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About The Internal Combustion Engine

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

About The Internal Combustion Engine

Graham Baylis
October 20, 2012


Most motor vehicles use a internal combustion engine which, if you did not already know, makes use of very small controlled explosions to generate the power required to move it. This process is entirely safe and it is in a very enclosed space, so please don't think that the next time you drive your car, it is going to blow you up! Similar engines are used for petrol driven lawnmowers as well as motorbikes, quad bikes, heavy goods vehicles, vans and all manner of other petrol or diesel driven things. Over the years many advancements and improvements have been made to increase the efficiency of the engine and to make more use of the power created, but basically, the combustion engine is a fairly simple object.

Most vehicle engines work on a combustion cycle which comprises of four stages, these four steps produce the power which allows you to drive the car. The four stages are the intake stage, the compression stage, the combustion stage and finally, the exhaust stage. All four phases occur in very quick succession and are rapidly repeated until the engine is switched off. This process produces energy which makes the pistons move. The pistons are small metal rods which are attached through a connection rod to the crankshaft. When the valves open at the beginning or intake stage of the process, air and petrol is taken into the engine. The compression stage comes next and during this part of the cycle, air and fuel are reduced which allows the explosion to be controlled. An airtight seal is in place at this point to ensure that energy is not lost. At this stage the spark plug discharges a spark to enable the combustion stage and this ignites the fuel which creates the explosion. The final part of the process is the exhaust stage and this is where an exhaust valve opens to allow residue to pass through in the form of gas. This gas then filters down through the exhaust system where it leaves the car through the exhaust pipe.

If there are any problems during any phase of the four stroke cycle, the vehicle will not work and the combustion will not take place. Spark plugs are an important part of the cycle and they have improved over the years so that they work more quickly and can work for longer. This is important because it directly impacts how fast you can travel. When you press the accelerator petrol is injected into the intake so that the process begins and the spark plugs need to be able to keep up so that the faster you go, the faster the cycle goes. Years ago, spark plugs would become dirty or greasy which had a major effect on car performance, so they needed to be removed on a regular basis in order to be cleaned. This is not so much of an issue these days as they are enclosed to prevent contamination.

One thing that is important for the internal combustion engine is the correct lubrication. The engine will not work without the right type of motor oil to ensure that all moving parts are protected and properly lubricated. There are many different types of motor oil to suit the wide variety of cars that are available now, so refer to your owner's handbook for advice on which type to use.

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