, inside the engine's cylinders.

The key components of an internal combustion engine.

Though there are countless components that go into a functional ICE engine, key components include:

  • Cylinders: The engine’s powerhouses where fuel combustion happens.
  • Pistons: Cylindrical components that move up and down inside the cylinders.
  • Crankshaft: Converts the pistons’ up-and-down motion into rotational motion to turn the wheels.
  • Camshaft: Opens and closes the engine’s valves at the right times.
  • Valves: Control the flow of air and fuel into the cylinders and allow exhaust gases to exit.
  • Spark Plugs: Ignite the air-fuel mixture to start the combustion process.

The four-stroke cycle powering your engine.

A typical ICE operates on a four-stroke cycle, consisting of intake, compression, power, and exhaust strokes. Let’s look at the step-by-step process:

  • Intake Stroke: The cycle begins with the intake valve opening as the piston moves down the cylinder. This downward motion creates a vacuum, drawing a mixture of air and fuel into the cylinder.
  • Compression Stroke: The intake valve closes, and the piston moves back up the cylinder. This upward movement compresses the air-fuel mixture, making it more volatile and ready for ignition.
  • Power Stroke: At the top of the compression stroke, the spark plug fires and ignites the compressed air-fuel mixture. The explosion forces the piston back down with tremendous force, creating the power needed to turn the crankshaft.
  • Exhaust Stroke: Finally, the exhaust valve opens as the piston moves up again, pushing the burned gases out of the cylinder. The exhaust gases exit through the exhaust system, and the cycle begins again.

Other components to consider

For the engine to run smoothly, it needs a precise mix of fuel and air. This is managed by the engine’s fuel injection system or carburetor. Moreover, all of these moving parts generate a lot of heat, which makes lubrication and cooling mandatory at all times. Periodic oil changes are essential!

There is also the timing and synchronization. The timing belt/chain and the timing sensors serve these purposes. The timing belt connects the crankshaft and camshaft, ensuring the valves open and close at the right times. Modern engines use sensors to monitor and adjust timing electronically for optimal performance.

Having car problems? Call the uniformed professionals

The internal combustion engine is a marvel of engineering that has powered vehicles for over a century. Whether you're a seasoned driver or new to the road, knowing the basics of how your car’s engine operates is valuable.

Routine maintenance is non-negotiable. Still, problems can arise unexpectedly. If you recognize issues, then call Wrights Car Care to schedule an affordable and reliable auto repair service. Our team is on standby to take your call today.

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My experience with Wrights Car Care was probably the best car repair experience I could ask for. The last thing that you want to worry about while putting yourself through college is whether or not you can trust the people working on your car.  Wrights Car Care was very honest about exactly what the problems were with my vehicle and which issues needed to be addressed immediately and which ones could wait.  I have had no issues with any of the repairs I have had. They really have the customer's best interest in mind and it shows!

Susan Knippenberg

have been going to Wright's for numerous years and David has always been honest and helpful and concerned about each customer and their circumstances.  They always give detailed reports about what needs to be fixed and even a time frame if it can wait a while or needs immediate attention.  I really appreciate that personal attention.

Marcia Werner

This place is absolute gold. We moved to the neighborhood 3 years ago, and they have been our go-to car place for every issue, large or small, ever since. It's like bringing my car to a trusted and knowledgeable family member. They have done everything from major repairs to minor tune-ups for us, and we have never been dissatisfied. Twice I have brought my car not sure what was going on, and it turned out to be a small enough issue that they fixed it on the spot for no charge! Honest, competent, quick, fair, and kind. You can't do better.

Amy Robertson

Wrights car care rocks!! I had a car issue with a quick timeline to get back to college. David got me in and out quickly, with the part I needed, and didn't try to sell me something I didn't. You cannot beat the kindness and service I experienced!! We have gone to Wrights Car Care before, and this is why we keep going back. THANK YOU!!

Charlotte Matthews