Glossary of Automotive Terms

Glossary of Automotive Terms

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Owning a car is an investment, and savvy car owners know that they need to maintain their automobiles so they last as long as possible. Malfunctions can be expensive, but the good news is that many problems are avoidable with regular upkeep. Knowing common automotive terms can help you to buy and maintain a vehicle with confidence.

Anti-Lock Braking System: Anti-lock brakes include special sensors that detect when wheels lock up or when they are about to lock up. The system then reduces the braking force so the wheels continue to roll. ABS can control two or four wheels.

Adaptive Cruise Control: Adaptive cruise control is a special system that automatically slows the vehicle to avoid front-end collisions.

Automatic Transmission: A vehicle with an automatic transmission uses a torque converter, gearset, and clutches to change gears automatically.

Backup Assistance: Backup assistance is the system that helps drivers control their cars when going in reverse.

Brake Lines: Brake lines are tubes with connections that move brake fluid between components.

Brake Pads: Brake pads are made of high-friction material attached to metal plates.

Carburetor: Carburetors are devices on older engines that supply fuel to the engine.

Catalytic Converter: The catalytic converter is a canister that fits into the exhaust system. Material inside the canister has a chemical reaction with engine exhaust, making it less toxic.

Chassis: The chassis includes the mechanical parts of a car that are attached to the structural frame.

Cylinder: The cylinder is the engine cavity within which a piston moves up and down.

Disc Brakes: Disc brakes are brakes that have discs that rotate at the speed of the wheels and calipers that squeeze disc surfaces.

Drivetrain: The drivetrain includes all of the components that generate power and transmit the power to the wheels.

Drum Brakes: Drum brakes are brakes with a drum-shaped iron casting that rotates with the wheels.

Electric Vehicle: Electric vehicles run on electricity instead of gasoline.

Factory-Installed: Equipment that is factory-installed is installed by the vehicle manufacturer.

Floorpan: The floorpan is the floor of the car body, fixing the dimensions of the external and structural panels.

Fuel Injection: A fuel injection system controls the flow of fuel to the engine by measuring what's needed and then regulating the flow either electronically or mechanically.

Gas/Electric Engine: When a vehicle's powertrain can be powered by either gas or electricity, it is a hybrid gas/electric engine.

Headlights: Headlights are the bright front lamps that provide visibility.

Horsepower: Horsepower is a unit of measurement describing engine power.

Independent Suspension: Independent suspension involves the camber of a wheel that isn't affected by the opposite wheel's vertical motion.

Keyless Ignition: A keyless ignition allows the driver to turn on the vehicle with a push button as long as the electronic key is inside the vehicle.

Manual Transmission: A vehicle with a manual transmission requires a clutch and a gear shifter to change gears.

Navigation System: A car's navigation system uses global positioning satellites to determine the physical location of the car and plot a course to reach a destination.

Oil Filter: An oil filter is a canister that filters dirt and abrasive materials out of the oil.

Overdrive: Overdrive is the gearset where the output shaft turns at a faster rate than the input shaft.

Pound-Feet: Pound-feet is the unit of measurement for torque.

Power Steering: Power steering uses a hydraulic or electric system for steering, making it easier to move the steering wheel.

Powertrain: The powertrain is the combination of the engine and transmission.

Remote Start: A vehicle with remote start has an electronic key fob that can start the ignition from a distance.

Sedan: A sedan is a fixed-roof vehicle with at least four doors or a fixed-roof vehicle with two doors that has a minimum of 33 cubic feet of volume in the rear interior.

Shock Absorber: Shock absorbers are devices that convert motion to heat by forcing oil through small passages.

Spare: A spare tire is an extra wheel and tire stored in the vehicle for use if one of the other tires is damaged.

Strut: Struts are a suspension element that include shock absorbers.

Traction Control: Traction control is a system that detects when a wheel is about to lose traction, then reduces engine power and applies the brakes.

Transmission: The transmission is a gearbox with selectable ratios, matching the RPM of the engine and torque to different vehicle requirements.

Underbody: The underbody of a car is the area that's not visible from above.

Vehicle Identification Number: The vehicle identification number is a unique code assigned to every vehicle by the manufacturer.

Water Pump: The water pump circulates coolant throughout the cooling system.

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Shift Editorial Team