The Complete Guide to Car Engine Parts

The car engine is responsible for transforming the energy from fuel with spark, in order to create power that leads to movement. It does not just have a single unit but is a complete engine schematic. The typical engine has about 200 parts that must work together for your car to run at its best. Here are the most important car engine parts.

UPDATED: Jul 20, 2022Fact Checked

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Sara Routhier, Managing Editor and Outreach Director, has professional experience as an educator, SEO specialist, and content marketer. She has over five years of experience in the insurance industry. As a researcher, data nerd, writer, and editor she strives to curate educational, enlightening articles that provide you with the must-know facts and best-kept secrets within the overwhelming world o...

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Written by Sara Routhier
Director of Outreach Sara Routhier

Cynthia Lanctot is an insurance professional with ten years of industry experience. Cynthia is licensed in several states, and holds an associate in claims law, as well as a bachelor’s degree in English. Cynthia’s experience includes the New England and Northeast states. She currently works as a liability claims professional and an occasional online contributor.

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UPDATED: Jul 20, 2022

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A Concise Overview

  • Today, combustion car engines have around 200 parts
  • The five most vital engine parts are the engine block, camshaft, pistons, crankshaft, and cylinder heads
  • Comprehensive and collision coverage will help pay for engine repairs when a qualifying event damages your engine, such as a car accident

Cars are an integral part of American life. Teens dream about their first car. The average commuter spends about an hour behind the wheel every day, and most people can’t imagine life without their vehicle. Yet, despite this overwhelming reliance on cars, most people don’t understand how their vehicle works. 

Cars are complex machines with hundreds of parts, so many Americans assume that learning how the engine works is a complicated task. However, knowing how the main components work isn’t difficult. After you understand how your engine works, your next step should be protecting it. Comprehensive and collision insurance covers accidents and damage from theft, weather, and animal contact to ensure your engine runs smoothly.

While it takes a lot of studying to understand how your car runs entirely, you can learn about the most crucial parts of your engine below. Then, compare prices with as many companies as possible to find a plan to protect your engine, regardless of what the road throws at it.

What are the most important car engine parts and functions?

The typical engine has about 200 parts that must work together for your car to run at its best. With all those parts, it’s easy to see why having a good mechanic is so vital to the longevity of your car.

However, you don’t need to know what each of those 200 parts does to understand how your engine works. Five engine parts are the most important to understand. If you know what they do, you’ll be on your way to knowing what makes your car go.

Before you delve into the essential parts of your engine, remember that this article focuses on traditional gas-powered vehicles. Diesel and electric vehicles have similar parts, but differences often change how the engine works.

Engine Block

The engine block is a large piece in your engine that contains the crankshaft and pistons. In some engines, it also holds the camshaft.

The engine block has holes machined into it called cylinders. Depending on the size of the engine, the block can have anywhere from four to 16 cylinders. The most common number of cylinders in modern cars are four, six, or eight.

Engine blocks come in a few configurations and are named after how the cylinders line up. The most common engine blocks are inline engines (the cylinders are in a line) and “V” engines (the cylinders form a V).


The location of the camshaft depends on your car. Some camshafts are in the engine block, while you can find others in the cylinder head. In modern engines, most camshafts are in the cylinder heads.

The job of a camshaft is simple. It converts the rotary motion of the engine into an up-and-down movement. The up-and-down movement controls the lifters in the engine, which are responsible for moving the valves, pushrods, and rockers.

The camshaft is a crucial component for your car, so you must maintain it. Camshaft bearings need to remain lubricated with oil to ensure that this piece can perform its job for a long time.


Pistons play an integral part in the process of moving your car. Your pistons transfer energy the combustion cycle creates to the crankshaft.

The crankshaft controls the movement of the pistons. With each crankshaft revolution, the pistons move up and down in the cylinder twice.

Each piston contains a ring that keeps everything sealed and controls your oil. The leading killer of pistons is friction, but modern pistons are coated in a frictionless material that extends their lives.

Cylinder Heads

Cylinder heads are a little more complex than some other significant engine parts. Cylinder heads include valves and valve springs, rockers, lifters, pushrods, and, occasionally, the camshaft.

The cylinder heads do more than contain valuable pieces of your engine, though. They also control the passage of airflow into the cylinders. An additional job they perform is pushing air through the exhaust passages to remove built-up gases from your engine.

Manufacturers carefully bolt cylinder heads to your engine and seal them with head gaskets. Although some engine parts wear down slowly, your head gaskets are likely to be a frequent cause of trouble.


The crankshaft is essential in getting your car moving. In something called the crankshaft journal, you can find the crankshaft in the engine block.

Your crankshaft is a finely tuned and balanced part connected to your pistons by a connecting rod. You already know that the crankshaft moves the piston, and it does so at the engine’s speed.

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Other Important Parts of the Engine

Although the parts listed above are the most important, there are a lot more pieces to learn about. So if you’re ready to delve a little deeper into your engine, the following components are worth knowing:

  • Combustion chamber. This chamber is where fuel combines with air, electricity, and pressure to make the explosion that defines the combustion process. The combustion process drives the pistons up and down, which moves your car.
  • Valvetrain. Valves let air in and exhaust out, and the valvetrain controls the movement of those valves.
  • Timing chain. Your timing chain connects the crankshaft and camshaft. The connection between the two through the timing shaft ensures that many different actions can happen. Without the timing chain, your engine wouldn’t function correctly.
  • Rocker arms. Rocker arms work with the cams in your camshaft to allow air in and exhaust out of the valve system.
  • Fuel injectors. With prices at the gas pump reaching all-time highs, you probably already know that your engine needs fuel. Your fuel injectors inject gas into your fuel systems.
  • Pushrods and lifters. Some camshafts don’t touch rocker arms. If your engine has this configuration, lifters or pushrods take the place of the valve system.
  • Spark plugs. Every cylinder has a spark plug responsible for making the spark that causes an explosion.

Understanding these pieces will give you a better picture of what your vehicle needs to work. However, you need more information than just a list of parts – you need to know how these pieces work together to form one unified machine.

How does a car engine work?

Combustion engine cars use a four-stroke process to move, as explained below:

  • Intake. The first step of the combustion process is when the intake valve opens and the piston moves downwards. This allows air and fuel to enter the engine.
  • Compression. Next, the piston moves upwards to compress the air and gas. The smaller the space the air and gas compress into, the bigger the upcoming explosion.
  • Combustion. After the air and fuel compress, the spark plugs create a spark. The spark creates an explosion that pushes the piston downwards.
  • Exhaust. The last step involves the exhaust valve opening to release the waste products from the explosion to prevent buildup. Your catalytic converter cleans the exhaust, and the waste is pushed through your muffler and out the tailpipe.

This simple explanation gives you a good start on how your engine works. Your engine is a complex machine that needs many parts to function together so you can drive your car. That’s why it’s crucial to have a good mechanic and solid collision or comprehensive insurance to protect it.

Getting in an accident can easily damage the delicate system in your engine. According to CarBrain, engine repairs cost an average of $3,000, but a good insurance plan will help lower that cost.

Find the Best Insurance to Protect Your Engine

Although your engine has hundreds of pieces, the five most important are the camshaft, engine block, cylinder heads, pistons, and crankshaft. The process behind getting your car to run is complicated, but hopefully, you better understand how it works.

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

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