How a Car Really Works

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

How a Car Really Works

August 21, 2015

Have you ever wondered how a car drives, and how the engine parts make the wheels turn? Luckily for us, someone has made a small car engine totally out of paper so we can see how it works, and it actually runs! The guy, who calls himself Al Zh, made a V6 engine, meaning it has 6 cylinders (the tube shapes). In a real engine, the gasoline burns inside each cylinder to make little explosions, which force a stick called a “piston” to pop up and down. The pistons turn the long pole that has the car wheels on it, called the “axle.” As we see in the video, instead of running on gasoline, this paper engine runs on blowing air. As a filled balloon shoots air through the engine, the pistons spring into action and spin the axle. It even sounds like a little car engine! A whole car made of paper probably couldn’t drive us anywhere without crumpling, but this paper engine has a life of its own.

Wee ones: If a car has 2 wheels in front and 2 in the back, how many wheels does it have?

Little kids: If instead he’d made a V8 engine, how many more cylinders would he need than those 6?  Bonus: If you wanted to count off the cylinders starting at 8 going down to 1, what numbers would you say?

Big kids: If the full balloon can run the engine for 30 seconds, but a 1/2-full balloon runs it 1/2 as long, how many seconds does the 1/2-balloon run it?  Bonus: If the toy car can drive 3 miles an hour and a real one can drive 60 times as fast, how fast can the real car drive?




Wee ones: 4 wheels.

Little kids: 2 more cylinders.  Bonus: 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Big kids: 15 seconds.  Bonus: 180 miles per hour.

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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