Types of Car Engines


There are many important parts of a vehicle that help keep it running and able to move from place to place. One of the most vital that needs to be working properly at all times is the engine. It holds the power necessary for your car to function.

Did you know there are many kinds of car engines out there? The layouts and cylinder configurations can vary. Keep reading to find out more about how vehicle engines work, as well as some of the different layouts and configurations.

How Car Engines Work

While there are several engine types when it comes to size and layout, all late-model vehicles (apart from hybrid electric models) use the internal combustion engine.

Combustion is the process that results from energy being released from the fuel and air mixture present inside an engine. An internal combustion engine ignites and combusts fuel to convert energy into torque, or mechanical energy.

Internal combustion engines feature fixed cylinders and moving pistons. The mechanical energy that’s generated is used to help push the pistons, which then rotates the crankshaft. Gears that are set in motion in the powertrain help move the wheels on the vehicle.

Combustion Cycle

There are thousands of controlled explosions occurring every minute the engine is running. Most internal combustion engines have a four-stroke combustion cycle:

  • Intake: The air-fuel mixture gets drawn in through intake valves and sent to the cylinders.
  • Compression: Both intake and exhaust valves are closed during the compression stroke. As pistons move up, the air and fuel mixture gets compressed toward the spark plugs.
  • Combustion: The spark plugs ignite the air-fuel mixture with a spark, creating a small explosion. This causes the pistons to get pushed down forcefully.
  • Exhaust: The final process in the cycle is the exhaust stroke. The exhaust valve opens, and gases created during combustion are expelled as the piston moves back up.

Diesel engines are also often four-stroke engines, but they’re different from engines that are gasoline-powered in how they complete the combustion process. Instead of using spark plugs to ignite the air-fuel mixture, they rely on high compression ratios.

Engine Layouts

While most vehicles use internal combustion engines, the setup of these engines can vary. The cylinder layouts can vary, depending on the amount of power a manufacturer wants the car to have or to ensure the engine will fit the space that’s allotted.

The most common cylinder layouts include:

  • Straight: Cylinders in a straight engine layout are arranged in a line parallel to the car from front to back. This allows more cylinders to fit, making this layout popular for powerful sedan models.
  • Inline: Inline engines feature cylinders that are arranged side-by-side and upright. This is a popular configuration, since it allows for a smaller, compact engine.

  • V: When viewed from the front, the cylinders in a V-engine are arranged in a V-shape. They feature the cylinders arranged at a 60-degree angle. These engines allow a lot of cylinders to fit and are often found in high-performance models.
  • Flat: Also referred to as a boxer engine, the cylinders lie horizontally. This engine type is uncommon and is most often found in Porsche vehicles. They do offer the benefit of a low center of gravity within the engine bay.

Cylinder Configurations

The number of cylinders a vehicle has helps determine the amount of power an engine can produce. Items like turbochargers allow for extra compression in the combustion chamber, meaning engine power can be increased without adding more cylinders.

The smallest engine configuration is a twin-cylinder, but these don’t offer much power or capacity. However, they are sometimes found on smaller eco-friendly engines.

Three-cylinder engines typically are arranged in a straight-engine layout and can sometimes be found on smaller vehicles or hatchbacks. This compact design provides good fuel economy, and cars can still have a decent amount of power with the addition of a turbocharger.

The most common engine configuration is the four-cylinder, which is found on a variety of vehicles from small to midrange. A four-cylinder engine is set up in an inline design and offers a good amount of engine output.

The number of cylinders in an engine can continue to increase, like six-cylinder engines that are found on high-end performance and sports cars.

Get Hands-On Training With Engines at UTI

Students in the Automotive Technology program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI) are taught the fundamentals of car maintenance and repair. This instruction helps prepare students for entry-level careers as automotive technicians.1

The program can be completed in less than a year7 and covers a range of industry-relevant topics, including working on different kinds of engines in the Automotive Engine Service & Repair course. Students also get the opportunity to perform an engine teardown, blueprint and rebuild during the Power & Performance lab.37

This experience can make a big difference when applying for jobs in the industry. Employers are looking to hire qualified individuals with the right training and education, and 4 out of 5 UTI graduates find employment in careers in their field of study within one year of graduation.3

To learn more, visit our program page and request information to get in touch with an Admissions Representative today.

UTI Campuses That Offer Automotive Technician Training

NASCAR Technical Institute Campuses That Offer Automotive Technician Training

With classes starting every 3-6 weeks, no need to wait to start your career.
Hands-on training.Get hands on experience with the industry's leading brands.
No Pressure to commit.Get answers to your questions without any obligations.
Or Call Now 800.834.7308

1 ) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.
2 ) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit www.uti.edu/disclosures.
3 ) Reserved.
7 ) Some programs may require longer than one year to complete.
37 ) Power & Performance courses are not offered at NASCAR Technical Institute. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary. For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit www.uti.edu/disclosures.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


Take 60 seconds and find out how you can get trained.

Step 1 of 1

By submitting this form, I agree that MIAT College of Technology, Universal Technical Institute, Inc., Custom Training Group, Inc. and their representatives may email, call, and / or text me with marketing messages about educational programs and services, as well as for school-related communications, at any phone number I provide, including a wireless number, using prerecorded calls or automated technology. I understand that my consent is not required to apply, enroll or make any purchase. I further understand and agree that I may instead call MIAT at 1-800-477-1310 for Canton, MI and 1-888-547-7047 for Houston, TX or UTI at 1-800-913-7524 to request admission information. I understand that if I do submit this form, I may unsubscribe within marketing emails or opt-out of text messages at any time by replying “STOP.” Standard text message and data rates may apply.By submitting this form, I further understand and agree that all information provided is subject to UTI’s Privacy Policy available at www.uti.edu/privacy-policy and UTI's SMS Terms and Conditions available at www.uti.edu/sms-terms-conditions.