An engine's cylinder misfires when ignition occurs at the wrong time or not at all. Because the engine's moving parts must be in exact locations at the moment of the spark, incorrect timing often results in loss of power or a choppy ride.
A car's gasoline engine converts fuel into mechanical energy through combustion. A mixture of gas and air are heavily compressed by pistons in the engine's cylinders. The spark plugs then ignite this volatile mixture, causing it to expand violently and move the pistons outward. The piston's back-and-forth movement is harnessed and used to move the vehicle.
But, with so many moving parts working in concert, any number of issues can destroy the precise timing necessary and create a cylinder misfire. While dirt and bad wires can affect the spark plug's ability to create ignition on time, other steps can also be compromised. For instance, bad injectors can change the composition of the fuel mixture, possibly creating a weak explosion that cannot properly move the piston. A broken piston, on the other hand, cannot move at all.
Fortunately, however, many of these issues can be avoided with preventative maintenance and keeping the engine properly tuned. Additionally, requesting a trouble-code scan annually can help detect problems before they become serious.