Different Types of Car Engines Explained

Different Types of Car Engines
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Cars are self-propelled vehicles and have become integral parts of society.


Under the hood are different types of car engines, each bringing a peculiarity to the mix. They tuck away out of sight but are at the heart of every vehicle.

The remarkable engineering in cars begins with the engine type. They go beyond powering the vehicle to determine the quality of the ride.

As a result, manufacturers have developed different car engine types to bring innovation and versatility.

In a few minutes, we will take you around the different types of car engines. You will learn about what makes them unique, their advantages, and their limitations.

So, let’s get the ride started. 

How Many Types of Car Engines Are There?

The technology of car engines has come a long way since their inception in 1885.

They have gone beyond the simple steam engine to a more intricate and complex piece of engineering.

Nevertheless, all the options you see fall into the following categories:

  • Internal combustion engine
  • Electric powertrain
  • Hybrid engines

These three categories have given birth to diverse designs and implementations.

The constant race to produce more efficient powertrains and adhere to environmental-friendly regulations has made them better.

Although today’s engines resemble what we had decades ago, they are miles apart in technology.

New regulations have stiffened the rope on manufacturers, inevitably giving rise to more efficient engines.

Different Types of Car Engines

1. Internal Combustion Engines

This power train is among the most common and versatile in use today. It began life as a one-cylinder, two-stroke unit in the 19th century and has evolved into different configurations.

Manufacturers continue to tune this engine type to deliver more power and efficiency. They are quite powerful and versatile, as seen in the following paragraphs.

Internal combustion engines rely on combustion inside a controlled chamber to produce power. The power then transfers to the wheels through a powertrain that begins with the flywheel.

Among the three types of car engines listed above, it is the only type to uses fossil fuel, petroleum. It could be gas or diesel, depending on the type of combustion.

That leads us to the two main types of internal combustion engines.

  • Spark ignition engines
  • Compression ignition engines

Types of Internal Combustion Engines

They include the following:

Spark Ignition Engines

That roaring sound you often hear from supercars comes from spark ignition engines, albeit with some modifications. They power a higher percentage of cars with internal combustion powertrains.

This engine type has cylinders or combustion chambers, where the air-fuel reaction occurs. Injectors feed fuel into the chamber, while intake valves allow a specific quantity of air to mix with the fuel.

Then, a spark plug ignites the mixture, causing it to burn. That reaction produces vast energy, pushing the piston in the chamber down. This action turns the flywheel through the crankshaft connection.

At this point, we should list out the components for clarity and easy differentiation from other types of car engines. The parts are as follows:

  • Cylinder: This chamber houses the combustion process
  • Intake valves: Release air into the combustion chamber
  • Injectors or carburetors: Inject metered fuel into the chamber
  • Spark plug: Ignites the air-fuel mixture
  • Exhaust valves: Removes the burnt mixture
  • Pistons: Transmit the downward force of the combustion to the crankshaft
  • Crankshaft: Transforms the vertical motion of the pistons into a circular motion.
  • Flywheel: Carries the energy from the engine and connects with the transmission.

The core component of spark ignition engines is the spark plug. Without it, there will be no combustion and no power generation.

These power units use the lighter form of petroleum, gasoline, to create the needed power.

As a result, they have quicker burns and demand more frequent refills. Let us see how the diesel counterpart will fare.

Compression-Ignition Engines

This type of vehicle power is similar to the spark ignition engine. It uses the combustion chamber and all other latter components but ditches the spark plug.

The combustion in this type of car engine occurs through the combination of heat, air, and pressure. Once the pressure from the piston reaches a set value, it ignites the air-fuel mixture.

Lighter petroleum products like gasoline cannot combust under pressure. As a result, compression ignition engines use heavier products, among which diesel is the primary one.

The rest of the process, from combustion to powering the transmission, remains the same. However, the use of diesel does have some advantages.

Diesel is a heavier hydrocarbon and burns much slower than gasoline. Therefore, the refilling frequency is lower than the spark ignition variants.

They can also produce more power at a certain weight than the gasoline variants. Hence, their use in heavy-duty trucks and vehicles.

The compression and spark ignition variants are among the most common types of car engines you will see on the road. However, new regulations are phasing them out—more on that in a bit.

Configurations of the Internal Combustion Engine

Internal combustion powertrains come in different configurations, depending on the manufacturer’s design.

Each design, based on the positioning of the cylinders, has unique advantages and limitations.

The configurations are as follows:

In-line Engines

This configuration is the most basic of them all. Its simplicity and ease of build make it the choice design for manufacturers who go with combustion types of car engines.

The cylinders are laid out in a straight line pattern, called “straight engines.” They could stay parallel or perpendicular, depending on the layout.

Either way, their compact nature gives them an advantage over other configurations.

This car engine is prevalent in entry-level cars, including hatchbacks and sedans.

They consume less fuel and often have the least power production, along with other types of car engines. However, add-ons like turbochargers can boost their power.


In this configuration, the cylinders form a V pattern with an equal number on either side of the V.

They are powerful and present in almost all high-performance vehicles. V engines have some advantages over straight variants.

