What Are Cylinders and What Do They Do?

cylinders with title text What are cylinders and what do they do?

The majority of cars have 4, 5, 6, or 8 cylinders to power their engines, with the exception of a few high-end luxury sedans with 10 and 12 cylinders. Knowing what kind of engine, how many cylinders, and their orientation can really help you get your car fixed quickly when a problem arises. It can also be helpful to know because doing a quick internet search could help you find an easy fix that saves you money.

What is a Cylinder?

An engine cylinder is where the combustion process occurs. Inside each cylinder is a piston, which moves up and down inside the cylinder (or side to side). Each cylinder is connected to a crankshaft which delivers the energy created by the combustion process to the transmission. For the most part, the more cylinders, the more horsepower and torque an engine creates.

Cylinder Orientation

The engine’s cylinders are configured in a V-orientation, inline, or horizontally opposed (aka flat or boxer).


has a vertical orientation most common with 4, 5, or 6 cylinders and are lined up from the front of the engine to the rear. These engines are taller and more narrow than others. When they are mounted transversely, the vehicle design can include a smaller front end. Commonly seen represented as I-4, I-5, and I-6.


is typically used in conjunction with 6 or more cylinders and is vertically in the shape of a “V.” When the engine is mounted transversely (front-wheel-drive vehicles) the cylinders and crankshaft are set up side-to-side, not front-to-back. Typically seen as V-6, V-8, V-10, and possibly V-12.

Horizontally Opposed

engines have the cylinders laying flat on either side of the crankshaft, the pistons rotate outward to the sides of the car. Cars that notably have this feature are Porsches and Subarus, however many other brand cars can carry an engine by either company. A big benefit is that the engines sit very low and wide, creating a low center of gravity and improved handling. Depicted as H-4, H-6, or H-8.

When your car needs maintenance and repairs, contact the experts at Performance Auto at (334) 245-6600 today.


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