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Diesel engines differ from gasoline engines in important ways. To see a diesel engine in action and learn the mechanics of how diesel engines intake and compress air see below.
In theory, diesel engines and gasoline engines are quite similar. They are both internal combustion engines designed to convert the chemical energy available in fuel into mechanical energy. This mechanical energy moves pistons up and down inside cylinders. The pistons are connected to a crankshaft, and the up-and-down motion of the pistons, known as linear motion, creates the rotary motion needed to turn the wheels of a car forward.
Both diesel engines and gasoline engines covert fuel into energy through a series of small explosions or combustions. The major difference between diesel and gasoline is the way these explosions happen. In a gasoline engine, fuel is mixed with air, compressed by pistons and ignited by sparks from spark plugs. In a diesel engine, however, the air is compressed first, and then the fuel is injected. Because air heats up when it’s compressed, the fuel ignites.
For more view source: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/diesel1.htm