Close-up on the machinery of a car engine

Is a motor the same as an engine?

Motors and engines, engines and motors. For many individuals, these words are interchangeable, both calling to mind a vague image of a mechanized device with moving pistons and/or turning gears, exhaling steam and producing power through its efforts to accomplish some task. 

However, for many inhabitants of the Gilbert region, the image that arises is subtly different depending on which word is used. As such, our team here at Mercedes-Benz of Gilbert occasionally fields the question: is there a difference between an engine and a motor?

Differences Between Motors and Engines

While the words motor and engine are used interchangeably by many individuals, they are not technically the same thing. A motor runs on electricity, transforming electrical energy into mechanical energy, while an engine runs on combustion, converting fuel into mechanical force. While both motors and engines convert or modify energy to produce motion, engines contain their own fuel source, as opposed to motors which draw on an external source.

An electric car motor

Language evolves and changes with the world in which it operates in order to continue suiting the purposes of the humans who use it. In the automotive world, the distinction between motors and engines is growing more important as these words are used to differentiate the workings of traditional internal-combustion-powered vehicles from the electric and hybrid models that are rapidly gaining in popularity.

Keep Learning: What happens to EV batteries when they can’t be used anymore?

How do engines and motors power vehicles differently?

Electric cars have a motor that’s powered by a battery. The motor then sends power to the wheels. On the other hand, internal combustion engines, such as your traditional gas-powered specimen, have a fuel tank that sends energy to the engine. The engine then transmits power to the transmission, which turns the wheels.

Ever Wonder: What will electric vehicles sound like?

What’s heavier: an engine or a motor?

While internal combustion engines have to go through a more complex process to get power to the wheels, the setup tends to weigh significantly less than an electric motor. This is because electric motors require both motors and a controller.

If this distinction is puzzling to you, fear not. Eventually, we may transcend batteries and motors altogether and enter the realm of “neuromorphic” hardware. Now that’s heavy.