What’s That Car Part?

Does this sound familiar – you’ve taken your car in to a mechanic because something is making a funny noise. After the service, they tell you its the alternator. The what? Don’t stress, we’ve compiled a list of every car par you could think of and what exactly they are, as well as where on your car to find them. Read this list and you’ll know exactly what part of your car your mechanic is talking about.

Think back to when you were learning to drive. Chances are you received some quick instructions regarding your car, such as where the gas nozzle goes, where the ignition key goes, and, if you were lucky, where to add water, engine oil and perhaps how to change a tire.

Cars are becoming more and more complicated and with advanced technology, some car parts are hard to even see, let alone recognize.

For those who are interested in learning what a certain car part does and what it looks like, we made a short guide to help with the basics.

car clutch and dashboard

What is an ABS (Anti-Lock Brake System)?

Before anti-lock braking systems, called ABS, became standard equipment, if you slammed on the brakes, chances are that the brakes would lock up and cause the car to skid out of control. Sensors in the ABS detect speed and wheel movement. If you should apply the brakes too hard, the ABS system will take over, gently pumping the brakes for you, to prevent a skid.

What is an A/C Condenser?

Air conditioning is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Think of the a/c condenser as a radiator for the a/c unit. It’s located in front of the radiator. Condensers allow the hot gas (called refrigerant) to cool down and return to a liquid, which then goes to another part inside the car, called an evaporator, which blows cold air into the car.

What is an Alternator?

Your car’s alternator is like a mini-electric generator. It is driven by a belt and causes this car part to produce electricity to charge the car’s battery, power the lights, and even gives power to some accessories.

Close up of car altenator

What are Brakes?

Car anchors are very important, to say the least. Most modern cars have front disc brakes and drum brakes on the rear. Disc brakes have what look like silver dinner plates and a calliper, which holds the brake pads. Drum brakes have a cover and use brake “shoes” that push against the cover to stop the car. When you press on the pedal, this pushes fluid into the brake system, which pushes the shoes against the drum and the pads grip the discs to stop the car.

What is a Camshaft?

This is a long metal shaft which has raised lobes down the entire length. This car part is usually found inside the “head” (the top half) of the engine. It opens small parts called valves, which let air and gas into each cylinder of the engine, then allow burned fumes to leave.

What is a Carburetor?

Most modern-day cars no longer use carbys, but if you have a classic or a very old car, yours might still have one. A carby sits on top of the engine, under the air filter. Its job is to mix the air and gas in the right combination. Carburetors have been replaced with more efficient fuel injectors.

Audi car tyre

What is the Chassis?

Think of a car chassis as the frame under the vehicle. If you were to remove the bonnet, the doors, the interior and the boot, what you have left is the chassis. This is what car parts are mounted to, such as the engine, transmission and suspension.

What is a Clutch?

While most cars use automatic transmissions, if you have a standard transmission, sometimes called a stick shift, then you have a clutch. The clutch consists of a disc, a plate, and a bearing, sometimes called a throw out bearing. A clutch connects the engine and the transmission.

What is a Crankshaft?

This is a large, heavy metal shaft that the pistons of the engine are connected to. This shaft turns the up and down motion of the pistons to a rotating motion. A crankshaft, which is located on the very bottom of the car (often simply called the crank) is the link between the input and the output of the car.

closeup of car engine

What is an Engine Cylinder?

Cylinders are hollow shafts inside the main part of the engine, called the engine block. The pistons go inside these cylinders. If you have a 4-cylinder engine, then you have 4 pistons inside 4 cylinders.

What is a Dipstick?

To check the amount of oil in the engine, a thin, flat metal rod is inserted into a small hole that reaches the bottom of the engine. This metal rod is called a dipstick. Often times, your car will have one for the engine oil and one for the automatic transmission oil, sometimes even a small one for the power steering fluid.

What is a Drivetrain?

Your car’s drivetrain is a set of parts that transfers the power or speed of the engine to the wheels that move the car. This would include the transmission, a driveshaft, the axles and the wheels of your car.

