The evolution of car engines runs parallel with the development of car models and designs. Simply put, it has quite a bit of history, too. Modern car engines are complicated and designed to meet various customers’ needs.
A few people prefer more power, while others focus only on fuel efficiency. To satisfy the needs of every customer, car manufacturers have devised several different car engine types over the decades. Today, we will explain each type of car engine available in the market.
Table of Contents
Internal Combustion Engine
An internal combustion engine (ICE) is a type of heat engine where the combustion of fuel takes place inside the chamber. When the fuel burns inside the engine, it causes the temperature and pressure to increase. This high pressure from combustion is then applied directly to power pistons, rotors, or a nozzle.
It’s the force that moves your car over a distance, transforming chemical energy into useful mechanical energy. These engines are generally used in automobile industries to power cars. An internal combustion engine can be categorized on many bases, for instance, type of ignition, number of strokes, design, and so on.
A heat engine can also be distinguished as an External Combustion Engine, where the combustion of fuel takes place in an external source. However, we will not elaborate on external combustion engine since it is not used in cars. So, let’s begin.
Based on the Number of Strokes
17. Two-Stroke Engine
Trabant uses a two-stroke engine
In a two-stroke engine, a piston completes a power cycle with two strokes — one up and one down inside the cylinder to complete one crankshaft revolution during a single fuel burn.
In this type of engine, the end of the combustion stroke and the beginning of the compression stroke happen simultaneously, which means the intake and exhaust functions occur at the same time. The two-stroke engine has high torque compared to a four-stroke engine.
16. Four-Stroke Engine
A four-stroke engine is an internal combustion engine variant in which the piston completes four strokes while turning a crankshaft. The mechanism here is different from that of two-stroke engines.
The piston moves two times up and down inside the cylinder, completing two crankshaft revolutions. This type of engine offers high mileage compared to two-stroke engines. Four-stroke engines are more commonly used in cars and trucks.
15. Six-Stroke Engine
Although the six-stroke internal combustion engine is in its development phase, it’s already creating a lot of buzz in the motor industry. The six-stroke engine has several dedicated advantages over traditional motors and may result in increased fuel efficiency, reduced mechanical complexity, and reduced emissions.
14. Reciprocating Engine
The main component of a reciprocating engine is a piston, which converts pressure into a rotating motion. There may be one or more pistons in an engine, each located inside a cylinder. When pressurized gas is injected and heated inside the cylinder, the piston(s) initiate reciprocating or to and fro motion. This motion is converted into rotary motion with the help of a crankshaft.
13. Wankel Engine
Wankel Engine cycle
The Wankel engine is also known as a rotor engine because it uses an eccentric rotary system (instead of a piston) to convert pressure into rotating motion. It is simpler, smoother, and much more compact compared to its more popular competitor, the reciprocating or piston engine.
Even though it is mechanically better than pistons, Wankel engines are not typically used in the auto industry. They are not efficient and suffer from poor fuel efficiency and emissions problems.
Since Wankel engines produce more power pulses per revolution compared to two-stroke and four-stroke engines, they are generally used in racing cars. One of the most popular examples is Mazda’s RX-8.
Based on the Ignition Method
12. Compression-Ignition Engine
In a compression ignition engine, fuel combustion in the chamber is triggered by the high temperatures achieved by gas or air due to adiabatic compression. Diesel engines are a perfect example of a compression ignition engine since it works only by compressing the air.
A diesel engine has numerous advantages over other internal combustion engines. Higher thermodynamic efficiency and reduced parasitic load on the engine are just a few of those.
11. Spark-Ignition engine
All petrol engines are based on spark ignition, where a spark plug ignites the combustion of the air-fuel mixture. Even though spark-ignition engines are commonly referred to as “petrol engines,” they can also run on autogas (LPG), methanol, bioethanol, compressed natural gas (CNG), hydrogen, and nitromethane.
10. Electric Motor
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Unlike traditional ICE-powered cars, electric cars get power from pre-installed rechargeable batteries. Not only do these batteries power the engine, but also other electrical equipment.
Electric motors convert electrical energy into mechanical energy. They are more effective than traditional ICE in converting stored energy. They also have higher onboard efficiency than diesel engines. Most electric cars either use lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries.
