Cylinder Head

Step by step explanation of how an automotive engine cylinder head works. This information pertains to all internal combustion engines.

Step 1 - An automotive engine cylinder head performs many tasks such as holding and controlling the combustion process while allowing intake and exhaust gases to enter and exit the cylinder head. Featured in the image below is a cross section of a cylinder head that incorporates intake and exhaust ports and valves. Fastened to the engine block using a head gasket that is tightened (torque) with head bolts, a cylinder head also accommodates the intake and exhaust manifolds. These manifolds are sealed to the head using intake and exhaust manifold gaskets.

Cylinder Head Cut-Away

Step 2 - A cylinder head also holds the camshaft (OHC engines only) timing chains with guides while accompanying the camshaft phaser-acuator.

Camshaft Phaser-Actuator Cut-Away

Step 3 - Engine oil pressure is used to activate the camshaft actuator which is control by the computer.

Camshaft Actuator Control Valve

Step 4 - A head gasket is used to seal the cylinder head to the engine block which completes the engine mechanism. The head gasket seals combustion, coolant and engine oil ports.

Cylinder Head w/Engine Block and Piston Cut-Away


Written by
Co-Founder and CEO of
35 years in the automotive repair field, ASE Master Technician, Advanced Electrical and Mechanical Theory.


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Article first published (Updated 2015-01-07)