Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insuran...

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Chris Harrigan has an economic degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise to provide insurance data analysis and visualizations to enhance the user experience.

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Reviewed by Chris Harrigan
Former Auto Insurance Claims Manager Chris Harrigan

UPDATED: Mar 17, 2022

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Key Takeaways

  • The average car engine has approximately 200 parts
  • The five most crucial car engine parts are the camshaft, crankshaft, pistons, engine blocks, and cylinder heads
  • Comprehensive and collision coverage will help pay for engine repairs if your delicate engine system is damaged in an accident

Most American adults have at least driven a car, while many have owned one. Our vehicles get us where we need to go — we rely on them for work, school, vacations, and all our other transportation needs.

Once you understand how your engine works, your next step should be to protect it. Car insurance that covers accidents and damage from weather, theft, and animal contact will help to ensure that your engine always functions properly.

While you’ll need more than this guide to fully understand what makes your vehicle run, you can learn about the most crucial car engine parts below. You can also compare prices with different insurance companies to ensure that your engine is always protected.

What are the most important car engine parts and functions?

The average car engine has approximately 200 parts, which is one of the many reasons why a good mechanic is integral to the longevity of your vehicle.

To get an idea of how your engine works, you don’t need to understand what every little piece does. If you can recognize and comprehend the functions of the five most important engine parts, you’ll be well on your way to deducing what makes your car operate.

Before delving into the biggest pieces in your engine, keep in mind that this article is focused on traditional gas-powered vehicles. While diesel and electric engines contain most of the same parts, there could be differences.

The Engine Block

While there are many small pieces under the hood, one of the most important is also one of the largest. The engine block is a large piece that contains the pistons and crankshaft, as well as the camshaft in some engines.

Your engine block has holes machined into it that are called cylinders. Depending on the size of your engine, an engine block can consist of anywhere from four to 16 cylinders. Most of the cars you’ll see day-to-day have four, six, or eight cylinders.

Engine blocks come in a few configurations, including inline engines (the cylinders are situated in a line) and V engines (the cylinders form a V arrangement).

Camshaft

The location of your camshaft depends on your car. Some can be found in the engine block, while others are located in the cylinder head. For the most part, camshafts are located in the cylinder heads of modern engines.

The camshaft has a simple job — it converts the rotary motion in your engine into an up-and-down movement. The up-and-down motion controls the lifters in your engine. The lifters are responsible for moving the pushrods, valves, and rockers.

Due to the control centered in the camshaft, it’s vital that it remains well-supported. Bearings lubricated in oil support the camshaft and ensure that it can do its job for a long time.

Pistons

Pistons are an integral part of the process that enables your car to move. This part of the engine transfers the energy created by the combustion cycle to the crankshaft.

The crankshaft (more on it later) controls the movement of the pistons. With each revolution of the crankshaft, the pistons move up and down twice in the cylinder.

Within each piston are rings that keep everything sealed and control your oil. Friction is the leading destroyer of pistons, but modern pistons are coated in a frictionless material that extends their lives.

Cylinder Head

Cylinder heads are slightly more complicated than some of the other significant pieces in the engine. Your cylinder head includes parts like valves and valve springs, lifters, rockers, pushrods, and occasionally the camshaft.

Aside from containing valuable pieces of your engine, it also controls the passage of airflow into your cylinders. Additionally, it moves air through the exhaust passages to remove built-up gases from your machine.

Cylinder heads are carefully bolted to your engine and sealed with head gaskets. While some parts of your engine wear down slowly, head gaskets are frequently a sign of trouble.

Crankshaft

As you read in the pistons section, the crankshaft is essential to get your car moving. The crankshaft is located in the engine block, in something called a crankshaft journal.

Your crankshaft is a finely tuned and balanced part attached to your pistons by a connecting rod. You already know that the crankshaft moves the piston — the crankshaft rotates at the speed of the engine.

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Other Important Parts of the Engine

If you want to learn about car engine parts, the above five are a great place to start. However, if you want to delve a little deeper, the following components are also important:

  • Combustion chamber. This is where fuel combines with air, pressure, and electricity to create the explosive reaction that defines the combustion process. This process drives the pistons up and down, which allows your car to move.
  • Valvetrain. You already know about valves letting air in and exhaust out. The valvetrain controls the movement of those valves.
  • Timing chain. The timing chain connects the camshaft and the crankshaft. The connection between the two shafts through the timing shaft ensures that various actions happen when they should, without which the engine wouldn’t function correctly.
  • Rocker arms. Rocker arms work with cams in the camshaft to allow air into and exhaust out of the valve system.
  • Fuel injectors. As you probably know — because you probably spend a portion of your paycheck on gas — your engine needs fuel. The fuel injectors have a simple job — they inject fuel into your fuel system.
  • Pushrods and lifters. Some camshaft lobes don’t touch rocker arms. In engines that have this configuration, pushrods or lifters take the place of the valve system.
  • Spark plugs. Each cylinder has a spark plug which creates the spark during the combustion process required to create an explosion.

This extended list of engine parts provides a better picture of how your vehicle works. However, there are many more parts that help your car run. To learn everything, you’d need a list of car engine part names with pictures.

How does a car engine work?

It’s one thing to know the parts of your engine, but that doesn’t explain the whole process of how your car operates.

Automobiles use a four-stroke combustion process to move, which is explained below:

  • Intake. In the first step of the combustion process, the intake valve opens and the piston moves downward. This process allows air and fuel into the engine.
  • Combustion. Next, the piston moves upward and compresses the air and gas into a small space. The smaller the space, the bigger the upcoming explosion will be.
  • Combustion. Once the air and fuel are compressed, the spark plug creates a spark. That spark creates an explosion, which pushes the piston downward.
  • Exhaust. Finally, the exhaust valve opens and removes the waste products of the explosion to prevent buildup. The exhaust is cleaned in the catalytic converter, pushed through the muffler, and released through the tailpipe.

This is a simplified explanation of how your engine works. As you can see, your car engine is a complex machine with plenty of parts that can malfunction. This is where a good mechanic and full insurance coverage are valuable.

If you’re involved in an accident, the delicate system in your engine can easy malfunction. Engine repairs run an average of $3,000. However, collision and comprehensive insurance will help pay for the repairs to your vehicle.

Find the Best Insurance to Protect Your Engine

While multiple pieces make your engine work, the most important five are the crankshaft, camshaft, pistons, engine block, and cylinder head. The process of getting your car moving when you push the accelerator is complicated but, hopefully, you have a better understanding.

If you want to protect all your car engine parts, you can compare car insurance rates that will help keep your engine running smoothly.