Rotary Engine Disadvantages

Written by scarlett gauthier
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Rotary Engine Disadvantages
Rotary engines have many advantages but several disadvantages as well. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Rotary engines offer an alternative to conventional piston combustion engines. Mazda is currently the only automobile manufacturer that uses these types of engines. The rotary engine is an internal combustion type, where the chamber changes sizes as the rotor spins and rotates. Though they can be considered an advancement over older engine types, rotary engines also have certain drawbacks many automakers fail to mention.

Design Elements

Due to several design elements, rotary engines can have significant operational disadvantages compared to conventional engines. Leakage between engine chambers is a common problem in rotary engines, resulting in a loss of efficiency over periods of time. There are also a limited number of rotors in the engine because of the output shaft that must transmit all the power. In the case where there are more than two rotors, the output shaft must be assembled in several parts. If the output shaft fails and comes apart, the engine as a whole will fail. Rotary engines also burn engine oil in small amounts because of other design elements, so oil levels must be frequently checked and maintained. Moreover, due to their design, these engines cannot operate with diesel fuel.

Lifespan and Maintenance

Rotary engines do not last as long as piston engines. Seal problems occur more frequently, especially in locations where the weather is colder. This leads to a decrease in overall engine efficiency, resulting in a shorter lifespan. Parts are also more difficult to maintain; and because the manufacturing volumes are relatively low, rotary engines can be more expensive than other engines. Since it is a rotary engine, only specially trained mechanics and dealerships will work on the engine when it needs maintenance.


Rotary engine seals can offer their own set of challenges for drivers living in colder climates. These engines often have a problem with flooding on cold starts. Though it usually happens only with older models, it is necessary to allow time for the motor to warm up to a reasonable operating temperature, before starting, to avoid flooding the engine with fuel.


Rotary engines emit high levels of pollution. Often, these engine fail to meet U.S. emissions regulations due to the high levels of hydrocarbons they produce. Rotary engines also consume more fuel than regular piston engines, therefore increasing pollution rates.

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