Engine displacement is the swept volume of all the pistons inside the cylinders of a reciprocating engine in a single movement from top dead centre (TDC) to bottom dead centre (BDC). It is commonly specified in cubic centimetres (cc or cm3), litres (l), or cubic inches (CID). Engine displacement does not include the total volume of the combustion chamber.
Or in decimal form:
Examples: The 427 Chevy bore is 4.312 in, and the stroke is 3.65 in, therefore the displacement for this eight-cylinder engine is:
- 3.1416/4 × (4.312 in)2 × 3.65 in × 8 = 426.4 cu in
- (4.312 in)2 × 0.7854 × 3.65 in × 8 = 426.4 cu in
If the bore is 10 cm and the stroke is 5 cm with four cylinders, the calculation is:
- 3.1416/4 × (10 cm)2 × 5 cm × 4 = 1,570 cm3 = 1.57 litres
Taxation of automobiles is sometimes based on engine displacement, rather than power output, fuel economy, or emissions. Displacement is a basic fundamental of engine design, whereas power output depends a great deal on other factors, particularly on how the car manufacturer has tuned the engine from new. This has encouraged the development of other methods to increase engine power, such as variable valve timing and turbochargers.
There are four major regulatory constraints for automobiles: the European, British, Japanese, and American. The method used in some European countries, and which predates the EU, has a level of taxation for engines over 1.0 litre, and another at the level of about 1.6 litres. The British system of taxation depends upon vehicle emissions for cars registered after 1 March 2001, but for cars registered before this date, it depends on engine size. Cars under 1549 cc qualify for a cheaper rate of tax.
The Japanese method is similar to the European taxation by classes of displacement, plus a vehicle weight tax.
The United States does not tax a vehicle based on the displacement of the engine (this is also true in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). Engine displacement is important in determining whether or not smaller vehicles need to be registered with the state and whether or not a license is required to operate such a vehicle. A common threshold is 50 cc.
In the Netherlands road tax is based on region, weight, and fuel type (petrol / CNG, LPG, Diesel, or other (electric/hybrid/H2)) and in Sweden, road tax is based on vehicle weight. However, Swedish cars registered in 2008, or later, are taxed based on carbon dioxide emissions.
Displacement is also used to distinguish categories of (heavier) and lighter motorbikes with respect to driving licence and insurance requirements. In France and some other EU countries, mopeds of less than 50 cm3 displacement (and usually with a two-stroke engine), can be driven with minimum qualifications (previously, they could be driven by any person over 14). This led to all light motorbikes having a displacement of about 49.9 cm3. Some people tuned the engine by increasing the cylinder bore, increasing displacement; such mopeds cannot be driven legally on public roads since they no longer conform to the original specifications and may go faster than 45 km/h.
Wankel engines, due to the amount of power and emissions they create for their displacement, are generally taxed as 1.5 times their stated physical displacement (1.3 litres becomes effectively 2.0, 2.0 becomes effectively 3.0), although actual power outputs are far greater (the 1.3-litre 13B can produce power comparable to either a 3.0 V6 engine or a turbocharged 2.0 inline-4 engine, and the 2.0-litre 20B can produce power comparable to a 3.5 to 3.8 V6 engine or a 4.0 V8 engine). As such, racing regulations actually use a much higher conversion factor.
Automotive model names
In the automotive industry, engine displacement is frequently encoded in the auto manufacturer's model names. For instance, Nissan's Teana 350JM is a car with a 3,498 cubic centimetres (213.5 cu in) displacement engine. Motorcycles are often labeled similarly.
However, this nomenclature can be misleading. For instance, the BMW 3 Series (F30) 320i, 328i and 330i all have a 2.0-litre engine; the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W205) C 200, C 250, C 300 and C 350 Plug-In Hybrid all have a 2.0-litre engine; and the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 has an 8.0-litre (quad-turbocharged W16) engine.
Lexus hybrid vehicles ("h") are marked higher than true engine size to signify the extra power from auxiliary systems. For example, the RX450h has a 3.5 L engine, and the LS600h has a 5.0 L engine.