In a reciprocating piston engine, the connecting rod connects the piston to the crank or crankshaft.
The connecting rods are most usually made of steel for production engines, but can be made of aluminium (for lightness and the ability to absorb high impact at the expense of durability) or titanium (for a combination of strength and lightness at the expense of affordability) for high performance engines, or of cast iron for applications such as motor scooters. They are not rigidly fixed at either end, so that the angle between the con rod and the piston can change as the rod moves up and down and rotates around the crankshaft.
The connecting rod is under tremendous stress from the reciprocating load represented by the piston, actually stretching and relaxing with every rotation, and the load increases rapidly with increasing engine speed. Failure of a connecting rod is one of the most common causes of catastrophic engine failure in cars, frequently putting the broken rod through the side of the crankcase.
When building a high performance engine, great attention is paid to the connecting rods, eliminating stress risers by such techniques as grinding the edges of the rod to a smooth radius, shotpeening to relieve internal stress, balancing all con rod/piston assemblies to the same weight and Magnafluxing to reveal otherwise invisible small cracks which would cause the rod to fail under stress. In addition, great care is taken to torque the con rod bolts to the exact value specified; often these bolts must be replaced rather than reused. The big end of the rod is fabricated as a unit and cut or cracked in two to establish precision fit around the big end bearing shell.