Even though electric cars became somewhat popular in the late 20th century, the first-ever electric car was produced in the late 1880s.
Since 2008, due to concerns about increasing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel prices, electric vehicles have experienced tremendous growth, especially in developed countries like the USA, Canada, and the UK.
HCCI, or Homogeneous charge compression engine, is a revolutionary step towards minimizing emissions and maximizing fuel efficiency. The HCCI technology combines the characteristics of conventional gasoline engines and diesel engines to produce a hybrid solution.
Although its lesser core temperature (while burning fuel) causes a negligible amount of Nitrogen oxide emissions, it leads to incomplete burning of fuel, which results in relatively high carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions. As of today, no HCCI engines are produced commercially. However, we have several functioning HCCI prototypes.
One such prototype is Mazda’s Skyactiv-G Generation 2, which utilizes the HCCI combustion to achieve a compression ratio of 18:1. The company considers it a major breakthrough in engine technology
Based on the Number of Cylinders
8. Single Cylinder Engine
Single-cylinder engines have only one cylinder connected to the crankshaft. They are compact, lightweight, and have a better weight-to-power ratio. Single-cylinder engines are used in motorcycles, motorscooters, dirt bikes, and go-karts.
7. Multiple Cylinder Engine
A multiple-cylinder engine is the opposite of a single-cylinder variant: the engine has multiple cylinders instead of one. It can be either a 2-stroke or 4-stroke engine, either diesel or spark ignition.
They offer several advantages over single-cylinder engines. It can achieve higher revolutions per minute (RPM) and has a superior capability to neutralize imbalances.
According to the Arrangement of the Cylinder
6. Inline engine
What does it mean when someone says it’s an inline engine? Well, it is just an alignment or the shape of cylinders. In inline engines, cylinders are arranged in a straight line — one behind the other — along with the length of the crankshaft.
Among its three variants, inline-four is the most popular in the automotive industry as it is compact, fuel-efficient, and gives a higher power-to-weight ratio than flat-six or eight engines.
5. V engine
The cylinders and pistons in a V-type engine are aligned in two separate planes in such a way that they appear to be in a “V” shape when viewed from the top. The unique shape of this engine substantially reduces the overall engine weight and length compared to inline engines.
4. W Engine
The W engine first came into existence in 1909, when the Anzani three-bank engine powered the Blériot XI aircraft to cross the English channel. However, the first commercial use of this engine in the automotive industry was achieved by Volkswagen. The W (or double V) shaped engine has three different configurations, which are as follows:
- The first configuration consists of three banks of cylinders sharing a common crankshaft. It is also known as the broad arrow configuration due to its resemblance to the British broad arrow property mark.
- The second one is four banks of cylinders sharing a common crankshaft. This is also known as a ‘double-V’ engine.
- The third and last configuration features an engine with two banks of cylinders with two crankshafts.
The W-shaped engines are mostly used in Volkswagen cars, most notably in Bugatti Veyron.
3. OPOC engine
An OPOC engine consists of two cylinders with a piston at both ends. There is no cylinder head and, thus, no valves. Compared to conventional engines, the opposed cylinder opposed-piston engine has very low bearing loads, meaning there will be less friction. And since it is quite small in size, it has a high power-to-weight ratio.
According to Air-intake Process
2. Naturally Aspirated
The Naturally Aspirated Engine is a type of ICE in which air intake depends solely on atmospheric pressure and does not rely on forced induction through a turbocharger or a supercharger. Many sports cars specifically use naturally aspirated engines to avoid turbo lag. Furthermore, most automobile petrol engines, as well as many small engines used for non-automotive purposes, are naturally aspirated.
1. Supercharged and Turbocharged Engine
Supercharged and Turbocharged engines have some fundamental differences. A supercharger uses a crankshaft to drive energy and produce power rather than an exhaust stream, like in turbochargers.
Superchargers are connected directly to the engine via a belt, and thus, they can achieve speeds up to 50,000 RPM. In contrast, turbochargers are not directly connected to the engine and can go up to 15,000 RPM. Moreover, Turbochargers are equipped with smog-altering instruments that lower carbon emissions, so they are more eco-friendly than superchargers.
More To Know
What is the difference between the V6 and V8 engines?
