My kids have asked a question about what type of energy powers a car. I was confused on this, mostly because, embarrassingly, I know nothing about how a car engine works. I know energy is stored in the gas, but I don’t really understand what type of energy it is. Our best guess as a group was that there are multiple types of energy that make the engine go, but we’re still confused!
Thank you for your question Tilden. A video animation showing how a car engine works can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-z-R8Mv_HM
Following the energy, it starts with potential energy tied up in the nature of the fuel. An air-fuel mixture is drawn into the cylinder and compressed with the upstroke of the piston. With ignition (via the spark) the fuel burns, i.e., releases its potential energy (explosively) mostly as heat. The heat causes great expansion of the already compressed air pushing the piston down with great force. This is the transfer to heat energy to movement energy. This movement energy is transferred from the piston to the crankshaft to the transmission, to the wheels of car and finally the car’s motion.