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What is a V Engine?

By Soo Owens
Updated May 23, 2024
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A V engine, also known as a vee engine, is a common type of internal combustion engine. It is characterized by the "V" shape that the cylinders make when viewed from the front of the engine, perpendicular to the axis of the crankshaft. The proponents of the V engine design often cite its generally shorter length, height and weight as reasons for its allure.

The conventional notation used to designate the size of a V engine is the letter "V" followed by the number of cylinders the engine has. For instance, a V engine with six cylinders is called a V-6. A V configuration engine can be as small as a V-twin with only two cylinders mirroring each other across the crankshaft or as large as a V-24 in locomotives.

The V engine consists of two banks, or rows, of cylinders that attach to a single crankshaft. Typically the cylinders are situated at a 60- or 90-degree angle. The banks in a V-6 are usually 60 or 90 degrees, and the banks of a V-8 engine usually lie in a 90-degree angle.

This type of engine is commonly arranged into configurations of V-6, V-8, V-10 and V-12 in automobiles, though they are not exclusive to automobile usage. V-twins are a staple of some motorcycle manufacturers, and others have found ways to incorporate V engines ranging from a V-4 or V-5 to a V-8 in their bikes. V configuration engines V-16, V-20 and V-24 are quite uncommon in automobile use and are restricted to mainly large truck and locomotive usage, with some exceptions.

The appeal of the V engine design comes from its tendency to be lighter and shorter in height and length than an inline layout of the same cylinder number and displacement. The short length of the V design allows automotive producers to shorten the length of the hood and use that space for other purposes. The V engine tends to permit higher torsional stresses and rotational speeds as a result of its strong short crankshaft.

The inline engine configuration, by contrast, is a much simpler design than the V, with a single bank containing all of the cylinders in a row. The larger block and distance between cylinders often cause the inline to have a smoother power delivery while producing more torque. Inline layouts are heavier and much longer than V-type engines, though, and they require more space in terms of length.

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Discussion Comments
By Soulfox — On May 28, 2014

@Terrificli -- you'll still find a number of inline four-cylinder engines out there, so there is still a place for them. One of the appeals of an inline engine is that they are simpler and tend to be more durable.

Still, technology has improved over the years so a "V" engine has become much more durable over the years. Some of the better designed ones have been known to clear 300,000 miles or more before needing a rebuild.

By Terrificli — On May 27, 2014

The compact sizes of "V" engines makes them all the more attractive today. With car sizes dropping while emissions, safety and other systems have increased sharply, the more compact "V" engine is often necessary in a vehicle with an inline design might have been fine.

The compact size of a V-8 all but eliminated the use of inline engines with eight cylinders and the same seems to be happening with inline-6 engines. Will inline four-cylinder engines be next?

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