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A camshaft

The camshaft is an apparatus often used in piston engines to operate poppet valves. It consists of a cylindrical rod running the length of the cylinder bank with a number of oblong lobes or cams protruding from it, one for each valve. The cams force the valves open by pressing on the valve, or on some intermediate mechanism, as they rotate.

Depending on the location of the camshaft, the cams operate the valves either directly or through a linkage of pushrods and rockers. Direct operation involves a simpler mechanism and leads to fewer failures, but requires the camshaft to be positioned at the top of the cylinders. In the past when engines were not as reliable as today this was seen as too much bother, but in modern gasoline engines the overhead cam system, where the camshaft is on top of the cylinder head, is quite common. Some engines use two camshafts each for the intake and exhaust valves; such an arrangement is known as a double or dual overhead cam (DOHC), thus, a V engine may have four camshafts.