Rocker arms are little levers that touch the lobes, or cams, on the camshaft. When a lobe lifts one end of the rocker, the other end of the rocker presses down on the valve stem, opening the valve to let air in to the combustion chamber or letting exhaust out. It works sort of like a see-saw.
Sometimes camshaft lobes touch the rocker arm directly (as you see with overhead camshaft engines), thus opening and closing the valve. On overhead valve engines, the camshaft lobes don’t come into direct contact with the rocker arms, so pushrods or lifters are used.
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