For most American adults, driving a car is a daily ritual. As recently as 2013, 90% of Americans surveyed said that they commute to work. It isn’t surprising, then, that the average Joe or Jane knows a thing or two about cars: what they like in a vehicle, the basic differences between different kind of vehicles and technologies, and what they need to feel safe and happy on the road.
Yet to many of us, the specific ins and outs of how cars work remain elusive. If you hear “V8” and think of vegetable juice, if you think “dual overhead cams” sounds like a video surveillance system, if you think four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are the same thing, this series of introductory blogs is for you.
In this blog, we’ll be addressing one of the most fundamental and significant differences between different cars, even within the same model of vehicle: engine type. There’s too much going on underneath the hood to fit into a single post, so today we’ll focus on the bare basics of engine configuration.
The way that an engine’s cylinders are arranged is called its configuration. Although there are many ways to configure an engine, most vehicles in the United States use either an inline engine or a V engine.
Every cylinder in an engine contains a pistons, which turns the crankshaft. Engines with more cylinders, then, have the possibility of creating more power, but also potentially take up more space and weigh more.
Inline engines have, as you might guess, cylinders in a line. An inline engine typically features between 2 and 6 cylinders, and is easier to manufacture than a V engine.
A V engine has two banks of cylinders arranged at an angle to one another, making an engine that looks a lot like the letter V. V engines typically feature between 6 and 12 cylinders.
So when you go shopping for a car and are faced with a choice between a V8 engine and an inline 4 engine, you can imagine the V8 as being essentially two inline 4 engines at an angle to each other.
There’s a lot more to engines than the arrangement of their cylinders, and out next installment will touch on the basics of another crucial engine idiosyncrasy: displacement.