How Do Wankel Rotary Engines Work?

Smoother and more compact, the rotary engine has its advantages – and downsides, too. We breakdown the science and functionality behind the Wankel.

Unlike the conventional piston engines that power the majority of the cars on the road today, the Wankel engine — or more commonly referred to as a rotary engine — designed by German engineer Felix Wankel and patented back in 1929, takes a more innovative approach to essentially accomplish the same thing: convert pressure into motion to help propel our vehicles forward.

The simplicity and compact design of the rotary engine is what sets it apart from other internal combustion engines, with Mazda and their RX-8 sports coupe perhaps making the Wankel power plant more of a household name the past few decades.

Rotary Engine: Pros and Cons

Here’s a quick overview of some of the good and bad that comes with this type of engine.


  • smoother and more compact design
  • more reliable: simplicity of design means less can go wrong
  • can last longer: less moving parts a big plus


  • expensive to repair: an uncommon engine means more costly to repair; plus, you need to find a specialist
  • more maintenance: the simplicity of design is a plus but the tradeoff is more frequent, consistent maintenance
  • oil leaks: perhaps the most common issue with the rotary engine
  • not fuel efficient: requires more oil and fuel mix to keep things lubricated; down goes fuel economy

So, how does the rotary engine actually work?

Well, we could explain this peculiar machine’s workings in a long block of text. Or, we can share this terrific infographic from the team at at Animagraffs to help break it all down, visually.

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how do wankel rototary engines work rotor-eccentric-shaft
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how do wankel rototary engines work full-model
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