As the name suggests, a V6 engine has six cylinders and a V8 engine has eight cylinders. While the former offers better fuel economy, the latter provides more power than V6 engines.
|V6 Engine||V8 Engine|
|Less weight||Heavier than V6 engines|
|Better Fuel economy||More horsepower and torque|
|Lower maintenance cost||High maintenance cost|
|Suitable for mid-size vehicles||Best for muscle and performance cars|
Which car has the V16 engine?
V16 engines are less common than V4, V6, V8, and V12 engines. They were used in some luxury cars in the 20th century. The Cadillac V-16 and Cizeta-Moroder V16T are the two most popular cars that feature a 16-cylinder engine in a unique configuration.
Today, these engines are used in stationary power generators, marine craft, and railroad locomotives.
Are diesel engines more fuel-efficient than gasoline engines?
Yes, diesel engines can achieve 25-30% better mileage than gas engines in specific driving conditions. This is because
- Diesel fuel contains more energy per liter than gasoline
- Diesel engines operate at much higher compression ratios than gasoline engines.
- They run with a leaner air-fuel mixture compared to gasoline engines
What’s the most common type of hybrid engine?
Hybrid engines combine two or more power sources to enhance efficiency and decrease emissions. The most common type of hybrid engine is a gasoline-electric engine. It contains three major components:
- Internal combustion engine powered by gasoline
- Electric motor powered by a high-voltage battery pack, typically lithium-ion
- A power control unit (or inverter) that controls the electricity flow between the battery and electric motor
What is the difference between a supercharger and a turbocharger?
While both are used in internal combustion engines to increase the power output, they operate differently and have distinct characteristics.
For example, a supercharger is a mechanically driven component connected to the engine’s crankshaft through a chain or belt. It is directly powered by the engine.
A turbocharger, on the other hand, is driven by exhaust gases expelled from the engine. It has two parts: a turbine connected to the exhaust manifold and a compressor connected to the air intake.
|Mechanical (Directly driven)||Exhaust gas driven|
|Immediate power delivery||Can suffer from Turbo Lag|
|Consistent power throughout the RPM||Excels at high RPM|
|Generates heat||Generates less heat|
|Has mechanical Noise||Quieter operation|
|Suitable for low-end torque||Suitable for high-end power|
What’s the future of car engines?
While we cannot predict the future with certainty, there are some major trends and developments shaping the future of car engines.
- Electrification: Automakers are investing heavily in EV infrastructure and battery technology
- Hydrogen Fuel Cells are being explored as an alternative to internal combustion engines
- Alternative Fuels like synthetic fuels, biofuels, and natural gas are being studied to reduce dependence on petroleum-based fuels
- Advanced Materials, such as carbon fiber composites, are gaining popularity due to their low weight and high strength
- Autonomous Vehicles may change how engines are used. They can optimize fuel efficiency by controlling acceleration patterns more precisely than human drivers.
Electric Vehicle market size
According to the Beyond Market Insights research report, the global electric vehicle market size will exceed $1.1 trillion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 22.5% from 2023 to 2030. Improvement in battery technology and lower emissions of EVs are some of the major factors behind this impressive growth.
Interesting Facts and Stats
The World’s Smallest Production Car Engine
The smallest production car engine ever made is in the Peel P50, a tiny British car from the 1960s. This engine was really small – it had three cylinders and was only 49 cubic centimeters in size. Despite its size, this little engine could generate about 4.2 horsepower, accelerating the car at a top speed of 37 miles per hour.
The Bugatti Veyron’s Power
The Bugatti Veyron is equipped with an 8.0-liter, quad-turbocharged W16 engine that produces a mind-boggling 1,001 horsepower and 1,500 lb-ft of torque. Its later versions, like the Veyron Super Sport, increased the power output to 1,200 horsepower.
The First Mass-Produced Hybrid Car
Toyota Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid car. It was introduced in Japan in 1997 and later released in other markets, including the United States in 2000.
The Engine in a Rocket Car
Rocket cars are a special category of vehicles built for the sole purpose of achieving extraordinarily high speeds on land. The ThrustSSC, for example, holds a land speed record of 763 miles per hour. It is powered by two Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines originally used in the F-4 Phantom II jet fighter