Engine Knowledge Challenge: What Do You Know?


By: Zoe Samuel

6 Min Quiz

Image: Monty Rakusen/Cultura/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Engines are everywhere in modern life. If you want to get from A to B but it's too far to walk and you don't feel safe riding your bicycle (or it's simply too hilly or too rainy, or you're not physically able), then an engine can enter the mix to help you out. From little pleasure boats to ocean tankers; from choppers to Boeing 747's; from toy trains to Amtrak locomotives; from Karl Benz's first car to today's McClaren F1 supercar, the engine has radically changed how we get around and live our lives.

Indeed, engines don't just help us when they're moving. Engines also pump water out of mines, operate the locks of canals, move freight between ships and ports, help grind flour, and keep the, um, substances moving in sewage treatment plants. This means that even if you never leave your house and live off the grid, if you eat anything that's not directly from the land or participate in any way in the global economy, you're benefiting from the existence of engines.

It's always a good idea to know how things work that keep our world going, and engines are no exception. So let's find out whether you're the true engine expert in your house!

Which of these is technically an engine?

It might not involve a repeating action, but a cannon is technically converting mechanical energy into motion. That's what an engine does!


What is the world record for replacing an engine in a car?

This was done on a Ford Escort in 1985. You'd think it would be a Formula One car, but good luck taking out an engine that high-performance in so brief a time!


Which of these is arguably NOT an engine?

Whether or not the thing in a Tesla that makes the car go is an "engine" is subject to debate. Technically it isn't, because it uses electricity instead of heat or chemistry, but on the other hand, it's a motor that makes a car go. It's one to have out with your buddies over a pint.


In what year did America's first steam-powered locomotive lose a race to a horse?

In 1830, a horse-drawn carriage could still beat a steam train, in the U.S. at least. In the U.K., things had already moved ahead and a horse would be hard-pressed to keep up. It wasn't long before this was true everywhere.


How much horsepower does an actual horse have?

Horsepower is a measurement that James Watt came up with in order to sell his engines' power. Horses are actually NOT one horsepower though; a strong horse is closer to 15hp.


What is the definition of horsepower, anyway?

One horsepower is 746 watts, or the "power needed to lift 550 lbs. one foot in the air in one second." This is kind of silly, of course, but Watt came up with it and it simply stuck. You will have to measure your car according to this arbitrary number forever.


What kind of engine is in a Segway?

These motors are made by Pacific Scientific. They use 330 watts and they're pretty basic, which reduces the odds of something going wrong. Segway debuted in 2001 and never quite caught on as anything more than a fun gimmick.


What is the most powerful engine in the universe?

Black holes are engines, as they consume and combust fuel, then turn this into motion (they go round and round). Of course, they're not much use to us humans--yet!


Which of these is NOT one of the four strokes of most car engines?

The strokes are intake, compression, combustion and exhaust. This has been pretty standard since the 1880's, when more than one inventor came up with the concept in parallel.


In what century was the oldest known engine made?

The first engine we know about was a toy made by Heron of Alexandia in 50 BC. It was just a toy that made a sphere spin, but it was technically a steam engine.


Who created the first commercialized internal combustion engine?

Lenoir's 1859 engine was a commercial success, which changed the game entirely. Before that, internal combustion engines were a difficult investment.


When did the first jet engine get jetting?

German physicist Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain was the first person to build a working jet engine. However, British flight pioneer Sir Frank Whittle made it commercial, earning a knighthood for his services to the aircraft industry.


What do you find in a sump?

Engines move so much that keeping them lubricated is essential. A sump is a little reservoir for lubricant oil that helps keep things moving smoothly.


Which of these probably means you have corroded battery cables?

You can't just start an internal combustion engine without an ignition spark, and you can't get that if you don't have a connection to your batteries. If your car won't start, corroded cables are a possibility.


What type of engine is in a steam train?

The combustion on a steam train takes place outside the engine; you can see the coal being shoveled into the furnace to generate heat. Hence, it's an external combustion engine.


Two methods of cooling used to be by far the most common for engines. Water is one. What is the other?

You have to cool the components of your engine so that it doesn't explode. Air is one main way to cool an engine, using radiative surfaces and taking advantage of your speed. The other main way is water, where a radiator takes the heat away and returns cold water back through the system.


What engine is the most common kind?

