Generally there are many different types of engines available for cars to have equipped. These vary by design of the layout (inline, straight, V, rotary ect.) how it gathers its power (pistons, 2-stroke, 4-stroke, rotary ect.) how many sources of power (typically number of cylinders), and how complex the components are.
for starters, lets say how the idea of a combustion engine started.. Way back in the late 19th century (not sure exact time frame) some really smart person realized that the more pressure upon something that is exploding, the larger the force of the explosion. this sparked the desire to be able to harness this information..many designs later, the piston engine was designed. see picture below.
to make an explosion with something by use of fire, you need fuel (gas) air, and spark. your car's intake takes care of the air, the gas station (your empty wallet :( ) takes care of the fuel, and the spark plug takes care of the spark.
as the piston applies pressure to the mixture that enters the combustion chamber, the force of the ignition increases. as the piston is reaching the maximum pressure, the spark plug adds spark and ignites the fuel, giving force to the piston spinning the engine.
the more pistons that do this job, the more power the engine has. this is where you hear the terms V6 vs V8, or inline 4 vs inline 6. this is how the pistons are laid out to maximize the efficiency and design. in a V- engine, the pistons are in the shape of a V.
the types of engines goes on and on, but interesting other types include rotary, or boxer engines.
this is not piston related, but another way to get power from gasoline.
this uses pistons, but in a very different layout.
all of these in turn use the explosion to turn a crankshaft (in above picture its the green rod they are all connected to in the center), that turns the flywheel..we will get to this eventually.
this is the basic concept of a gas, combustion engine. Diesel engines do not need spark plugs, and i think i will make my next post on those.
comment with interest!