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Which Type of Car Engine? Gasoline, Diesel, Hybrid, or Electric

A lady charging her electric vehicle ahead of her travels.

There are more options when buying a car today than ever before. One of the biggest choices to make is which kind of engine you want. Manufacturers are constantly coming up with various types of car engines to meet the demands of modern cars. Here we explain the differences between them and their pros and cons.

Don’t forget to check with your insurance agent before you buy an auto. Some makes and models can influence how much you’ll spend on car insurance.


Gasoline engines use internal combustion, which means air enters the engine and combines with fuel and, long-story-short, makes the car engine run. These engines run on gasoline, which is a fuel made from crude oil and other petroleum liquids.

Benefits of a gas vehicle are price and convenience. Gas cars have been in production for decades, so new and used options are abundant. They are also convenient because gasoline is currently the most common type of fuel for vehicles and is relatively inexpensive and easy to access.

Some of the disadvantages of gas cars are that they are not fuel-efficient. The best mileage for a gas car is still in the 30 mpg range. Gasoline also contributes to air pollution. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the vapors given off when gasoline evaporates and the substances produced when gasoline is burned (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and unburned hydrocarbons) contribute to air pollution. Burning gasoline also produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

How Does a Gas Engine Work?

It depends on the configuration. There are a wide variety of different configurations including V Style, Inline, Flat (or Boxer) and Rotary.

  • V Style: In this setting, the cylinder configuration is next to the crankshaft in a “V” shape. These twin-cylinder sets contain 3, 4 or 6 cylinders on each side. These expensive and complex configurations work best in family SUVs and pickup trucks where more power and towing capabilities are needed. You’ll find the V6, V8 and V12 designations with the V Style.
  • W engines: The W engines are a re-worked – and some say better – version of the V-shape. The W engines are even more compact, although very rare since most default to the V.
  • Inline or straight engine: All cylinders are located in a straight line in the straight engine and pistons rotate 360 degrees. With a 3 or 4 cylinder engine, these Inline engine layout are compact and lightweight and perfect for smaller, compact size cars and sedans, such as the Ford Focus.
  • Flat Engines or Boxer engine: With the flat engine (or boxer engine), cylinders are at a 180-degree angle in this low center of gravity design. Typically found in two-cylinder motorcycles, such as the BMW in 2021 and high-end luxury cars and cars run at high speed such as the JaguarXK6.
  • Rotary engine: Found more in the jet engine than common autos, it has a single crankshaft at the center of the pistons.
  • Two-stroke engine: Although they have many of the same ICE components, these are much lighter and are usually found in smaller situations, such as gas-powered lawn maintenance equipment and go-karts, which use a single cylinder engine.

What Are the Important Components of a Gas Engine?

There are many different features to this type of engine and each has its part to play. Here are a few.

  • Cylinder: Your cylinders have a lot to do with the power you get when you start your auto. There could be four, six or eight number of cylinders. Inside is a piston that compresses the fuel.
  • Cylinder head: The cylinder head is responsible for sealing the combustion chamber. The combustion chamber is where the fuel/air mixture is ignited.
  • Spark plugs: Spark plugs are inside the cylinder and supply the spark that ignites the air-fuel mixture.
  • Exhaust valves: Valves are located in the part of the engine called the head. They let the air-fuel mixture into and out of the cylinders. Exhaust valves are specifically responsible for the release of exhaust gases from the combustion of fuel out of the cylinders.
  • Pistons: Pistons are a major factor in heat engines. They are responsible for moving gas out of the cylinder and to the crankshaft.
  • Crankshaft: This part plays an important role since it takes the combustion force from the pistons and turns it into a rotational direction to drive the chain that directs many different functions, such as telling the transmission to turn the wheels, otherwise known as the reciprocating motion of the piston.

Why are There So Many Types of Gasoline?

