Although it is difficult and intimidating to initiate one’s confrontation with such a dense knowledge as is necessary to fully comprehend in its entirety the copious interlocking mechanisms integral to the proper functioning of a modern automobile (especially given the automotive industry’ tendency to undergo constant technological development), any responsible driver sees the value in acquainting his- or herself with a basic understanding of the mode of operation of the vehicle driven. Accordingly, here is a brief overview of the inner workings of a standard car engine, presented in the context of a car that possesses an engine that will not initiate properly, albeit the driver’s correct operational behavior. It is my theory that within these circumstances much can be learned about how an engine creates motion and man creates an engine, albeit a slightly arbitrary example.

engineIf and when your engine refuses to cooperate despite your best attempts to commence transportation, you may be suffering from one or more of three basic types of engine malfunction: the fuel-air mixture within the engine cylinders may not be appropriate, there may be a lack of necessary compression within the cylinders, or the engine may be failing to spark.

There are, of course, thousands of minor issues that could yield a dead engine and span beyond these problems,  but the vast majority of them will either fall into the three aforementioned categories or occur so rarely that they fall outside the scope of this article as they are not a practical teaching tool.

A few notes regarding a potentially inappropriate mix of fuel and air within the engine cylinders: The driver may have failed to fill the vehicle with an appropriate and timely amount of gas, causing only air to fill the cylinders. The air intake could also be clogged, meaning enough fuel has entered the cylinders, but the quantity of air is lacking given the context of standard engine initiation. Additionally, the fuel system may simply be funneling an incorrect proportion of both, meaning there is plenty of air and gas to be supplied, but combustion cannot occur properly due to mechanical error. Finally, there may simply be an impurity within the fuel that prevents it from burning.

spark plug problemIn terms of a potential lack of compression, the reader will benefit from the understanding that the combustion process integral to an engine’s functionality will not occur without a proper compression of air and fuel within the engine’s cylinders. Such compression can fail to occur if the rings running around the engine’s pistons become worn, allowing for fuel and air to leak past the piston during compression. The failure of the intake and exhaust valves to properly seal will have an identical effect. Finally, a rupture in the cylinder itself will prevent any proper combustion. These holes typically occur due to a gasket failure.

Finally, a weak or totally absent spark may occur as the result of a worn spark plug or leading wire, a cut or missing wire, an improperly functioning spark-provision system, or a malfunction that causes the spark to occur either too early or too late in the piston cycle, throwing off the ignition timing.