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3 Key Details to Know About Your Car’s Engine

By Wes Schwengels, January 9, 2018

The engine is the heart of your car — it has dozens of moving parts that keep you trucking down the road. So, it’s good to know a little bit about such a vital piece of your vehicle.

But what’s most important to know about your engine? And how do you find that information? Let’s look at a few critical details that can help you get an accurate estimate when your car needs routine maintenance or more serious repairs.

3 important things to know about your engine

Some of the basic facts that you should know about your engine and its size are:

  • Displacement
  • Number of cylinders
  • Layout of cylinders

1. Displacement

Engine displacement plays a big role in a car’s power and fuel consumption. Typically expressed in terms of liters, cubic centimeters or cubic inches, this figure is the total amount of volume that is displaced by all the engine’s pistons each time they travel from the bottom to the top of their strokes, inside their cylinders. You might see this written as 2.5L or 2,500cc, for example.

2. Number of cylinders

The cylinders in your engine are where the pistons move up and down and produce power. Most automotive engines have between four and eight cylinders, although there are some with three, 10, 12 or even 16 cylinders.

3. Layout of cylinders

The cylinders can be arranged in various configurations, based on how many there are and other considerations. These configurations include inline (I), V-shaped (V), horizontal or boxer (H or B), and even a “W.” When combined with the number of cylinders in the engine, you have a concise description of the engine’s basic design: I4, H6, V8, and W12 are a few examples.

Where to find your engine information

There are several places in your vehicle that display these details. Here’s a handy guide to those sources of engine information.

Your owner’s manual

The owner’s manual in your glove compartment will have the correct information for the all the engines that were available on your model. Check the “Specifications” or the “Mechanical Information” section. If more than one engine option is listed, you will need to determine which one your vehicle has.

EPA emissions information sticker under the hood

With the engine shut off and cool, open the hood and look for the EPA sticker. It will have a heading that says “Vehicle Emission Control Information.” It should list the displacement of the engine in liters — for instance, “2.5 Liter” or “2.5L.” Some vehicles also have exterior emblems with the engine size. Once you have this detail, you can refer to your owner’s manual for the number of cylinders and the layout.

Your original window sticker

If you purchased your car new, and you still have the original window sticker, you can check it for your engine’s displacement, number of cylinders and layout. This sticker was personalized for your specific vehicle, so it will have the correct information.

VIN lookup and decoding

Your car’s vehicle identification number, or VIN, is more than a simple serial number. Within its 17 digits, you can figure out your car’s engine information, among other details.

Your VIN is located in many places on your car and can be found on many of your vehicle-related documents. The most common places are:

  • The driver’s side door jamb
  • The dashboard near the windshield
  • The engine block
  • Your vehicle's insurance card and policy, title, registration, purchase invoice and maintenance booklet

Older vehicles may also have the VIN located in places like the firewall, the front end of the frame, the steering wheel or column or one of the structural brackets attached to the radiator. 

You can decode your VIN to find out where your car was made, what year it is and more. In particular, the fourth through eighth characters describe the brand, the engine size, trim level and driveline options of your car.

One easy way to decode this part of your VIN is to use a website, such as vindecoder.net or searchquarry.com, that already has all the code information programmed in and can display your information immediately.

Shop around with confidence

Once you know your engine’s size and layout, you can have added confidence when trying to find a repair shop or maintenance estimates. Plus, mechanics will appreciate your knowledge — and not having to look up this info themselves.


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