Knowing what type of engine your car has can be an important piece of information, beyond knowing whether to fill it with petrol or diesel. The specific details of your car's engine can, for instance, make it much easier to purchase new parts. Plus, it's always good to know how much torque and horsepower your engine is capable of, especially as the exact figure of individual engines can differ from those quoted by manufacturers.

If you're unsure of which engine your car has, then let us guide you through the process of finding out below.

The Vehicle Identification Number

Your car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) will clue you into which engine it has. All cars registered in the UK feature their own unique vehicle identification number, so no two are the same. Such numbers act like the vehicle's fingerprint, containing specific details about your car within them.

Introduced in 1983, VINs are used across the globe to identify vehicles. They are 17 digits long and contain both numbers and letters, made up of three specific parts that each provide information about the car.

World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI): These are the first three digits of a VIN, showing who the car was built by, e.g. WAU identifies a German Audi.

  • Within these digits, the first digit defines the country of origin and the final point of assembly of your vehicle.
  • The second digit indicates the manufacturer and the region where your vehicle was produced.
  • The third digit, when combined with the previous two, indicates your vehicle's type and manufacturing division.

Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS): The next six digits provide a description of the vehicle's model, e.g. Nissan Micra, while also providing information on body types, restraint system, transmission type and, crucially, your car's engine type.

  • The ninth digit is the check digit, which is used to detect fraudulent VINs

Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS): The final eight digits contain details about the year your car was built, where it was built, and information on different engine types and trim options.

  • Note, the tenth digit indicates the year, which only applies to vehicles built in or after 1981 since the VIN format was not standardised until that year.

Finding your car's VIN

Typically, your car's VIN is located on the dashboard directly beneath the windscreen and can be seen from outside the vehicle. It's almost always on the front passenger's side, at the point where the bottom of the windscreen meets the dashboard.

If you can't find it there, then check the driver's side door pillar as this is the second most common place that VINs are located. Other places it can be found include the bulkhead under the bonnet or the chassis beneath the car, though it can also be stamped in the owner's manual or on car insurance, both previous and current, too.

Looking up what your car's VIN means

At this point, your VIN is still a mess of letters and numbers. To find what it means, you'll have to decode t. Don't worry, there's no Sherlock-style sleuthing or expert knowledge required. All you need to do is note down the VIN and then type it into one of many VIN decoding services that can be found online.

Search for "VIN decoder UK" and you'll find a plethora of websites that can decode your number for free, though there are some services that charge extra for a more detailed report about your engine's specifications. These paid services even provide information on whether your car's been damaged or stolen at any one time. Although VINs are international, we'd recommend going for a UK-based site to get the most accurate info about your car.​

Alternatively, you can call your car's manufacturer support line. Tell them your VIN and they should be able to track down your specific vehicle in their database and provide you with all the information you need.

What else can your VIN be used for?

Not only is the VIN useful for finding engine parts to keep your motor running at its best, it's useful for checking performance specs too. If you're a bit of a petrolhead, then the VIN can clue you in on capacity and max torque amongst other things, while it's also a handy thing to know when buying a used car. Before you agree to a purchase, make a note of the VIN and check it online. As we said above, you'll be able to find all sorts of information about a car's history, allowing you to check if the car you've got your eye on has been damaged, stolen or had its engine replaced.

What are the different types of car engine?

Straight Engines

In this type, the engine's cylinders are arranged in a line that's parallel to the car from front to back, allowing for more cylinders, which is why they're most commonly found in saloon-type cars such as BMWs and Mercedes.

Inline Engines

Here, the engine's cylinders are arranged side-by-side in an upright position across the engine bay, perpendicular to the car. Such an arrangement creates a small, compact engine whereby other components, such as the radiator, battery and cooling system, can be fitted easily around the sides. The most common form of engine, inlines are often found on hatchbacks and small family cars.

V Engines

Unsurprisingly, V engines are named after the shape its cylinders are arranged when viewed from the front. Mounted on their sides at a 60° angle, the cylinders are made of two rows facing outwards, connected by a crankshaft at the base of the V shape. Such engines feature several cylinders, especially compared to other engine varieties, which make them the preferred engine for powerful supercars and other premium vehicles.

Flat Engines

A flat engine consists of horizontally-mounted cylinders, with two rows that face outwards. Far more uncommon than other engine types, their low centre of gravity within the engine bay benefits their handling in vehicles such as Porsche's iconic and regarded 911 sports car.

What about hybrid engines?

Of course, you may have, or be thinking of purchasing, a car with a hybrid engine. Such vehicles combine a conventional engine with an electric motor and a battery, though with three different varieties, they all work in different ways.

Parallel hybrid cars

The most common variety, popularised by the Toyota Prius; the wheels of parallel hybrid cars are powered in three different ways:

  • Directly by the engine
  • By the electric motor alone
  • By both power sources working together

In a Prius, the electric motor is used when pulling away, during hard accelerations or at speeds up to 15 mph. Beyond this speed, the petrol engine cuts in, an approach that makes it highly economical during stop-start city driving.

Range-extender hybrid cars

Models such as the BMW i3 and the Honda Jazz Hybrid, two of the more popular examples of range-extender hybrid cars, use a conventional engine to produce electricity for a generator that recharges the battery. This means that the engine never drives the car, it only produces energy for the electric motor.

Plug-in hybrid cars

Halfway between a conventional hybrid and a fully-electric model, this variety can be plugged into an electric outlet to recharge the batteries, with on-the-go charging capabilities too.

As well as their conventional engine, they also have larger batteries than regular hybrids which allows them to drive longer distances on electric power – up to 30 miles in some cases.

What engines do electric vehicles have?

Rather than an internal combustion engine, electric vehicles feature an electric motor. Vehicles of this variety use a large traction battery pack which powers the electric motor and must be plugged into a charging station or wall outlet in order to charge.

Since it runs on electricity, no exhaust fumes are emitted while the usual liquid fuel components such as pumps, fuel lines and tanks aren't needed.

Found this article informative and think it's time for a change? At Brindley, we stock a huge range of new and used cars, so you’re sure to find one that won’t let you down. For more information and our complete range, visit the homepage.