The main differences between the gasoline (petrol) engine and the diesel engine are:
- A gasoline engine intakes a mixture of gas and air, compresses it and ignites the mixture with a spark. A diesel engine takes in just air, compresses it and then injects fuel into the compressed air. The heat of the compressed air lights the fuel spontaneously.
- A gasoline engine compresses at a ratio of 8:1 to 12:1, while a diesel engine compresses at a ratio of 14:1 to as high as 25:1. The higher compression ratio of the diesel engine leads to better efficiency.
- Gasoline engines generally use either carburetion, in which the air and fuel is mixed long before the air enters the cylinder, or port fuel injection, in which the fuel is injected just prior to the intake stroke (outside the cylinder). Diesel engines use direct fuel injection to the diesel fuel is injected directly into the cylinder.
The diesel engine has no spark plug, that it intakes air and compresses it, and that it then injects the fuel directly into the combustion chamber (direct injection). It is the heat of the compressed air that lights the fuel in a diesel engine.
The injector on a diesel engine is its most complex component and has been the subject of a great deal of experimentation in any particular engine it may be located in a variety of places. The injector has to be able to withstand the temperature and pressure inside the cylinder and still deliver the fuel in a fine mist.
Getting the mist circulated in the cylinder so that it is evenly distributed is also a problem, so some diesel engines employ special induction valves, pre-combustion chambers or other devices to swirl the air in the combustion chamber or otherwise improve the ignition and combustion process.
One big difference between a diesel engine and a gas engine is in the injection process. Most car engines use port injection or a carburetor rather than direct injection. In a car engine, therefore, all of the fuel is loaded into the cylinder during the intake stroke and then compressed.
The compression of the fuel/air mixture limits the compression ratio of the engine, if it compresses the air too much, the fuel/air mixture spontaneously ignites and causes knocking. A diesel compresses only air, so the compression ratio can be much higher. The higher the compression ratio, the more power is generated.