What Are Cylinders on a Car Engine?

A car’s engine cylinder is the space in the engine where the combustion process takes place to create power.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
A car’s engine cylinder is the space in the engine where the combustion process takes place. That combustion helps create the power your vehicle needs to get into motion.
One of your vehicle’s most crucial functions takes place in your engine’s cylinders. While they might not take up much space, each cylinder holds massive importance—if even just one stops working, it could cause massive damage to your engine.
Considering their importance, it’s a good idea to understand what an engine cylinder does, how it works, and what signs you might notice when it stops working. Here to give you the rundown on just that is
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What is a car cylinder?

An engine cylinder in a car is a chamber in which the vehicle’s fuel is burned to create the power it needs to set itself in motion. 
The average engine on a passenger vehicle usually has 4, 6, or 8 engine cylinders. In an internal combustion engine, there are a number of ways its multiple cylinders could be arranged. In an inline engine, cylinders are arranged in a straight line, while in a V engine, they’re arranged in a V-shaped formation.

What does a cylinder do in a car, and how does a cylinder engine work?

The engine cylinder is the space where fuel is burned to create power for the vehicle.
A cylinder has a piston, an inlet valve, and an exhaust valve. The valves let air into and out of the engine cylinder, and as the vehicle’s air-fuel mixture is burned, the piston moves up and down in the cylinder. This in turn causes the crankshaft to rotate and helps to set the vehicle in motion.
This process converts the heat energy from the fuel combustion process into mechanical energy that will give your vehicle the power it needs to perform various functions while driving.

What are the different types of cylinder engines?

Does it matter how many cylinders an engine has?
While it’s far from the only factor to consider, the number of engine cylinders a vehicle has can help give you some insight into its performance potential.
Generally speaking, more engine cylinders typically means your engine is capable of creating more power more quickly. For example, an 8-cylinder engine could likely produce more power faster than a 4-cylinder car. However, the trade-off for this is that the vehicle’s fuel efficiency usually takes a hit.
So, when you’re out car shopping, what kind of engine should you be looking for? Here’s a closer look at how 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engines compare.

4-cylinder engine

A 4-cylinder engine will usually offer less power than a 6- or 8-cylinder engine. However, if a car’s fuel economy and lower emissions are important to you, 4-cylinder engines will often be the more fuel-efficient choice.
It’s also worth noting that as technology has advanced, most 4-cylinder engines have become more capable of putting out higher amounts of power.
4-cylinder engines can be found in nearly any type of passenger vehicle, whether it’s a compact car, SUV, or truck. The
Ford Focus
Toyota Prius
Mazda CX-30
Volkswagen Beetle
Chevrolet Colorado
Hyundai Tucson
, and
Kia Sorento
are all examples of vehicles that offer 4-cylinder engine options.
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6-cylinder engine

You’ll typically find 6-cylinder engines in vehicles that require more power, like sports cars or heavy-duty trucks that need towing capabilities. If you’re looking for more power potential in an engine, you may want to consider a 6-cylinder engine over a 4-cylinder engine.
There are some exceptions to that, though, because the number of engine cylinders is only one aspect that influences performance capabilities. It’s possible that older 6-cylinder engines could have less power than some newer 4-cylinder engines, so you’ll also want to pay attention to other specs like its horsepower.
While they can often produce power more quickly, 6-cylinder engines can be less fuel efficient than 4-cylinder engines, but some new 6-cylinder engines have been designed to perform more efficiently.

Symptoms of a bad cylinder engine

A bad engine cylinder could be caused by a number of issues. Some of the most common culprits for engine misfires include problems with the air-fuel mixture, valve timing, or problems with the spark plugs that help ignite the fuel and air mixture in the cylinders.
Whatever the reason, a non-functioning or misfiring engine cylinder is an urgent repair you’ll want to make as soon as possible.
Having a misfiring engine cylinder means your engine has one less cylinder to rely on to create power. This can put added strain on your engine and, if the problem isn’t addressed in time, could lead to extensive and sometimes irreparable engine damage. 
If you choose to drive with a bad engine cylinder, there’s a risk that your vehicle could stop working suddenly in traffic, which could make for a dangerous situation.
If you have an engine cylinder that’s going bad, these are some signs you might notice:
  • Noticeable decrease in engine power
  • Excessive vibrating while driving
  • Worsened fuel economy
  • Vehicle shakes while idling
  • Difficulty starting the vehicle
  • Your
    check engine light
    has come on
  • Your vehicle releases a black exhaust
A number of symptoms of a bad engine cylinder can also resemble other problems, so if you’re not sure about the source of your issue, it’s a good idea to have a mechanic take a look at your vehicle as soon as possible to avoid the risk of serious engine damage.

Can you repair a cylinder engine?

The earlier an engine cylinder problem is caught, the easier it is to repair. It all depends on the cause of the problem and the extent of the damage.
If your engine misfiring problem is related to the air-fuel mixture, it’s possible that replacing the fuel filter is all that’s needed. In other cases, it might be more cost-effective to replace rather than repair a cylinder.  
Sometimes, repair might not actually be possible. If a bad engine cylinder goes unaddressed and continues misfiring, it could end up completely ruining the engine.

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Whether you’re looking for efficiency, more power, or both, when you’re car shopping, you’re going to want to pick a vehicle with an engine that can deliver what you need it to. Shouldn’t
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When it comes to four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. If you’re looking for a fuel-efficient engine, four-cylinders are usually more efficient, while six-cylinder engines are usually a better option if you’re looking for more power. 
That said, engine cylinders are just one aspect of an engine’s performance potential: you’ll want to review other engine specs in addition to the number of cylinders to decide whether it’s capable of the performance factors you’re looking for.
Generally speaking, a V8 engine or V6 engine could likely produce power more quickly than a 4-cylinder engine. However, it’s possible that a newer 4-cylinder engine could outperform an older V6 or V8 engine, so it’s a good idea to compare other engine specs as well.
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