Engines with Inherently Weak “Bottom Ends”

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Opposed Pistons (outward facing with one crankshaft) (Flat, Boxer, etc)

“V” Pattern Engines: V6, V8, V12, V16, V24, etc. “W” Pattern Engines

The weak “bottom-end” is a consequence of the “V” cylinder configuration where the crankshaft is so short that the room available for the “bottom end” bearings e.g. the crankshaft main bearings and the connecting rod journal bearings, is so narrow that the bearings lack enough width to carry the load at RPM.

This weakness, however is common of most smaller “V” cylinder configuration engines, especially those with cylinder bores less then 5 inches (127mm) and is due to the overall shortness of the crankshaft.

V8 Rod Bearings

Compare the width of the small V8 connecting rod bearings above with the width of the inline-4 bearings below which are nearly twice as wide.

Inline 4 Rod Bearings

With twice as many pistons connected to a V8 crankshaft which is typically only slightly longer then an inline 4-cylinder crankshaft, there just isn’t much room for the connecting rod bearings, the crankshaft main bearings, and the crank webs. Consequently the V8’s bearings and webs must be much narrower as graphically shown in the pictures above and below.

Unfortunately, in the case of any slipping type bearings such as crankshaft bearings, the narrower the bearings, the more difficult it is maintain an adequate lubricating oil film between the bearing’s surface and the crankshaft to support the heavy loads of a high compression diesel engine especially under load at higher RPM’s.

Detroit Diesel 8.2 Crankshaft

Even though the connecting rod pins on a V8 crank are the widest journals on the crank, when assembled the V8 crank will have two connecting rods crowded onto each rod journal leaving little room for each individual rod bearing.

V8 Crankshaft with Two Rods assembled to each rod Journal.

In the pictures above and the illustration below, it is easy to see how narrow the rod bearings have to be. Note the two oil feed holes per rod journal (one for each connecting rod. In a fully pressurized lubrication system, the oil is fed to the center of each bearing so that it can form an oil film between the crankshaft journal and the bearing surfaces, as it works its way to the outer edges of the bearing where it squirts out and splatters around the crankcase as the crankshaft turns. Oil tends to exit narrow bearings much more quickly. The wider the bearings, the more oil between the bearing and crankshaft surfaces to carry the load and the more slowly the oil is forced out from between the metal surfaces of the crankshaft and bearings, hence wide bearings can carry higher loads. The larger the cylinder bores, the longer the crankshaft and therefore the more room available for wider bearings. V8 engines with cylinder bores larger then 6″ typically have plenty of room on the longer crankshaft for wide bearings, etc.

Detroit Diesel 8.2 Crankshaft – Illustration.

Note how narrow the five main bearing journals are especially when compared with the 4-cylinder crankshaft second below. Main bearings will be discussed in more detail a little later.

Another issue with any small V8 crankshaft is the narrow crank webs which are much weaker and consequently much more prone to breakage as shown below.

V8 Crankshaft with broken web near front end of crankshaft (left).

By comparison, the inline 4-cylinder crankshaft directly below which will have only one rod fitted per journal when assembled can have much wider rod bearings. And note the much wider main bearing journals which will accommodate much wider main bearings. Also note the wider and much stronger crank webs between the bearing journals.

Detroit Diesel 4-53 4-cylinder 2-stroke cycle crankshaft.

The inline 4-cylinder crankshaft shown above has 5 main bearings. The crank webs, and the width and diameter of the main and rod bearings have been optimized to carry the stress and load of a high compression, high output engine. By comparison, the V8 crankshaft has the same number of main bearings for twice as many cylinders, and the V8 main bearing journals are much narrower. You can see how crowded a small V8 crankcase can be in the picture directly below. There just isn’t enough room for rod bearings or main bearings to be wide enough to carry the heavy loads generated by a high compression high output engine.