What is an Engine Block?

The engine block is where the pistons of the engine are located. This part is found on the very bottom of the car. Sometimes called the block or cylinder block, it can be made of aluminium or cast iron.

speedometer showing speed

What is a Fuel Injector?

Fuel injectors send a very precise mix of air and fuel into the engine. Injectors are controlled through a variety of electronic devices which are controlled by a central computer. Injectors are far more reliable and efficient than old-fashioned carbys.

What is a Gearbox?

For cars with standard transmissions (sometimes called stick shifts), the gearbox is the transmission where the gears are located. These gears are moved, for example from neutral to reverse, when you manually move the stick lever inside the car. Different gears are needed to allow the car to move from forward to reverse or from low speeds to higher speeds.

What is a Head Gasket?

A car engine has two parts; the top half, which is called the head, and the bottom half, which is called the block. The head gasket is a seal which puts these two parts together, similar to the way a seam stitches two pieces of fabric together and prevents fluids from mixing with one another.

What is a Muffler?

This part is located underneath and/or in the back of the car. After the engine has burned the gas, the leftover fumes go out through the exhaust system. This sound is extremely noisy. The muffler does what the name implies; it muffles the sound. It also helps to keep the hot fumes from touching other car parts.

old style teal sedan car

What is a Piston?

Inside the engine block are holes called cylinders. Inside the cylinders are pistons. These are attached to the crankshaft. These move up and down, forcing the crankshaft to turn, which powers the wheels.

What is a Radiator?

Car engines get very hot from burning gas. The radiator allows the water, which picks up the heat as it moves through the engine, to cool down as the car is moving or from a fan.

What is a Space-Saving Spare Tyre?

Older cars used to come with a regular, full-sized rim and tyre, exactly the same as what the car was sold with. Today, car manufacturers are saving money and making cars lighter, by offering a smaller tyre, which is only meant to be used for a short period of time.

red engine of car

What is a Spark Plug?

When the fuel injector sends petrol and air to the cylinder, something needs to ignite that mixture. The spark plug sends a tiny spark of electricity, which causes the fuel to burn, forcing the piston inside the cylinder to move.

What is the Front Suspension?

The front suspension is a set of parts, including the tires, springs and other linking parts. This system helps drivers to control the vehicle, makes the ride more comfortable, and prevents excessive wear on the tires.

What are Shocks and Struts?

These are parts of the front (and sometimes rear) suspension. Most modern-day cars have struts in the front and shock absorbers in the back. Struts are a part of the front suspension system. They help control the steering and make for a comfortable ride. Shock absorbers, often called shocks, are generally in the rear of the vehicle. These do a similar job to struts, but they are not part of the suspension.

What is a Timing Belt or Timing Chain?

Remember that the crankshaft is located on the top of the engine and that the crankshaft is located at the bottom? These two parts need to work in combination with each other. This happens using a timing belt or a timing chain. The timing belt moves these two parts so that they work together in the correct sequence.

manual car transmission stick

What is a Transmission?

A transmission is a car part that maximizes the fuel efficiency of the engine by changing gears so that the engine doesn’t need to work as hard to push the car to higher speeds. In an automatic transmission, all of this work is done for the driver. A manual or standard transmission must have the driver change the gears with a handle, called the stick.

Of course, some of these car parts are more complicated than what we could talk about here, but this guide should help you understand and identify some basic car parts, so you don’t feel like a dipstick!

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      Brit McDowell

      Lifestyle Specialist & Subject Matter Expert

      Brit McDowell is a Product Specialist at Localsearch with a background in marketing, business and tourism management. Aside from her specialisation in technical processes, Brit is known for her green thumb and growing succulent collection, love of dogs (especially Dalmatians), eye for home interior and fervour for travel. Brit is also a Lifestyle Specialist on the Localsearch Blog and enjoys sharing her research and knowledge in home and gardening services, food, beauty and general lifestyle tips and tricks.