Piston clearance is the clearance or gap between the piston and metal cylinder, to avoid damage due to excessive expansion of piston on getting heated during combustion. It is also known as a piston to bore clearance.

Generally, the piston is made up of cast aluminium alloy for good thermal conductivity. On heating, aluminium expands more than the metal cylinder. So proper piston clearance is necessary to maintain free piston movement in the cylinder.

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During the compression stroke, the air-fuel mixture ( for Otto cycle) or air ( for diesel cycle) is compressed. The highest pressure is achieved when the piston comes near the TDC. But absolute zero clearance is not recommended as the mixture requires it’s own space or volume for its existence.

piston clearance

Suddenly when the spark is produced ( Otto cycle) or diesel is sprayed ( diesel cycle), the mixture which is at high pressure and temperature try to expand completely in this small clearance volume which is small enough for expansion hence the piston is moved down hence the power is produced.

In petrol engines, the air-fuel mixture is compressed just below clearance volume (If the compression ratio is 9:1, then the mixture is compressed to 1/9th of total volume) and then sparked by the spark plug.

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Similarly, in diesel engines, air is compressed just below TDC (top dead centre) and then fuel is injected into the cylinder to combust the atomized fuel with air. Even here the air is compressed to the Lowest volume (clearance volume).

If the piston clearance is too small, then on getting heated-

  • piston will seize inside the cylinder on more expansion
  • piston will get too tight in the cylinder, resulting in excessive friction loss
  • piston can damage the cylinder wall

If the piston clearance is too large, then

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  • piston will move back and forth very freely, resulting in engine knock and may even damage the piston skirt.
  • large clearance may also reduce the sealing property of compression rings to seal the compression chamber.

piston clearance



  1. The value varies depending on many factors… piston material, bore material, engine operating temperature range, rpm range, etc. Engine manufacturers will supply specifications for particular engines.

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