Notice that the main bearing journals of the V8 crankshafts shown in the illustration and pictures above have been increased in diameter to increase the bearing surface in an effort to compensate for their narrowness. But at some point this becomes counter-productive because the increased diameter increases the slip-bearing surface speed which makes it more difficult for the oil to maintain adequate oil film thickness at higher RPM’s. By comparison, a 4-cylinder crank’s main bearings can be wider so they can more easily maintain oil film thickness and carry the loads, hence the journals can be smaller in diameter to reduce bearing surface speed. This is why inline engines with the wider bearings and stronger crank webs, and main bearings between each cylinder can be air charged (e.g. with a turbocharger) to reliably produce more than twice the horsepower per unit of displacement then a small V8. Air-charging these stronger inline diesel engines can also enable them to run cleaner with fewer emissions. This benefit is discussed in detail in our article titled Fuel Fundamentals.

Engines with longer piston strokes have the advantage of typically producing much higher torque at slower crankshaft speeds (RPMs). Many small V8 engines are designed with a stroke much shorter then most other diesel engines of this displacement. It is just slightly “under-square” with a 108mm bore x 112mm stroke. Besides allowing the engine height to be lower, the shorter stroke also has the advantage of reducing the load on the “bottom end”. Unfortunately, any of these short stroke, nearly-square and over-square engines produce less torque and have to be set-up to run at higher RPM’s to produce their maximum power, which is limited by their increased crankshaft slip-bearing surface speeds. Unfortunately, as bearing surface speed increases, bearing wear increases and so does the risk of bearing failure.

In conclusion

The above comparisons show why smaller V8 engines that lack the space for the wider crankshaft bearings and stronger crank webs are not capable of the higher power outputs of comparable displacement inline engines. These are some of the main reasons why most diesel engine manufacturers have abandoned building small V8 engines and have embraced inline configurations especially the turbocharged 6 cylinder inline with 7 main bearings such as the Cummins B and C series engines. In the case of V8 engines with bores larger than 5 inches (127mm), they are longer and therefore have more room for wider crankshaft bearings and stronger crank webs which means that they can have much stronger “bottom ends” and therefore higher power outputs  per displacement unit then their smaller, shorter, and weaker little brothers.


In V8 engines, two connecting rods often ride on the same crankshaft connecting rod journal (or pin). This can be seen in the picture of a GM V8 below. For illustrative purposes, not all the rods have been installed. The far left journal has two rods (#1 & #2) attached (#1 is clearly visible), the next journal to the right has one rod attached (#3), and the next two journals to the right have no rods attached. The connecting rod bearing oil feed holes are clearly visible in the far right (#7 & #8) rod journal. The very narrow main bearing caps are also clearly visible. This engine has two bolts fastening the main bearing caps to the block. High output V8 engines often have “four bolt mains” to increase the strength of the main bearing cap.

Bottom End - GM 350 Small Block Chevy V8

Bottom End – GM 350 Small Block Chevy V8

In smaller “V” engines with very short crankshafts as above and the Detroit Diesel 8.2 Litre V8 engine, there is very little room for the crankshaft main bearings, the crankshaft counterweights and the connecting rod bearings, so the bearings tend to be too narrow for the load. The Detroit Diesel 8.2 is air charged (turbocharged) to only 149 kW  or 200 horsepower for marine service simply because there is not enough room for wide enough bearings to handle the heavier loads from more horsepower and torque. Thus the 8.2 is rated at less then 0.3 kW or 0.4 horsepower per cubic inch of displacement. “V” engines larger then 2 liter per cylinder usually have enough room for bearings wide enough to carry the loads. Inline engines of all sizes have plenty of room for more then adequate bearings. That’s why inline diesel engines can be air charged (eg turbocharged and intercooled) enough to exceed one horsepower per cubic inch of displacement and still be duty rated for very heavy service.


NOTE: Not all 4-cylinder inline engines have 5 main bearings supporting the crankshaft. Some light duty 4-cylinder inline engines have only 3 main bearings (as illustrated below) and therefore can not produce as much power output as comparable 4-cylinder inline engines with 5 main bearings. Likewise, some light duty 6-cylinder inline engines have only 4 main bearings instead of 7, and some inline 8-cylinder (straight-eight) engines have only 5 main bearings instead of 9, etc.

