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To most people, cars are magical. By turning a key and pressing a pedal, something invisible happens, and your vehicle starts transporting you wherever it is you want to go. The reality is, of course, that there’s a complex system of moving parts underneath this simplistic façade, but only a fraction of people (most of them professional mechanics) understand how these moving parts interact, or how cars work in general.

It’s definitely possible to get by in life without knowing the basics of how cars work, but you’ll be missing out on a number of advantages and opportunities. To get started, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the engine – the main force behind your vehicle’s momentum.

Why You Need to Know

First, you’re probably wondering why it’s important to know your car better in the first place.

  • Driving your car more efficiently. Understanding the moving parts inside of your car can help you better to understand and control your actions while driving, allowing your car to function more efficiently. This will help you to maximize fuel efficiency while minimizing the wear and tear on your vehicle.
  • Handling basic maintenance. Though you probably won’t be able to take apart an engine just by knowing its basic components, a better knowledge of your vehicle’s functionality will allow you better to appreciate and to handle some forms of maintenance, such as changing the oil.
  • Pinpointing problems. When something goes wrong, you’ll be more capable of pinpointing it, and subsequently of describing that problem to a professional mechanic (if you need one). You may even be able to diagnose formally some of the problems that you’ll eventually face.
  • Having conversations. Having a better knowledge of your car’s engine (and other parts) will allow you to have more intelligent conversations with your mechanics, car salespeople, and even your peers.

The Basics

Now that you know why it’s important, let’s start with the let’s start with the basic concept of an engine and how it relates to your vehicle. The basic construct here is the “internal combustion engine,” sometimes referred to as the four-stroke engine (for reasons that’ll become obvious in a moment), which comes in many forms but shares the same fundamental design and function. In this model, fuel and air are combusted in tiny explosions. These explosions create an outward force that drive pistons outward, and those pistons’ outward momentum drives a number of moving parts that eventually transfer energy to your car’s wheels, moving the vehicle forward (or backward, as the case may be).

The Components of an Engine

There are several moving parts to an engine, some of which are referred to as a group and others of which are noted as individual components:

  • The engine block. The engine block is the area where all of the different parts of the engine are housed. It includes all of the cylinders and their internal components, as well as connective systems and ductwork.
  • Combustion chamber. The combustion chamber is an individual construct within the engine where pistons, cylinders, and cylinder heads are housed; it’s the actions here that drive the rest of the vehicle forward.
  • Cylinders and cylinder heads. Cylinder heads rest over the overall cylinder and contain intake and outtake valves, spark plugs, and fuel injectors that are needed to combust fuel within the chamber.
  • Pistons. Pistons are cylindrical components within actual cylinders that move up and down when the engine is running. The momentum of pistons is the first link in the chain of motion throughout a car’s engine. They connect to the crankshaft with a connecting rod.
  • Crankshaft. The crankshaft is a special mechanism that converts the up-and-down movement of pistons to a rotational movement that the car can use to move. The crankshaft is a delicate piece, protected by a special housing area. It’s also dependent on oil to remain in healthy operating capacity.
  • Fuel injectors. Fuel injectors are located inside of the cylinders to deliver the fuel needed to combust in the engine. There are a handful of injector types; direct injection delivers fuel into each cylinder individually, while ported injection sprays fuel outside of the valve to mix with air before either component enters.
  • Spark plugs. Spark plugs are mechanisms that deliver a spark to the combustion area to ignite the fuel and air.

The Four-Stroke Cycle

The “four-stroke cycle” is the basic process that every cylinder follows to provide power to the vehicle. As you may imagine, this process occurs in four mini stages:

  • Intake stroke. During the intake stroke, the piston lowers, which creates a vacuum that draws in air. At this stage, fuel is injected into the open area.
  • Compression stroke. The valves all close, and the piston ascends back to its original position, compressing the mixture of fuel and air to increase the power created from the subsequent explosion.
  • Power stroke. The power stroke is where the magic happens. A spark is delivered to the mixture, igniting it, and the force from the explosion forces the piston back to the bottom position within the cylinder.
  • Exhaust stroke. The piston comes up one more time, forcing out the remnants of the mixture and beginning the cycle again.

Together, these strokes keep the piston moving up and down, driving the other parts of your vehicle and allowing you to build or to preserve your momentum.

Alternative Setups

Of course, there are a number of alternative engine setups that different types of vehicles can host. For example, most cars host a four-cylinder engine, with four cylinders each proceeding in a four-stroke cycle. Other, more powerful vehicles have six cylinders, or even eight, and some smaller vehicles like motorcycles only use two. In hybrid vehicles, an electric motor is used to assist the main gas engine to reduce the need for traditional fuel.

If you haven’t recently scheduled service for your Ford vehicle, now’s the time to do it. Contact RC Auto Specialists today to schedule an appointment get your Ford vehicle back in shape.