When purchasing a vehicle, you want to know how well it will perform. You also want to be assured of its reliability. When considering a choice between models or trim levels, the number of cylinders will have a big impact on your decision for the best buy.

Cylinder numbers and positioning

The cylinder is the main working component of an engine. Cylinders fire by sparking the spark plugs or by creating a fuel injection in a diesel engine. Vehicles have different numbers of cylinders to power the engine. The most common number of cylinders are 4, 6 and 8. They are labeled as 4-cylinder engines or I-4, V6 and V8 engines, which indicates the number of cylinders present. Some models, such as the Dodge Viper V10, may be equipped with ten cylinders.

How cylinder numbers impact performance

Each cylinder has a piston inside which pumps the oil into the crankshaft. The more cylinders on a vehicle, the more pistons are pumping. The result is more power being generated in a shorter amount of time. The engine doesn’t have to work as hard to reach higher speeds. A vehicle with higher cylinder numbers will be better equipped to carry heavier loads, such as a V6 or V8. The number of cylinders also impacts how much weight can be towed behind the vehicle with more cylinders carrying added weight.

Because the V6 or V8 engines have more power and work harder, they also burn more fuel than an I-4 engine. With new technology being used in developing engines, this disparity is lessening. However, in most cases, a bigger engine with more cylinders will always have more power and better performance.

How cylinder numbers impact reliability

The number of cylinders has very little impact on the reliability of a vehicle as long as you provide regular maintenance as listed in the owner’s manual and don’t attempt to use the vehicle in a way it wasn’t intended. For instance, you wouldn’t want to try to haul a heavier load than what is listed for towing capacity or payload because you risk burning out the engine.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What Do Different Cylinder Numbers Mean in Regards to Engine Performance or Reliability? and was authored by Joyce Morse.


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