In the second installment of our Engines 101 series, a deep-dive into the technical side of automobiles, we’ll cover the big bang that moves nearly every vehicle down the road. We discussed several types of internal combustion engine configurations available in Park Place cars in our last Engines 101 article, and this time we’ll cover the Combustion Cycle that makes each of them work.
The internal combustion engine involves several major systems that work together to transfer potential energy from gasoline, to kinetic energy to move a vehicle. These systems include the fuel injection system, cylinders and pistons, intake and exhaust valves, and the ignition system. Let’s walk through the 4-step combustion process and discuss how each system works together to produce power.
The combustion cycle begins as the piston moves downward in its cylinder. This creates a vacuum, which draws in air and fuel from the fuel injection system as the intake valve opens.
When the piston reaches the bottom of the cylinder, the crankshaft begins pushing it upwards again. At this point, the intake valve closes, and the piston begins compressing the air/fuel mixture.
As the piston reaches the top of the cylinder, the ignition system creates a spark to ignite the compressed fuel. As the fuel burns, the gasses expand against the piston, pushing it downward and turning the crankshaft.
When the piston reaches the bottom of the cylinder again, the expansion of the burning fuel is complete, and the exhaust valve opens to allow the gases to escape. The piston moves back up, pushing the remaining exhaust out, and clearing the cylinder to repeat the cycle with a new intake stroke.
These 4 steps in the combustion process are the origin of the term “4-stroke engine” which is used in nearly all gasoline-powered modern vehicles. You will find that a similar process powers diesel engines, differing simply in their fuel type and source of ignition.
This combustion cycle repeats thousands of times a minute, in each of the engine’s cylinders, to provide the horsepower that we all enjoy. We hope this information helps you better understand and enjoy the mechanical masterpiece that your vehicle is.
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