NOTE: The ultra-light duty 4-cylinder inline Atomic-4 gasoline engine has only 2 main bearings. One on each end of the crankshaft as shown below. Instead of a middle main bearing journal between the #2 and #3 rod journals, there is simply a counterweight to reduce flexing and vibration. Note the width of the main bearing and rod bearing journals on the Atomic-4 crankshaft below compared to the much narrower ones on the small V8 crankshafts shown farther above.

Atomic-4 Crankshaft

NOTE: Surprisingly, some small V8 engines have fewer than 5 main bearings. For example, the popular ultra-light duty Ford “flat-head” V8 gasoline engines of the 1930’s, 40’s & early 50’s had only 3 main bearings. One bearing on each end of the crankshaft and one in the middle as shown below. Strangely, this provides somewhat of an advantage. By having two fewer main bearings, additional space is available for the three remaining main bearings allowing them to be slightly wider. The crank webs were also thicker and stronger. Still, the Ford “flat-head” V8 engine is universally recognized as having a fairly weak “bottom end” primarily due to having only 3 main main bearings, with their rather weak “two bolt” main bearing caps, and of course because of the two connecting rods with narrow bearings being attached to each rod journal like most small V8’s. Fortunately, in it’s stock configuration, there is little load on this engine’s “bottom end” due to it’s small bore, short stroke, low compression ratio, and low power output. But, when modified for high performance racing, the “bottom end” weaknesses begin to express themselves in rapid bearing wear, spun bearings, thrown rods, and broken cranks.

Ford “Flat-Head” V8 Gasoline Engine “Bottom End”.

How To Keep The 8.2 Alive

Because of these recognized inherent weaknesses, Detroit Diesel never did set up the 8.2 engines to produce very high power outputs (see Engine Spec Table later in this article). Fortunately, in a vehicular application, the engine is rarely operated at higher power output for very long, usually just during acceleration and when climbing hills. If the 8.2 engine is intentionally operated at reduced power (below 80%), by shifting down and easing up on the throttle, doing so has proven to help it survive. In a marine application this is accomplished by under-pitching the propeller, avoiding any rapid acceleration, and if necessary, reducing the vessel’s cruising speed. Unfortunately, this often encourages excessive carbon buildup and its ensuing problems, including “injector misfire“. Since the practice of routinely running at full throttle (flank speed) to blow out the carbon soot is NOT recommended with the 8.2, because doing so often results in head gasket failure or catastrophic bearing failure, other ways of reducing carbon buildup must be utilized. Unfortunately, the benefits of “water injection” are limited because the 8.2 should not be run at full throttle when most of the soot would be blown out. But adding certain carbon reducing (and injector cleaning) fuel additives can be quite helpful.


Uneven-Firing V6 (-putt-putt—putt-putt—putt-putt-) engines like the Buick Special (225 cubic inch) became popular in boats in the 1960’s when marinized by OMC and branded as “OMC”, “Johnson” and “Evenrude”). The crankshaft was similar to a V8 crankshaft in as much as two connecting rods were fitted side-by-side on each extra-wide rod journal. The rod journals were of course set 120° apart instead of the 90° piston phasing in the case of the V8 crankshaft. This V6 “Bottom End” inherited the same weaknesses as the “Bottom Ends” of the small V8 engines described above due to its short crankshaft that lacked enough room for crankshaft webs and bearings.

Even-firing V6 engines tend to have the weakest “Bottom Ends” of all due to the 30° off-set (or “staggered”) rod journals that leave even less width for the crankshaft webs and bearings. Most modern V6 engines are of the even-firing design.
Note how narrow and weak the crankshaft webs are between the adjoining connecting rod journals.
Straight (Inline) engine from Wikipedia
Inline engine (aeronautics) from Wikipedia
Crossplane from Wikipedia
V6 engine from Wikipedia
V8 engine from Wikipedia
W engine from Wikipedia

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