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Engine nitty-gritty (Part II of II)

In Part II we jump off with cylinders!


Each cylinder in the car contains a piston that pumps within said cylinder. The pistons then connect to a crankshaft, which they turn. If there are more pistons pumping, then more power can be generated in a shorter period. An engine needs power and the unit of power that makes it go is the cylinder.

The most common engines are four-cylinder engines and arrive in what is known as “straight” (or inline) configurations. The more popular (at least in the U.S.) are 6-cylinder engines and are configured in a compact “V” form (V6 engines). Cylinders will be grouped in a line (“I4” or the “inline 4”) or in two parallel rows (a V engine). 

An engine is measured or valued by displacement and typically expressed in cubic centimeters (cc) or liters (L) depending on the country. For example, an engine might have four cylinders with each cylinder measuring 569cc. Add that up (4 times) and the total is 2,276cc. Manufacturers will then round that number off and refer to the engine as a 2.3-liter engine.


A turbocharger is a specific device designed to boost power. If one combines a turbocharger with a four-cylinder engine, for example,the result will be what a 6-cylinder engine churns out. The benefit here is it will use less fuel, which saves money at the pump. When an engine has a turbocharger, you will generally see a “T” after their displacement. For example, “2.0T” is a two-cylinder engine with an integrated turbocharger.

These types of engines have been popular for U.S. automakers because they are quiet and powerful. In the past American consumers devalued 4-cylinder engines, maintaining they were short on acceleration and weak. But many Japanese manufacturers in the 1980s shattered this myth when they began to manufacture four-cylinder cars that were extremely efficient (for the time), and Americans came on to appreciate models like the Toyota Camry for instance.

Turbocharging technology has taken this to another level and models like the Ford EcoBoost for example couples a four-cylinder with turbocharging to mimic V6 performance. Whereas in the past the difference between a four-cylinder and V6 was vast, additional technology has narrowed the gap considerably. Trucks and trailers that need to haul big loads rely on a V6, but everyday cars can still eke out a tremendous amount of power with a four-cylinder. 

This is an extensive subject, but this two-part post provides the nuts and bolts as to what’s under that hood. It just isn’t a shiny piece of metal it’s the guts people!

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