What is Engine Displacement?

Knowing your vehicle’s engine displacement can give you a better understanding of how much power your engine is capable of producing. Learn more here.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
background
Your engine displacement is the total combined volume of your engine’s cylinders. Knowing your vehicle’s engine displacement can give you a better understanding of how much power your engine is capable of producing.
If you’re interested in increasing your engine’s power (or at the very least, you’ve been trying to learn more about it), you might have come across the phrase “engine displacement.” 
How your engine functions to create power involves various complex components and processes, and part of that is how much air could potentially pass through your engine. That’s exactly where engine displacement comes in. 
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What is engine displacement?

Your engine’s job is to power your vehicle by igniting an air-fuel mix. To create this mix, the air is displaced from the atmosphere and combined with your vehicle’s fuel.
Engine displacement is the total combined volume of your engine’s cylinders, which tells you how much air could potentially move through your engine. 
To understand how engine displacement works, it helps to know some of the terms involved:
  • Piston: Part within an engine cylinder that moves up and down throughout the combustion cycle
  • Cylinder: Space where the piston moves
  • Bore: Diameter of an engine cylinder
  • Stroke: Distance that a piston moves within an engine cylinder
  • Crankshaft: Rotating part within the engine block that converts linear (up and down) piston motion to a rotational (circular) motion 
  • Horsepower: Amount of power a vehicle is capable of producing
  • Torque: How much twisting/rotational force an engine is capable of
By calculating the area your pistons take up, how far they move as they move in and out of the engine cylinder, and the number of cylinders with pistons doing this movement, you can find out how much air your engine is capable of displacing.
Key Takeaway A crankshaft drives the pistons to move within their cylinders, which displaces air in your engine. Engine displacement is the total volume of air displaced by all the engine’s cylinders. 

How to calculate engine displacement

How do you compare one engine’s displacement capabilities with another? There’s a simple formula to help you figure that out. 
There are a few things you’ll need to know to calculate your engine displacement:
  • Bore diameter (in inches)
  • Crankshaft stroke length (in inches)
  • Number of engine cylinders
Once you have these, you can plug the numbers into the following equation:
π/4 * bore² * stroke * number of cylinders = engine displacement
You’re looking at the area your pistons take up and the length of the stroke that the pistons move in and out of to get the cylinder’s volume. Then, you’re multiplying by the number of engine cylinders to get the total volume taken up by all cylinders.
Your result will be in cubic feet. This number tells you the total volume in cubic feet that your engine is capable of displacing. 
From there, you can convert your result to liters or cubic centimeters (cc). So when you see a
Ford F-150
for sale with a 3.3L V6 engine, the 3.3 liters is referring to its engine displacement
MORE: What is a car suspension system?

Why is engine displacement important?

Engine displacement heavily influences how much horsepower and torque a vehicle’s engine has. 
Finding out your vehicle’s engine displacement can help give you a better understanding of what your vehicle is capable of and what kinds of conditions it can tolerate. 
A high engine displacement is important if you’re looking for a high-performance vehicle, but it’s not an important metric for all drivers.
Generally speaking, a higher engine displacement will indicate an engine has more power capability, but a lower engine displacement suggests a vehicle has more fuel efficiency.

How to increase engine displacement

To increase your engine displacement, your engine is going to need to move more air and more fuel. 
Some drivers try to accomplish this by boring out their engine’s cylinders, or making them wider, which will require special equipment. While this will increase the volume your engine cylinders have to work with, you might not see too much of a difference with overboring alone.
The other option that can have a more substantial impact on engine displacement, whether on its own or in combination with overboring, is increasing stroke
Increasing engine displacement can mean increasing a vehicle’s power, but other factors are needed to do so, too. You can increase the space for air in your engine, but you’ll also need the right components to actually get more air moving through.
Other elements that play a role in increasing engine displacement include a good-quality camshaft and
compression ratio
(the ratio between a cylinder and the combustion chamber).
Turbochargers and superchargers can also help your engine move air at its peak capacity and boost your car’s power in the process. 

How to save on car insurance

We’ve outlined how to calculate and increase your engine’s power, but have you looked for ways to boost your spending power? Using
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FAQs

A vehicle’s engine displacement refers to how much air it can move. The more air your engine can take in at once, the more powerfully your vehicle can perform.
The following equation can help you calculate engine displacement
π/4 * (bore diameter in inches)² * (stroke length in inches) * number of cylinders = engine displacement (in cubic inches)
From there, you can convert your result to liters or cubic centimeters as needed.
To increase your engine displacement, you’re either going to have to bore out your engine’s cylinders, increase your stroke, or both. To really increase your car’s performance, you could consider using a turbocharger to increase air movement.
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