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Different Types Of Automobile Engines

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Different Types Of Automobile Engines

Lawrence Reaves
October 30, 2012

Understanding your vehicle's engine is one of the best ways to learn more about your car and how to take good care of it. Additionally, the more you know about different types of engines, the easier it will be for you to decide which future cars to purchase based on your engine preferences. While engines may seem quite complicated, they fall under two general and simple categories: internal combustion engines and external combustion engines. Here is a bit more information about the two.

Internal Combustion Engines

Just like their name suggests, internal combustion engines are designed so that fuel combustion takes place internally. There are two different types of internal combustion engines: reciprocating and rotary. Reciprocating internal combustion engines move either back and forth or up and down. Most of the engines in modern-day automobiles use reciprocating internal combustion engines. Rotary engines move rotationally and are used very rarely. The only engine that is sometimes placed in cars and uses a rotary internal combustion engine is the Wankel engine.

External Combustion Engines

External combustion engines are designed so that the fuel combustion takes place externally (which is just the opposite of an internal combustion engine). You won't often see an external combustion engine in action because they are quite rare and are not often seen in the world of regular automobiles. All steam engines are considered external combustion engines.

Fuel Type

Engines are further categorized by the type of fuel that they take. Gasoline engines are fueled by regular gasoline, while diesel engines are fueled by diesel. There are also new fuel categories that have recently been introduced, including methanol, electricity, propane, hydrogen, and natural gas. These fuel types require specific types of engines that are designed to able to run on these specific types of fuel.

Number Of Cylinders

Engines are also categorized by the number of cylinders that they possess. A vehicle's engine can have anywhere between three and twelve cylinders. The more cylinders a vehicle has, the more powerful it is. For example, a vehicle with a 6-cylinder engine has more power than a vehicle with a four-cylinder engine. For people who place great emphasis on a vehicle's power and speed, the amount of cylinders in the engine is a very important feature.

Cylinder Arrangement

In addition to the number of cylinders in an engine, the arrangement of those cylinders further differentiates engines from one another. The cylinders in an engine can be arranged in either a "V" shape or inline. V-shaped cylinders are arranged in side-by-side rows that look like a "V". Inline cylinders are arranged in one row.


Engines can have two different compression types: spark-ignited or compression-ignited. These different ignition types refer to the way that fuel is ignited to give the engine power. Spark-ignited engines ignite the fuel with a spark that is generated from the spark plug, while compression-ignited engines ignite the fuel by compressing the air until it becomes hot enough to ignite. Diesel engines are compression-ignited and gasoline engines are spark-ignited.

The above engine categories are not all-inclusive, but they include some of the most important categories for distinguishing between engines of various types.

Lawrence Reaves writes for Woodfins Auto Parts -http://www.woodfins.com- , a guaranteed used parts dealer offering engines, tail lights and windows. Take a look at the many products they offer, here --

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