The Mom’s Guide to Car Terms

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Heather Jones
Heather Jones
I'm Heather, an author passionate about home improvements. My writing is your guide to making homes better. Let's explore easy ways to enhance your living spaces, from small fixes to exciting projects. Join me on a journey of making your house a cozy and stylish haven.

The odds are you know a lot about driving cars, but you might not know a whole lot about fixing cars, and we’re willing to bet you’re kind of bummed out about it. You sense that a comprehensive knowledge of every gear, tank, and axle would be a major help, and yet it seems like a time-intensive challenge to gain even a basic understanding. 

Part of the intimidation around cars comes from a lack of familiarity with the standard vocabulary. How can you learn the repair basics when you can’t even understand what the mechanics are talking about? Once you know your basic parts and components, it will be a lot easier to get the hang of the whole world of auto repair. It’s impossible to name all the car parts in a single article, but here you’ll find some central terms and an introduction to major brands. 

Drive Belt

This belt (or belts—some cars have as many as three) runs through the engine and takes responsibility for powering a number of central functions. The alternator and water pump depend on the drive belt, which sometimes wears out but is easy enough to replace.

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This part is responsible for powering the vehicle’s electrical functions. It charges your car’s battery and keeps the electricity flowing. An alternator failure prevents the car from starting, and there are plenty of videos on YouTube that show you how to tell if your car is not starting because of your alternator or your battery.

Intake Manifold

For your vehicle to run properly, the air flowing between the engine’s cylinders must be properly regulated. This is the job of the intake manifold, a part that rarely suffers total failure but often requires a quick fix.

Wheel Bearing

Your car’s wheels should spin freely, and the wheel bearings are what makes this happen. Damaged bearings can result in a loud or bumpy ride. They’re sometimes fixable, but often they need to be replaced. 

Shock Absorbers

Even when driving over bumpy or uneven roads, you shouldn’t feel like you’re driving the Lunar Rover. It’s the shock absorbers that help smooth your ride, and things can get uncomfortable when they start to wear. Get them replaced as soon as you notice a problem since more than just your comfort is at stake. Continuing to drive on worn-out shock absorbers can cause serious damage to the suspension system of the vehicle. 

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Left to their own devices, engines are prone to dangerous overheating that will eventually render them useless. The radiator’s job is to prevent this from happening. Located beside the engine, the radiator takes in the heated coolant that has passed through the engine and cools it, leaving the heat to dissipate harmlessly into the atmosphere. 


This is the part that determines whether a car is “manual” or “automatic.” The transmission contains several gears and must change between them to match a driver’s desired speed. With a manual or standard transmission, the driver must change gears with a lever or “gear shift.” Automatic transmissions, meanwhile, change on their own in accordance with the car’s internal computer and transmission fluid.


Part of the exhaust system, this component is responsible for keeping your vehicle quiet. When your car sounds like a lawnmower, a problem with the muffler is often to blame. You should deal with a broken muffler immediately (even if you kind of like the noise) since the problem can ultimately harm your catalytic converter.

Catalytic Converter

This vital component helps reduce the harmful emissions from your vehicle’s engines. Nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide are natural products of combustion, but they’re devastatingly harmful to the environment. The catalytic converter helps keep these emissions in check.

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Popular Brands

In addition to a basic understanding of major parts, it’s also important to know your way around the major brands in the auto parts industry. Bosch, a company known for its household tools, is also a top-rated parts supplier. Carquest is another popular brand, selling everything from transmission filters to drive belts. StopTech, meanwhile, is renowned for its brake pads, rotors, and other key components. When looking for parts, do the necessary research to determine which brand specializes in a particular area.

The first step toward mastering any discipline is getting comfortable with the lingo. Foreign-sounding jargon often makes things sound more complicated than they actually are. Now that you know your radiators from your catalytic converters, you’re on your way toward becoming an amateur mechanic.

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