Online Glossary: Car Terms

The automobile is an intricate system with many complex parts. Performing maintenance work on your care can be both challenging and fun. There is no better way to make sure a job is done right than by doing it yourself. Doing your own car maintenance can also save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on mechanic fees each year. In order to do proper vehicle maintenance, you must first understand the basic automobile components. The following is a list of fifty important automotive terms to learn.

  1. Air Filter – A fibrous material that separates solid particles from the air that enters the engine of a vehicle.
  2. Airbags – A device that automatically deploys from one of many points in a car during a collision to protect its passengers from harm.
  3. Anti-lock Braking System – Sometimes the wheels in a car can lock up which causes the vehicle to skid. An anti-lock brake system automatically pumps the brakes to prevent this loss of control.
  4. Ball Joints – Spherical bearings that connect the steering knuckles to the control arms of the suspension system.
  5. Body – The human body include all parts both inside and outside. The body of a car is different and only refers to the outside. Painting a car is one example of body work.
  6. Brake Lines, Hoses & Connectors – These tubes carry brake fluid around the braking system of the car. A car low on brake fluid will not be able to stop safely or properly.
  7. Brake Pads – Materials use friction to change kinetic energy to thermal energy when pressed against a wheel’s rotor. This phenomenon slows the car and helps it come to a stop.
  8. Cabin Lighting – Cabin lighting refers to the lights in a car that are attached to the headliner and are intended to illuminate the inside in its entirety.
  9. Carburetor – The carburetor is an important part of certain cars that combines air and fuel for use in the Internal Combustion Engine.
  10. Catalytic Converter – The catalytic converter transforms exhaust emissions into non-toxic substances. The catalyst referred to is responsible for transforming carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides into carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water.
  11. Clutch Pedal – This pedal operates the clutch which transfers power from the engine to the wheels. Clutch pedals are only found in cars with standard transmission.
  12. Coolant – Since engines can get so hot, we fill them with coolant. Coolant is liquid with a high boiling point and a low freezing point. It is also known as antifreeze.
  13. Drive Belt – This belt connects crankshaft pulleys to provide power for the air conditioner, alternator, power steering pump and the water pump.
  14. E85 – E85 is a type of fuel that can be used with compatible cars. It is a mixture of gasoline and ethanol and it is cheaper and better for the environment. 
  15. Fog Lights – Fog lights are often low-mounted, rectangular and yellow. They are for use during times of poor visibility not resulting simply from darkness.
  16. Four-wheel Drive – In many vehicles, the engine only powers the front or back wheels and the others just roll along with them. In a car with four-wheel drive, all four tires are spun by the engine.
  17. Fuel Capacity (PDF)– The fuel capacity refers to the amount of fuel that a vehicle’s gas tank can hold. This number is often sixteen gallons.
  18. Fuel Economy – Fuel economy refers to the amount of fuel used to travel a certain distance.
  19. Greenhouse Gases – Cars that use hydrocarbons as fuel emit carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, nitrous oxides and hydrofluorocarbons, all of which can harm the ozone layer of the Earth.
  20. HVAC – This term is an acronym for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
  21. Hybrid Engine – A hybrid car engine uses two different means of propulsion. The most common is gasoline and electricity. Having this type of engine makes a car much more fuel efficient.
  22. Idle Speed – The term idle speed is a bit oxymoronic because when the car is idle, it has no speed. The quickness is question is that of the pistons in the engine.
  23. Instrumentation (Gauges) – On the dashboard, usually behind the steering wheel is a number of gauges that display the current speed, RPM, etc. This is known as the instrumentation.
  24. Keyless Ignition (PDF)– A car with keyless ignition does not need to have the key inside the ignition slot in order to be put into drive. However, there are other safety measures (such as the distance of the key from the car) that help to prevent theft.
  25. Lemon Law – Every state has a lemon law that defines an amount of time that a car purchaser can rightfully notice defects and pursue appropriate action.
  26. Make – The make of a car is its manufacturer. Examples are Honda, Ford, Toyota, Dodge, Cadillac, Hyundai, Chevrolet, and Mitsubishi.
  27. Model – The model is the particular brand of a car. For example, Chevrolet produces a number of models including the Impala, the Cavalier, the Tahoe and the Cruze. 
  28. MPG – This acronym stands for Miles per Gallon and refers specifically to how many miles can be traveled in a vehicle when it burns just one gallon of gas.
  29. Navigation System – A car’s navigation system is a device that communicates with satellites to display, or at least record, where it is at any given time.
  30. Off-Road Ready – An off-road ready vehicle is one that is built or modified to safely travel on rough terrain and unpaved roads.
  31. Oil Filter – Similar to the air filter, the oil filter separates dirt and other solid particles from the oil that enters the engine.
  32. Power Steering – Power steering is an electric or hydraulic system that makes turning the steering wheel of a car much easier. It requires fluid to work.
  33. Powertrain Warranty – You hear this on commercials a lot. Having one means that the engine, transmission, axles and driveshaft are all protected under warranty for a certain amount of time.
  34. Remote Start – Allows driver to turn on their car by hitting a small button on their keychain. This will allow the engine to warm up and it will turn on the AC or heat, but the car will not be ready to drive until the key enters the car.
  35. Retractable Mirrors – These mirrors can be folded toward the car so that they aren’t damaged when the car is being parked into a thin space.
  36. RPM – This acronym stands for revolutions per minute and refers to the number of times the pistons in the engine are rotated in sixty seconds time. 
  37. Solar Sunroof – A solar sunroof can detect the intensity of the sun’s heat and will trigger fans within the car to cool the inside down if the temperature gets too high.
  38. Spoiler – These are usually finlike attachments on the back of cars. They were originally used to direct airflow, but now they are more often included just for looks.
  39. Throttle – This term refers to the amount of air thrust into the engine.
  40. Tie Rod Ends – A ball and socket joint that connects the spindles of the wheel to the center link of the vehicle.
  41. Torque – Torque is loosely defined as “turning force,” and refers to the amount of force used to turn an object. In the instance of a car, the object turned is the crankshaft.
  42. Towing Capacity – This is the amount of weight a vehicle is safely able to tow behind it.
  43. Traction Control – A car’s traction control system keeps it from losing control if a tire does not make appropriate contact with the road for one reason or another.
  44. Transmission – A car shifts gears based on its speed. There are two main types of transmission: automatic and standard.
  45. U-Joints – Short for Universal Joints which are connected by a cross shaft and used in rotation of the drive shaft axle.
  46. Upholstery – This simply refers to the material used to make the seats and panels inside of the car. Common types are leather, cloth and synthetic materials.
  47. Vanity Mirrors – These are the mirrors that are located on the inside of the sun visors so people in the car can groom their faces. 
  48. VIN Number – This number is different on every car and is used to identify it.
  49. Wheel Lug Nuts – The lug nuts hold the wheel onto its studs.
  50. ZEV – An acronym for Zero Emission Vehicle, a car that does not release any harmful materials into the atmosphere when it is used.

This article is a free resource created by Cheap Car Insurance meant to educate the general public. Sharing is permissible. Please contact us if you have any questions. Get a car insurance quote in your area.