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Understanding car jargon

Posted by Royal Sundaram on 21 Feb 2011

When you look to buy a car, the pamphlet is loaded with all kinds of technical information. By knowing what it really means, you can make a better choice. We will explain some of the widely used terms in this blog series – Understanding car jargon.

We will begin this series with engine displacement.


You must have read many tech specs of car which read – Maruti Swift’s engine displacement is 1298 cc….Mahindra Scorpio’s swept volume is 2197 cc. What is cc? What exactly is engine displacement? Let’s throw some light on it.

First, let’s understand how a car engine works. It consists of (a) cylinder(s), fitted with a piston. Imagine a syringe. The cylindrical tube which holds the medicine is like the car’s cylinder. The plunger (part which is pressed to administer the injection) is like engine’s piston. Instead of 1 needle point, imagine there are 2, similar to ‘valves’ in car. Presto! You have a model of car’s engine.

  • In a car, one valve opens and lets in a mix of petrol and air, and closes.
  • The petrol is ignited, pushing the piston downwards. It forms carbon dioxide gas.
  • Another valve opens up and lets out the gas formed. It brings the piston back to its original position.
  • The cycle is repeated, making the piston go upwards and downwards (which makes your car go forward!)

You would have seen an animation of this in many engine oil advertisements.

In the syringe, the plunger covers some length, which encompasses some volume in the syringe.

It is similar in the car’s cylinder. The volume covered by piston is engine displacement or capacity or swept volume. It is measured in cubic centimetre (cc). So, higher the cc better is the engine’s power, but fuel consumed is also higher.

In our next month’s post, we will cover some more technical terms. After all, knowledge is power! Look forward to the next month’s issue for more on this.

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