Manufacturers can add more cylinders while maintaining a compact look. They can still obtain incredible power, even with their small size.

Notwithstanding, V engines carry more vibration than other types of car engines. That has not stopped them from being the power source for sports cars and hypercars.

Flat Engines

The flat configuration is the last and less common type of internal combustion engine. In this design, the cylinders stay horizontally on either side of the crankshaft.

Flat engines have a low center of gravity, which improves handling dramatically. However, they are more expensive and complex to manufacture.

Only a few car brands still manufacture them, including Subaru and Porsche.

Increasing Power With More Cylinders

The primary purpose of adding more cylinders to an internal combustion engine is to increase its power. The primary form is the four-cylinder configuration.

Since there is only so much power you can get from four cylinders, car makers often go for six cylinders and even eight cylinders for their powerful models.

Nonetheless, the added combustion chambers lead to higher fuel combustion.

Most supercar brands have eight to ten or twelve cylinders, naturally aspirated or turbocharged. A few others go with more cylinders, like Bugatti with its W16 engines, which are immensely powerful.

Limitations of Internal Combustion Engines

These types of car engines have the following limitations:

1. Emissions

Regardless of the giant strides in their engineering, internal combustion engines are not emission-free.

With global warming occupying most discussions on climate, they are seeing a gradual decline in usage. Most countries plan on phasing out these power units by 2050.

Ideally, internal combustion power units should produce CO2 and water after combustion. That is often not the case, resulting in the production of CO, a toxic gas in the Earth’s atmosphere.

2. High Running Cost

Internal combustion engines require regular maintenance to keep them running. Often, drivers must change the oils to prevent knocking.

Depending on the recommended oil products, the cost can quickly become substantial.

2. Electric Engines

Although the world recently witnessed a push for electric vehicles, the technology has been around as far back as the 19th century. The new push comes in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Using these types of car engines seems to cut out emissions completely. While that is true, electric cars could very well be the future of automobiles.

Most governments are taking a step back from internal combustion engines.

Unlike an internal combustion engine, electric cars have a simple architecture. The components are not as intricate as expected in a conventional spark or compression ignition system.

That brings us to the main components of electric engines, which are as follows:

  • Electric Motors: Instead of having combustion chambers that drive a crankshaft, electric motors power the wheels. Some manufacturers could use motors for each wheel or two for the front and rear.

Electric motors could be A.C. or D.C. Nevertheless; the choice will determine if there is a need for an inverter.

  • Inverter: This component converts the D.C. power from the batteries into A.C. to drive the motors. It is only necessary if the motors are A.C based.
  • Battery: You would have a mixture of fuel and air to produce the needed power in conventional types of car engines. In an electric vehicle, the batteries produce the power to drive the motors.

Electric engines are the hallmarks of most eco-friendly cars because of their non-existent emissions.

3. Hybrid Engines

One thing is sure, whether you are reading this article from your mobile or desktop.

Your device’s battery will run out if you don’t charge it. Invariably, the same applies to electric engines.

To solve this problem, manufacturers figured out a way to charge the batteries while driving.

That led to the introduction of the hybrid engine, the combination of an internal combustion unit and electric power.

Aside from blending the best of battery power and combustion engines, hybrid designs have several benefits. One of them is reduced emissions compared to internal combustion engines.

Another benefit is the instant torque feel of electric motors. Despite advancements in technology, internal combustion engines lag after start-up.

Supercar brands use hybrid engines to get instant torque and maintain the power of internal combustion units.

Hybrid power occupies a unique spot among the different types of car engines. The primary driver could be the combustion unit or the electric motors.

Hence, hybrid power has different configurations. City cars use electric motors as the primary drivers, while sports cars for concussion units are the primary drivers.

The Future of Car Engines

Types of Car Engines

The current trend indicates that electric power will surmount and ultimately replace other types of car engines. It has shown ample potential to drive the transport sector.

The many benefits of electric engines include:

  • Reduced or non-existent emissions.
  • Zero noise pollution
  • Reduced dependence on oil and petroleum products.
  • Flexible designs

Despite the many benefits that abound, electric engines are not without limitations. The cost of producing battery packs is rising, and there have been concerns about mining.

Many believe producing batteries pollutes the environment more than internal combustion engines. There have been reports of groundwater depletion and soil contamination in the mining areas.

The future is bright, and new developments in technology will make battery mining and production more environmentally friendly.


Vehicles have come a long way, and one of the major areas is the development of new types of car engines.

The innovation goes on and on, from internal combustion and electric power to hybrid units. Internal combustion engines are the longest-serving and the most common.

You can find them in almost all cars, from sedans, hatchbacks, and wagons to SUVs and trucks. Also, they come in different configurations.

Internal combustion engines produce emissions, although ideally, they should not. That has led to the rapid development of electric engines.

Hybrid engines combine the best of internal combustion and electric power. They have reduced emissions yet retain the power of combustion units.

The future is bright, and we can expect innovations in car engines. Whether we will have more electric vehicles or other types of engines, emissions will be at the foundation of any new development.

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