We’ve all got that one friend who is a certified car enthusiast. The chances of anyone keeping up with their vehicular escapades are next to zero. Sometimes all you can do is sit there and nod your head slowly as they describe in detail how to perform the perfect heel-and-toe downshift. Next thing you know they’re delving into ways to optimise the transmission life of their Subaru Impreza.
If any of that car jargon made sense, you’re probably already a car expert and are simply here to brush up on your knowledge. We hope we can help while also giving the chance to non-car experts to learn something new. With that, let’s fire away with our car glossary consisting of 30 terms worth knowing.
The source of power in a vehicle – an alternator generates and supplies the vehicle with power – including by charging the batteries.
Anti-Lock Braking System
A braking system that recognises when a wheel is likely to lock up and reduces the pressure applied to it in order to prevent locking. If the wheel is already locked, the system informs the driver.
Aquaplaning occurs when a car slides out of control due to wet and slippery roads. Aquaplaning can happen when water sitting on the road makes the wheel lose traction with the tyre tread.
The support pillar between a car’s front door window and rear window (if there is one).
Brake fluid is a hydraulic liquid that facilitates safe and effective braking by transferring the force applied on the brake pedal into pressure that slows the car down.
A camshaft is a mechanical shaft with a series of valves that transform rotary motion into linear motion. All piston engines use at least one camshaft to operate.
A device that provides the exact amount of fuel and air needed to ignite and run an internal combustion engine. Unless you own an electric vehicle, your car will have one of these.
The frame on which a car is built.
A crankshaft converts the vertical or horizontal movement of the pistons/conrods into rotational force and provides the transmission and driveline with rotational spin (for the wheels).
Cruise Control (a.k.a automated cruise control)
A system that allows the driver to set and maintain a given speed.
A thin metal rod that, when lifted, provides a measure of a liquid. Most commonly, it refers to the oil or coolant dipstick.
A gearbox that splits the torque produced by the engine and delivers it via two outputs that can turn at different speeds. This helps four-wheel drive vehicles deliver torque unevenly to wheels that need it most.
A shaft that conducts power from the transmission to the differential.
A network of pipes that gather the exhaust gases from the various ports and directs them to the catalysts and mufflers that make up the exhaust system.
Four-wheel steering is a system that allows the driver to steer all four wheels of the car at once – not just the front or back two. This improves handling and manoeuvrability.
A general term that refers to a vehicle’s level of drivability. A vehicle with good handling can mean it has a combination of factors that make it feel nice to drive.
The lane or strip of land on the outer edge of the freeway is used as an emergency stopping lane.
An advanced driving technique that allows a driver to down-shift while braking. The technique uses all three pedals of a manual car at the same time.
Horsepower is a measure of a car’s (or other vehicle’s) power. The term originates from the 1700s when inventor James Watt observed how much work ponies were able to complete in a single minute. The term is used widely to express a car’s power. 1 horsepower equals the amount of power needed to lift 550 pounds one foot off the ground in one second.
A heat exchanger that cools the air that has heated due to compression.
A differential that can be locked so that the two outputs operate in unison in order to maximise traction.
A mid-engined car has its engine situated behind the passenger compartment but in front of the rear axle.
A device that records every kilometre travelled on a particular vehicle.
One of the main cooling systems in a car. It ensures the engine does not overheat.
A system of springs that cushions the vehicle from shocks occurring while the vehicle is driving.
Torque is a rotational force that is used to turn things. It is used as a comparative specification for cars.
An electronic control mechanism that works to reduce or prevent wheelspin.
Pounds per square inch is a measure of pressure often used to describe the required or given the pressure of a car’s tyres.
Slang for automatic transmission.
Turbocharged engines often have a delay of a few seconds between initial acceleration and the moment when they are able to gather the required power.