Automotive Fundamentals 101 | What are Engine Cylinders?

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Do you love cars, but struggle with the lingo? Perhaps all that automotive jargon is making it difficult to feel as passionate about the Automotive industry. Here at THE Blog About Cars we know how scary and impenetrable the world of petrolheads is – and we want to make it easy for you to get involved. So, week by week we are going to take a common yet potentially confusing Automotive term and explain it for you – a fast-track Automotive Fundamentals 1010, if you will.

Lesson 2: What are Engine Cylinders?

We all hear about engine cylinders on a day to day basis when we talk about or read about cars. A single-cylinder engine, a 4-cylinder engine, and in the news at the moment, Audi’s response to the VW Up!’s 3-cylinder fuel-saving engine. So…

What is an engine cylinder?

The cylinder sits at the core of the engine, and is the space in which the piston moves. To understand why we even have this we need to know that a piston helps change fluid pressure to mechanical energy or vice versa. It slides up and down in the cylinder, working as a stopper that compresses the fluid (diesel, petrol etc) without leaks. The heated gases (fluids) in the compustion chamber force the piston down on the power stroke and transfer mechanical energy through the connecting rod into the crankshaft.

That’s the technical bit, but don’t worry, just knowing what it is and it’s basic purpose is enough for most conversations.

Inline 4 cylinder engine

An Inline 4-Cylinder Engine

 (Image from How Stuff Works)

What do engine cylinders mean for your car?

If you put a tiny amount of high-energy fuel in a small, enclosed space and ignite it, a lot of energy is released in the form of expanding gas, and this is essentially what happens in the engine cylinder. This is the power that your engine produces, hence the fact that engines with more cylinders – V6, V8 or even V10 – are so popular. Of course, more cylinders means more potential power produced, but of course it also takes more fuel, generally reducing the fuel efficiency. This explains why companies like Audi are offering 4-cylinder engines that, when required, will shut down two of those cylinders – offering greater fuel efficiency in situations where less power is needed.

It is also important to remember that whilst more cylinders generally equals the potential for more power, there are plenty of other factors that influence whether the car actually has more. In reality all sorts of things effect the power – torque, friction, car size and turbos, to name but a few.

Do you know what an engine cylinder is now?

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2 Opinions

  • Dan Tole

    It’s amazing how little the typical car owner understands about how a car actually works.  They usually don’t go researching until there’s a problem.  These weekly posts will definitely be beneficial to a lot of people. 

  • Kitagawa

    Agreed Dan, and an excellent explanation given. Surprising how much there is to every car component! I read earlier a Boeing plane has 6 million parts, phenomenal. 

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