When you pull up to the pump, you’ll notice that there are usually two types of fuel available for those of us who are not driving a diesel. The different types of gas available are based on the octane level, which measures fuel stability and how it will behave when subjected to combustion, which is necessary for the auto to start. How can you know which type of gas you should use? The answer is:

  • Regular (rated 87) – This grade of gasoline is perfectly fine for most automobiles and has the added bonus of being a lot cheaper.
  • Midgrade (rated 89-90) – This specialty rated fuel is available for some SUVs.
  • Premium (91-94) – Typically for high performance engines and luxury cars, it offers optimal fuel efficiency and costs more. It won’t improve the fuel efficiency or performance of your car unless manufacturers specifically recommends it.
Smiling African-American couple looks at types of car engines when choosing a new car


Diesel engines work similarly to gasoline engines, as they both use internal combustion. However, the type of ignition varies for gas and diesel engines. The other main difference is fuel.

Diesel fuel is the common term for the petroleum distillate fuel oil sold for use in motor vehicles that use the compression ignition engine. Diesel fuel is thicker than gasoline, so it evaporates slower. Diesel fuel has more energy density, which means the advantages are that it packs more energy in every gallon than gas fuel, making it more economical overall.

One of the main benefits of a diesel vehicle is that while diesel fuel typically costs more than gasoline, most diesel engines require less of it to accomplish the same amount of work as a gasoline engine. Diesel engines also have fewer components than gas engines, which means your car has fewer potential parts that could malfunction.

Disadvantages of diesel cars include less convenience and noise. Not every gas station will offer diesel, so drivers sometimes have to go searching for fuel. Diesel engines, particularly older models, are often louder than gas engines and can emit dark exhaust.

How Does a Diesel Work?

Much like the gas-powered one, this also works on an internal combustion foundation. Unlike the ICE, the diesel uses a compression rather than a spark system. What this means is that there are no spark plugs in a diesel. Instead, it uses glow plugs. The glow plugs heat the combustion chamber, which turns the diesel fuel into a volatile mist. The ensuing explosion provides high pressure power in a more efficient way, with up to 300 more psi than a gasoline engine.


Hybrid vehicles (or hybrid electric vehicles/HEVs) are powered by an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, which uses energy stored in batteries. These vehicles are fueled with gasoline to operate the internal combustion engine, and the battery is charged through regenerative braking, not by plugging in.

Hybrids can be either mild hybrids or full hybrids. Mild (or micro hybrids) systems cannot power the vehicle using electricity alone but generally cost less than full hybrids. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, full hybrids have larger batteries and more powerful electric motors, which can power the vehicle for short distances and at low speeds. These vehicles cost more than mild hybrids but provide better fuel economy benefits.

Another kind of hybrid is plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), which use batteries to power an electric motor and another fuel, such as gasoline or diesel, to power an internal combustion engine or another propulsion source. Basically, these are electric cars that have a gas engine as a backup.

Benefits of a hybrid include good gas mileage and reduced carbon footprint. Smaller sedan hybrids have fuel economies in the 50 and 60 mpg range, while larger SUVs and trucks along with sportier models in the 40 mpg range. Another appealing quality of hybrid cars is they are generally newer and quieter cars but are more affordable than electric cars.

Disadvantages of hybrids are their price and versatility. Hybrid models are rarely designed as sports cars or large trucks for hauling heavy material. They can also be pricier than their gasoline or diesel counterparts.


All-electric vehicles (EVs) use a battery pack to store the electrical energy that powers the motor. EV batteries are charged by plugging the vehicle into an electric power source.

The main benefit of an electric car is its lack of carbon emissions. Power plants are still needed for electricity production that may contribute to air pollution since they use external combustion engines. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency categorizes all-electric vehicles as zero-emission vehicles because they produce no direct exhaust or tailpipe emissions. They are also newer vehicles, usually offer high-tech features, and are very quiet (maybe even too quiet).

Disadvantages of electric vehicles are found in their cost and convenience. EVs are typically more expensive than similar conventional and hybrid vehicles, although some costs can be recovered through fuel savings, a federal tax credit, or state incentives.

As for convenience, electric cars tend to have a shorter range (per charge) than comparable conventional vehicles have (per tank of gas). Drivers of electric cars need access to charging stations, also known as EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment), which are not as accessible as gas stations yet. Most EVs won’t suffice when high speeds are required.

The Best Auto Coverage is Affordable and Online

Whether you run your car with gasoline, diesel, electricity, or a hybrid of options, you’ll need insurance to stay protected. Freeway Insurance can find you insurance you can afford, even if you have tickets. Get a free car insurance quote online, call us at 800-777-5620 or stop in one of our offices.

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