Camshaft vs Crankshaft: What’s the Difference?

The camshaft and crankshaft are two parts in the engine that work to power your car.
Written by Jessie Devine
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Updated on Dec 19, 2022
The camshaft and crankshaft are easy to confuse, but they’re actually two different parts that work together in the engine to power your car.
When you start learning about car parts beyond the big systems, it can get a little obscure. Parts like the camshaft and crankshaft that have similar-sounding names and similar positions in the car can cause major confusion!
But don’t worry—
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What is a camshaft?

To understand the
basics, first we have to understand what each part is. The camshaft is part of the valve train. It allows air and fuel to enter the combustion chamber and allows exhaust to leave.
To get really basic, the camshaft is a rod-shaped object made of metal. It contains oval-shaped (in some cases, pointed) cam lobes. Its purpose is to open and close the valves on each of the engine’s cylinders.

How does a camshaft work?

The camshaft is driven by the crankshaft. It rotates, transferring motion from the cam lobes (also known as cams) through the valve train to open and close valves. It does this by pushing on the valves. The valves then close themselves with a spring.
The camshaft’s job is important because without it, the valves in the engine wouldn’t open and close. This means that the fuel/air mixture wouldn’t enter the engine, and the exhaust wouldn’t escape. If the camshaft isn’t working, the engine doesn’t work.
The camshaft is so integral to the engine’s performance that car enthusiasts upgrade to performance camshafts to improve throttle response and low-speed torque.

What is a crankshaft?

Quite literally, the crankshaft is a shaft driven by a crank mechanism. It runs along the bottom of the motor and converts the vertical movement of the pistons into horizontal rotational movement. By doing this, it harnesses the fuel and air combustion and turns it into power.

How does a crankshaft work?

The crankshaft consists of evenly spaced throws equal to the number of cylinders. The throws are attached to the bottom of the pistons by connecting rods, and when the pistons move up and down, the crankshaft rotates.
Both the camshaft and the crankshaft rotate in the engine, so how to they differ? To contrast camshaft vs crankshaft, look at their positions and purposes. For example, as the crankshaft rotates, it causes the camshaft to move.

How do the camshaft and crankshaft work together?

The camshaft and crankshaft are connected by a timing chain or timing belt, depending on the engine and the vehicle. When the crankshaft turns, it in sequence causes the camshaft to rotate. The camshaft is then able to open and close the valves on the cylinders in the engine.
Together, the camshaft and crankshaft work together to control engine combustion.

How can I find affordable car insurance?

If you’re looking for info on the camshaft vs crankshaft, you’re probably pretty tuned in on what your car needs. But outside of parts and engine performance boosters, your car needs some backup—in the form of insurance! You need a great policy, but you don’t need to overpay.
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