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Cylinder Liner: Function, Design & Types (Explained)

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  • 6 min read

Last Updated on: 7th September 2023, 12:36 am

Cylinder liners (sometimes also known as sleeves) are a major part of an engine, they have three core functions.

In this article, we’ll explain what the cylinder liner is, its three main functions, its design and what materials they’re made from.

three types of cylinder liner

What Are Cylinder Liners

A cylinder liner is a cylindrical sleeve that forms the inner wall of an engines combustion chamber.

Its primary function is to provide a smooth and durable surface for the piston to move within, while also facilitating effective heat dissipation and maintaining compression.

Cylinder liners are manufactured from various materials, including cast iron, steel, and aluminum alloys.

The choice of material depends on factors such as thermal conductivity, wear resistance, and compatibility with the engine’s operating conditions.

Cylinder walls come in different types, such as wet liners (directly in contact with coolant), dry liners (isolated from coolant), and semi-dry (partially in contact with coolant).

Importance & Function

Cylinder liners play a pivotal role in determining the performance of an internal combustion engine. They have three main functions, as detailed below.

  1. Facilitate heat conduction and dissipation
  2. Form the sliding surface within the combustion chamber
  3. Maintain compression within the cylinders

1. Heat Conduction & Dissipation

Firstly, they contribute significantly to heat dissipation and thermal conductivity.

The liner’s ability to transfer excess heat away from the combustion chamber prevents overheating and subsequent engine damage.

cylinder liner thermal dissipation and conductivity diagram

2. Sliding Surface of the Combustion Chamber

Cylinder liners form the sliding surface within the combustion chamber.

They’re designed to reduce friction between the piston rings and cylinder wall, minimising wear and improving overall engine efficiency.

Their corrosion resistance and durability ensure a long operational lifespan, maintaining optimal engine performance over time.

Liners should have the following characteristics:

  • High burn resistance
  • Low friction
  • High strength and resistant to deformity
  • Low engine oil consumption
cylinder liner sliding surface diagram

3. Maintain Compression

Additionally, cylinder liners are designed to have effective piston ring sealing, contributing to higher compression efficiency and reduced blow-by.

Their job is to also prevent compressed gas and combustion gas leaking out.

The liner should be as airtight as possible not be prone to deformation from the high pressure and high temperatures found inside the combustion chamber.

cylinder liner compression and airtightness diagram

Design & Types

Precision during the installation of cylinder liners is critical. The liners must be machined to exact specifications and fitted with accuracy to ensure a proper seal.

There are also multiple types of cylinder liner, as detailed below.

  • Dry liners
  • Wet liners

Dry Liners

Dry liners, also referred to as “dry sleeves” or “non-flanged sleeves”, are installed within the engine block with a snug fit.

They are not in direct contact with the engine’s coolant system, hence the term “dry”.

The lack of direct contact means that the coolant does not flow around the liners, and their cooling relies primarily on heat transfer through the engine block.

dry cylinder liner diagram


  • Simplicity: Dry liners are easier to install and replace due to their straightforward design and installation method.


  • Limited Cooling: The absence of direct coolant fluid contact can lead to increased operating temperatures, potentially affecting engine longevity and performance.
  • Higher Stress: Dry liners can experience higher stress due to thermal expansion differences between the liner and the engine block, potentially leading to reduced lifespan and potential for damage (such as a cracked cylinder liner).

Wet Liners

Wet liners, also known as “wet sleeves” or “flanged sleeves”, are inserted into the engine block in a way that allows them to come into direct contact with the coolant.

This design facilitates efficient heat dissipation from the liners and helps regulate the operating temperature of the engine.

wet cylinder liner diagram


  • Enhanced Cooling: The direct contact with coolant fluid provides efficient heat transfer, keeping operating temperatures within a more controlled range.
  • Reduced Thermal Stress: The interaction with the coolant mitigates extreme temperature differences, reducing the chance of heat stress and cylinder liner cracking.
  • Easier Boring and Honing: Replacing wet liners involves a simpler process of boring and honing compared to dry liners.


  • Complex Installation: Installing or replacing wet liners can be slightly more complex due to the sealing mechanisms and the need to integrate with the cooling system.

Which Type of Liner is Better?

The choice between dry liners and wet liners depends on the requirements and goals of the engine design.

Dry liners are simpler to install but may lead to higher operating temperatures and mechanical stress, while wet liners provide superior cooling and reduced stress.

Effect on Engine Performance

The design and condition of the cylinder liner can significantly influence engine performance and efficiency.

Cylinder liners also play a role in managing emissions by helping proper combustion and reducing the production of pollutants, they also reduce blow-by and combustion gas leaks.

Their effect on friction directly impacts fuel efficiency and performance, making them an essential consideration for engine designers.

  • Andy Lewin

    Andy Lewin is a senior mechanic, ASE qualified master technician, and an experienced automotive engineer. He's passionate about serving the automotive community with the highest-quality and trustworthy information on all things automotive. He loves to write about car repairs, maintenance, car modifications and tuning, faults, and much more.

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