Automotive Basics: The Engine Block

Welcome to the Automotive Basics Series presented by Matt’s Automotive Service Center.  Something we pride ourselves on here at Matt’s Auto is educating our customers on why certain repairs need to be done and what could happen if they don’t have the repair done.  We believe, like any major purchase, it’s important for you, the customer to know what is being done to your vehicle before you pay for it.  So you know what you are getting and why it is being done.  The goal of our automotive basic series is to educate our customers and readers about the basics in automotive for maintenance and repair to increase your understanding and be more educated about your vehicle.  Knowledge is power!

To help better understand the depths of the automobile engine and all of its components.  We at Matt’s like to compare the automobile to the human body, in the regard that there is lots of working parts and pieces to keep your automobile operating. Just like the human body, a lot of them are either physically connected or connected in the sense that their motion has to be synchronized for your vehicle to operate correctly.

The Engine Block

The Engine Block is the automotive basics topic for this post.  The engine block, also known as a cylinder block, harbors all the major components in the engine for the combustion process to occur and houses the cylinders, the cooling system, and the crankshaft or crankcase.  So to summarize the engine block harbors the cylinders, combustion chambers, cooling system, and crankshaft.

The main function of the engine is to create angular momentum, which is a fancy word for spinning motion.  The engine creates that spinning motion by sucking in air, squishing down fuel, banging an explosion and blowing out exhaust.  So the engine sucks, squishes, bangs, and blows – and yes, we are talking about an automotive engine.

The biggest piece to the engine puzzle is the block.  It’s literally just that – a big block of metal.  It has a lot of holes and pathways, but no actual moving parts – it’s like a maze.  There are 3 main types of holes/pathways in the engine block:

  1. Combustion Chambers: these are the big holes, more on these in a minute;
  2. Coolant/Antifreeze pathways: these are the medium tubes/pathways;
  3. Oil pathways: these are the little pathways.

The Combustion Chambers

The combustion chambers play a really big role in getting the vehicle moving.  This is where the magic happens.  When you turn the key to your ignition, it creates a spark.  When this spark touches fuel, it creates an explosion – a combustion – inside each individual chamber.  The only way this can happen is if each chamber is sealed.  The chambers are all sealed by what’s called a head gasket(s), (head gaskets will be covered separately on another automotive basics posts).  Inside the combustion chambers are pistons – these pistons are exactly the right size and fit perfectly within each chamber.  When the explosion or combustion occurs, it pushes the piston down.


Now, the ends of the pistons are connected to what’s called the crankshaft.  This rod, or shaft, is one of two or three rods/shafts within the engine, (more on these in later posts).  The crankshaft reminds me of a jack-o-lantern’s teeth because it squiggles back and forth.  The pistons attach to the high and low parts of the squiggles – this is why the timing of an engine is so important.  So, every other piston gets pushed down at the same time and gets sucked back up at the same time.  Think of it like this, the high parts of the crankshaft are on Team 1, and the low parts are on Team 2.  When Team 1 gets pushed down, Team 2 swings up and vice versa.  Similar to bicycle pedals.  This action makes the Crankshaft turn.  Voila! The spinning motion begins!

 We hope that you have found this information informative and educational, to providing you a better understanding of your vehicle’s engine!  If you would like one of our ASE Certified Technicians to look at your vehicle, please don’t hesitate to contact us or schedule an appointment today.