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What is a Transverse Engine?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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A transverse engine is an engine with the crankshaft sitting in the chassis from right to left. The traditional engine has the crankshaft placed from front to rear in the chassis. Most of the common front-wheel drive vehicles employ a transverse engine placement within the chassis. The design of this engine allows the automobile manufacturers to engineer added room into the interior of the vehicle.

The typical construction of the transverse engine vehicle includes a sub- assembly that installs from the bottom of the vehicle. This sub-assembly contains both the transverse engine and transmission as well as the entire front suspension system. Due to the clearance limitations on the engine, many of the engine's components must be affixed to the engine prior to its placement within the chassis.

Unfortunately, the repairs of many of the transverse engine's components, such as the water pump, are only possible from the bottom of the vehicle with the vehicle on a lift or hoist. This makes it difficult for the shade tree mechanic to perform repairs on the vehicle without the aid of a well-equipped shop. Despite this, the advantages in safety and weight distribution make the transverse engine a design that will not soon be replaced.

The sub-assembly of the vehicle's chassis allows it to be engineered with a high safety factor as compared to complete chassis designs. In the event of a frontal impact, the vehicle that consists of a front sub-assembly is less likely to injure the occupants. The design of the sub-assembly is engineered to break away and be deflected under the occupant's cabin, creating a safer passenger compartment.

Vehicles with complete frame rails and longitudinally-mounted engines or engines sitting between the frame rails with the crankshaft facing front to rear, as in most typical rear-drive vehicles, inflict more injury to passengers during a frontal impact due to the reduction in crumple zones. This design characteristic removes much of the energy-absorbing room between the engine compartment and the passenger compartment.

With the space savings offered by the transverse engine design, some of the world's most powerful sports cars have implemented the transverse placement in a mid-engine design. This design not only takes advantage of additional passenger room within the vehicle's cockpit, but it also takes advantage of a better front-to-rear weight ratio, helping to better balance the vehicle. This increase in more positive balance characteristics allows the vehicle to take better advantage of the engine's power without breaking traction.

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Discussion Comments
By ValleyFiah — On Sep 26, 2011

@Cougars- Saabs, Volvos, and some Audis and Volkswagens have transverse mounted engines. They are not uncommon in any vehicle price range. They do however have their own limitations, one of which being impractical for rear-wheel drive applications.

Driving cars with transverse mounted engines is much more fun in my opinion because they feel so well balanced. From personal experience, I can say that performing basic repairs can be more difficult on these types of engines. That being said, certain jobs like changing air filters, oil, and spark plugs are much easier. Accessing fuel rails and injectors is also much more convenient.

I think people assume that the longitudinal mounted engine is the defacto standard, but this is only so for most American cars. There are a number of other motor designs that incorporate different cylinder designs, engine orientations, and piston angles. Even a number of electric and hydraulic hybrid applications exist. In my opinion, the future of automobile transportation will include a number of different engine designs that challenge the conventional longitudinal, gas combustion engine.

By cougars — On Sep 25, 2011

I do not think I have ever seen or driven a car with a transverse engine. What kinds of cars have transverse mounted engines? Are luxury cars and high-end sports cars the only type of cars that use this technology, or are they found in more affordable cars as well? It seems like this type of engine mount would be better on gas because it allows the vehicle to operate more efficiently.

By submariner — On Sep 24, 2011

Is it possible to have a front transverse mounted engine and have rear wheel drive? The article said that most rear-wheel drive vehicles are more dangerous in a front-end collision because the engine is longitudinal in orientation. I wonder if the simple fix to this is mounting a transverse engine in the front of a rear-wheel drive vehicle. Is this possible, or are there technical and engineering difficulties in doing this.

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