So you think you're a real gearhead? We've got a quiz to test your knowledge in a specific area ... the components of the engine!
But first, a little background. After millennia of using strong animals like horses and oxen to pull vehicles, or to power other forms of machinery, humans began dreaming of machines that would power themselves. They didn't, though, agree on what kind of fuel might power the earliest engines. One early effort used hydrogen (an idea we've come back to as fossil fuels lose their appeal). The first winner, however, was steam -- with coal being the raw fuel that boiled the water. Later, it was largely a German, Karl Benz (his last name might be familiar) who was responsible for the ultimate choice of petroleum fuel (that's gasoline, to us everyday people) to power what became known as the internal combustion engine.
"Internal combustion" means that the vehicle or machine has no external power source -- it's essentially a little power plant all its own. This is especially true of cars, where the engine not only burns gas to turn the wheels, but provides electricity for the car's other systems; its interior lights, the radio, the climate control -- the stuff that makes driving a pleasure and not just a convenience.
Are you ready? Good luck!
A car's battery looks sizable and impressive, but it often has only 24 volts, as we mention elsewhere in this quiz. The rest of the electricity that makes the engine work and provides all those enjoyable extras -- like the radio -- are amplified within the engine.
Of course, many engine parts are hot to the touch when the ignition's first shut off. But trying to take the cap off the radiator in an overheat situation is a way to give yourself a nasty steam burn.
Sorry, dipstick, you're part of the lubrication system, but somewhat less than essential. It's the oil pump that gets engine oil where it needs to be, which keeps everything running well.
Alternators produce alternating current, which is converted to direct current by auxiliary parts. Alternators became increasingly important as cars gained a lot of electrical creature comforts, like heated seats.
"Turbocharging" takes its name from the use of the turbine to force gases back into the combustion chamber for extra compression. A supercharger works the same way, but is powered by the car's electrical system, to avoid turbo lag.
Belts of various kinds have been essential to the workings of machines since, roughly, the first days of engineering. The fan belt runs the cooling fan in the engine, hence the name.
The answer. of course, is "dipstick." There's a cruder version of this insult, but we can't say it here.
A thermostat is a simple indicator, but an essential one. It allows you to pull over if your vehicle is overheating, rather than let the engine seize up.
The engine block is where the magic happens! Or, at least, the essentials of combustion.
A cylinder, in geometry, is a three-dimensional figure defined by two circles, one at each end. (Or you could just visualize a can). In the engine, it's where the fuel-air mixture is compressed and ignites.
Many veteran mechanics have a story about breaking off a spark plug in the block. The best ones will also tell you the first step in dealing with it: Go have a cup of coffee or take a walk until you're not upset anymore and can approach the problem with a cool head.
Fun fact: A skull and crossed pistons is the symbol of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club. They are the traditional rivals of the Hell's Angels.
A chief engineering problem in making the earliest cars, trucks, etc, was getting power, or motion, to "change direction," so to speak. The crankshaft is an important part of that, transferring the energy generated by the combustion process -- or its initial motion -- to the power train.
This is a protective housing for the crankshaft and its connecting rods. It's also oddly fun to say aloud.
The full definition of a flywheel is a bit complex. But it "resists" and smooths out the intermittent energy produced by the constantly-moving pistons.
A "poppet valve" was sometimes called a "puppet valve." Both terms come from the idea of the valve being controlled from above and making an up-and-down motion, like a puppet.
In general, a gasket is a seal. A head gasket keeps the cylinder from losing compression, which would make the engine lose power.
It isn't just vehicles that use catalytic converters. Found in fuel-burning stoves and heaters, they use a chemical reaction to convert harmful emissions to less harmful ones.
Your car battery doesn't actually have much more voltage than the one you'd put in a smoke alarm. The ignition coil increases it until it's capable of firing the spark plugs, which is essential to the combustion process.
Magnetos aren't entirely gone; some airplanes still use them. (It's possible that engineers liked the cool, atomic-age name so much they couldn't let them go completely obsolete).
An intake manifold supplies the fuel/air mixture to the combustion cylinders. An exhaust manifold takes the exhaust gases from the combustion process and shunts them all into one pipe.
The camshaft rotates pear-shaped plates, whose intermittent pressure causes the valves to open and close. This part of the engine is the source of all those commercials gloating over an engine's "double overhead cam."
The name is apt -- it distributes electricity. The reason the distributor has to do this in a particular order is because the cylinders must fire in a certain side-to-side order for balance. Otherwise, the engine would rock violently enough to shake the car.
This is a change from older flathead engines. In those, the valves were in the cylinder block.
A multi-accessory belt, as the name implies, replaced a system that used several belts to run engine parts like the water pump and the alternator. But the downside is, if this belt breaks, a lot goes wrong at once.
The advent of distributorless ignition might have been progress in terms of engine design. However, it ruined a good theft-protection and drunk-driving prevention strategy -- stealing the distributor cap.
Unsurprisingly, the rocker arm is named for its characteristic motion. We would have liked for it to have been invented by Alice Cooper on his day off, but sadly, that's not so.
The starter motor is what comes to life when you crank the ignition. It powers the first two strokes of the four-stroke cycle, after which the process becomes self-perpetuating.
You might remember the solenoid from its use in the "War of the Worlds" remake. Tom Cruise's mechanically-inclined character suggests that replacing the solenoid in a car will correct the ignition failure caused by an electromagnetic pulse.
The fan, one of the simplest human investions for keeping cool, is still essential to the functioning of modern cars. Of course, if your serpentine belt includes the fan, it too can be credited with keeping things cool.
Of course, it's the oil filter. Keeping the engine oil free of gunk is critical to keeping the engine running well for years.
In the movie, "Road to Perdition," a boy is asked what the clutch does, and says, "it clutches." Well, not exactly. The clutch is several discs that connect and disconnect shafts, meaning it is the key connection between the engine and drive train. When you take your foot off the clutch pedal, you are actually "letting out" the clutch, not engaging it. Many people get this backward.
Strictly speaking, only overhead cam engines contain a part that could be called a tappet. In fact, a tappet is a fairly general term, meaning "an outcropping part that causes linear motion," However, it's associated enough with engines that car experts Tom and Ray Magliozzi called themselves, "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers."
The wrist pin doesn't just connect the piston and connecting rod. It also allows greater flexibility, letting the rod adapt to the motion of the piston without breaking.
A propelling nozzle is a part of a gas turbine. These are used in jet engines, which have turbofan engines.