An Introduction to Engine Cylinders for Students in Auto Technician Training

automotive technology trainingYou’ve probably seen descriptions of four-cylinder engines in a car’s specifications before — but what are they? Simply put, engine cylinders are what literally keeps an engine running.
As the power unit of an engine, cylinders burn fuel which is then converted to mechanical energy, allowing the car to generate power.

Whether a car has four, six, or eight cylinders, they are all necessary parts, and deserve a deeper examination to show how they work and why they’re needed to keep a vehicle in motion. Here’s what auto technician training students should know about engine cylinders.

The Mechanics Behind Cylinders for Students in Auto Technician Courses

Each cylinder contains a piston and two valves that allow it to function. The piston moves in an up and down motion, compressing the fuel and making it combust. The two valves, inlet and outlet, are found at the top.

The inlet valve allows for air and fuel to enter the cylinder, and the outlet valve leaves room for exhaust gases to exit. Those exhaust gases are what rotates the crankshaft in the vehicle, which is connected to the cylinder’s bottom, powering the car’s gearbox and therefore the wheels.

The amount of power generated in the car is based on how many cylinders are present, as this allows for more pistons to combust the fuel. In the case of most cars and sports utility vehicles, the number of cylinders are usually four, six, or eight.

The number of cylinders are often four, six, or eight, depending on the car
The number of cylinders are often four, six, or eight, depending on the car

Why Does Cylinder Quantity Need to Be Different for Each Car?

Students in auto technician training should be aware that the quantity of cylinders found in an engine is a major indicator in how the engine itself will perform. This is because the cylinders’ pistons turn the crankshaft once connected to them, and when more pistons are pumping, more power can be created sooner.
Depending on the car, they could use engines with four, six, or eight cylinders. Four-cylinder engines are known for their turbocharging technology, lightweight materials and being configured inline (eg. I4 or L4) or straight. Six-cylinder models, meanwhile, are defined by their configuration in a V-shape — hence them being referred to as V6 engines.

Eight-cylinder engines (V8) are also often shaped in two rows like a V, and can often be found in trucks. Although having more cylinders will mean more power is generated, fewer cylinders will be more fuel-efficient for the engine.

The crankshaft of a vehicle is turned by the pistons of an engine cylinder
The crankshaft of a vehicle is turned by the pistons of an engine cylinder

What are the Signs of Engine Cylinders Not Functioning Properly?

If you notice engine cylinders not working as they should, there are several symptoms you can watch out for after your auto technician courses. For example, the cylinders may be leaking, not firing properly, or overheating.

Symptoms like these can be detected by leaking, smoke, or rubbery smells. The latter is especially apparent when coolant has leaked into the cylinders, and overheating can often be detected through the presence of grey smoke.

Engine misfires upon startup can also be the biggest indicator of poor cylinder pressure, as the pressure needs to be balanced for the engine to be in good condition and for the combustion to be adequate. In this case, use a compression gauge to measure the amount of pressure.

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