Making the Wheels Go Round

Some people love engines. They know the details of what makes a car run. Then, there are those people who just put gas in and hope it goes. For those who are genuinely curious about how their cars run, the process can be demystified a bit.

Basically, what a car engine does is turn gasoline or diesel fuel into the force that moves your car. The idea is to enclose a small amount of fuel in a very tiny space and then ignite it to create energy. In the case of a car, this generally occurs in a four-step process.

The intake stroke does exactly what it sounds like it does: The valve opens and takes in a cylinder’s worth of air, combined with a very small amount of fuel. Likewise, the compression stroke compresses this combination of fuel and air to spur the ignition.

The combustion stroke involves a spark from, you guessed it, the spark plug, which causes the mixture in the cylinder to burn. On the final stroke (the exhaust stroke), a valve opens to release the vapour (a by-product of the combustion), which then exits the car through the exhaust pipe. The energy created by this process drives the piston up and down, which causes the crankshaft to turn a motion, resulting in the wheels of your car moving.

That’s a very simplified explanation, but it should give you a pretty good idea of the concept behind the internal combustion engine that moves your car. There are other engines – rotary engines, for instance – that work somewhat differently. Whenever you have questions about your engine, turn to a qualified technician for answers.