A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Car Engine Types and How They Work

Engines are the heart of your car, converting fuel you put into them into energy that propels it forward. But did you know there are different types of engines?

Engine operation is determined by the fuel type and number of cylinders it contains. Here’s a basic guide to understanding all these different types of engines and how they function.

Inline or Straight

An inline or straight engine is a type of piston engine with all its cylinders aligned along the crankshaft. This layout is often found in sedans and powerful hatchbacks from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Honda.

Inline engines boast a straight layout, allowing for more cylinders and greater power output. Furthermore, inline engines are easier to construct than flat or V-engines due to their simpler construction requirements.

An additional advantage of an inline engine is that it requires only half as many camshafts compared to V configurations (if using overhead cams). Furthermore, it may be lighter in weight.

An inline engine features a lower center of gravity, which helps with aerodynamics and fuel economy. Furthermore, it produces more torque at lower revs than other types of engines.


A car engine works by burning a mixture of fuel and air inside one or more metal tubes known as cylinders. The hot, expanding gas from combustion drives a piston down, while then turning the crankshaft for power delivery to the wheels.

Generally, engines with more cylinders produce greater horsepower and torque, as the more cylinders there are, the greater volume of fuel can be burned simultaneously.

However, the number of cylinders isn’t always an indicator of performance. Car manufacturers take into account many factors when selecting an engine’s number of cylinders, such as power output, fuel economy and noise emissions.

V-shaped engines feature two rows of cylinders set against each other at either 60 degree or 90 degree angles (some Ferraris even have 180 degrees!). This design is typically found only in premium and high performance cars due to its compactness and pleasant sound signature.


Modern combustion engines typically utilize the same core components – spark plugs, pistons and more – but each car manufacturer will customize the layout (the way these parts are organized) to meet their performance goals and needs.

The flat engine, also known as a boxer engine, features its cylinders set horizontally on either side of a crankshaft. First designed in 1896, this design has since been adopted by various automakers such as Volkswagen and Porsche.

Similar to inline and V-type engines, flat engines feature a low center of gravity which can significantly improve car handling. Mounting the engine low on a chassis helps reduce body roll while improving steering response. Furthermore, flat engines work best for rear-engine layouts since they take up less space while keeping weight low – improving driving experiences for both driver and passengers alike.


If you want to fully comprehend the inner workings of your car, becoming familiar with its various engine types is a must. Gaining this knowledge will enable you to take better care of it and guarantee its optimal performance.

Most people understand that piston engines create power by compressing fuel and air into small gas pockets, which are then ignited to generate rotational force.

However, the rotary motor revolutionizes this process. Instead of employing pistons, these engines utilize curved triangular rotors that create fluctuating air pockets between their rotor and housing walls in certain places.

This design allows the rotors to divide into four distinct ‘zones,’ creating three power strokes instead of the standard two for a four-stroke piston engine. As each zone expands and contracts as it turns, this cycle repeats itself to generate power within the engine.

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