Pistons go back and forth, as you know. This is called a reciprocating engine, as opposed to the far less common rotary engine.


Where might you find a rotary engine?

Engines that go back and forth have their uses, but so to engines that go round and round. Once turbines were invented that put out net power, the rotary engine became a much more practical idea.


How do you get ignition without a spark?

Compress air enough, it gets hotter. Eventually, it starts combusting, and then you're off to the races!


Which of these is NOT a common way to arrange cylinders in an engine?

Engines are usually inline vertical, V, horizontal, opposed-cylinder, radial or W. This refers to how the cylinders are set up, and different shapes are appropriate for different uses.


What happens to a ramjet above Mach 5?

A ramjet cannot combust air that is moving too fast. This means that above Mach 5, the air has to be slowed down AFTER it enters the engine, which of course wastes energy and thus costs efficiency. You can get around this by upgrading to a scramjet, which can handle the super-fast air.


What acronym is useful to remember the four main ways valves are arranged in an engine?

LIFT refers to L-head, I-head, F-head and T-head. Each letter illustrates the way the air is moved due to the layout of valves inside the engine.


Which of these is NOT a method of getting fuel into an engine?

You can't use water to inject fuel, since fuel and water mix like, well, oil and water. However, you can use air or a carburetor, or airless ("solid") injection.


Locomotive engines are used to drive trains. What is used to move a plane?

Yep, it's just an aircraft engine! It's important not to overthink these things; just because horsepower is weirdly-named doesn't mean that all the terminology is out of whack!


What's probably in your car's radiator these days?

While air and water used to be the main options to cool your engine, nowadays, water alone wouldn't be up to the challenge. Enter coolant, which is superior to water. It's made of ethylene glycol or propylene glycol, and it's basically the same stuff as anti-freeze.


Which of these is the simplest way to make sure your engine is cared for?

If your engine's intake is clogged, then it cannot get enough air. That means it can't breathe, and just as you don't function very well with blocked airways, nor will your engine. You should clean your filters of bugs and dirt regularly.


While car maintenance is usually measured in miles, aircraft maintenance is not. What is it measured in?

Just as pilots measure their experience in hours, so do their planes. This is because planes undergo very different stressors to cars, and it's less about how far they go than how long they take to get there. Unfortunately, a number of planes were lost before the airline industry figured this out.


Which item helps get the ignition spark from the battery into the cylinder?

Oliver Lodge invented the spark plug in 1903. It's how the spark of ignition is transmitted from your battery into your engine proper, which starts the engine. Replacing the spark plug is one of the easiest forms of maintenance and one of the few fixes that doesn't require any knowledge of electronics.


Which engine is in the bestselling car of all time?

The bestselling car of all time is the Toyota Carolla, which has sold over 30m units. It's home to a very boring and functional 1.8 liter engine with a handy four cylinders. Nothing fancy about it, but it gets the job done.


Which word is the origin of the word "engine"?

The word "engine" comes from the Latin "ingenium," which is a combination of talent or device, plus "in." It's the root of the word "ingenuity" and thus carries the sense of an engine being a device that is very clever--just like you'll sound when you show this fact off to your friends!


How did Enzo Ferrari describe what he did?

Enzo Ferrari may have invented one of the coolest and most expensive cars in the world, but he wasn't very fancy about it. He just made engines and put wheels on them, as he said.


How many moving parts are in the average internal combustion vehicle?

A regular car has 20,000 moving parts, give or take. An electric car has about 150, which is one of the reasons they're set to be much, much cheaper very soon!


Which of these metals is NOT commonly found in a jet engine?

Much of the engine is made of aluminum to save weight. The parts that aren't aluminum are made of nickel and titanium alloys, which can withstand the incredible heat of the engine. However, you won't find a lot of strontium in an engine!


Who is the first long-distance driver in the world?

Karl Benz invented it, but Bertha Benz showed us what it was actually for. She took that car and drove it from Mannheim to Pforzheim with her two sons. A couple days after that, she drove it back again. Thus, there was a time that literally the drivers in the world were all women, because they were all her!


Who made many of the components of the engines that were in the first Ford cars?

Contrary to popular myth, the Dodge brothers didn't make literally the entire engine in the early Ford models. They did, however, supply a lot of components, following a deal with Henry Ford in 1903.


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