How useful are you when a car breaks down? Are you the kind of person who understands the inner workings of the engine, who can pop the hood and actually have a solid chance of being able to spot what the problem is... or would you be left staring at the engine, only 89% sure that what you were looking at was, in fact, an engine, and not just a random lump of greasy metal?
Most people, of course, fall somewhere in the middle, able to identify the really important parts of a car, and maybe do a little routine maintenance. Changing a tire, checking the oil, re-filling the transmission fluid, that kind of thing. Some find even that a little too daunting, and are likely to call their roadside assistance provider for anything more complicated than pumping gas. But you might just be one of those gearheads who actually understands cars - who knows how engines work, why they break, and isn't afraid to bust out the tools and do some work with your own two hands.
Whether it comes from a purely academic interest in how things work, or from hours of lovingly tinkering with your dream car in the garage, test your gearhead knowledge of car parts with our fun quiz - starting with the obvious, and working up to some truly tricky ones! How far can you get to prove your gearhead status?
What is this?
Ok, let's start with a really, really easy one. What do you call this circular object that can be found front and center on the driver's side of the interior of any vehicle? It's used to control the direction that the car is moving in, and works by being spun either to the left or the right (depending on the direction that the driver wants to go, of course). And of course, if you CAN'T name this, please never get behind one!
What's this handy lever?
Another easy one! This little lever is usually located next to the driver's seat, in between it and the passenger seat - although on some cars, you may find it elsewhere, and some even use a pedal instead of a lever. The lever also usually has a button at the top, which has to be depressed before moving the lever, which only moves up or down. Pulling the lever up prevents the car from moving, and pushing it down allows you to move again.
What is this?
Another lever that is usually found between the driver and passenger seat is this one. Like the handbrake, though, this lever can occasionally be found elsewhere, such as on the side of the steering wheel, in newer models. In automatic cars, this lever will be labeled 'P, R, N, D', whereas in cars with a manual transmission, it will usually read '1, 2, 3, 4, 5, R'. Unlike the handbrake, this lever moves backwards and forwards, rather than up and down.
What's the name for this gauge?
Most people know this little dial as simply a 'speed gauge' - the part of the dashboard that shows the driver how fast they are going. Many have speeds in both kph and mph, although sometimes it is just in whichever is more common in the cars country of origin. A thin red needle tracks the speed of the car as it moves. The speed gauge does have a different name, though - do you know what that name is?
What is this part of a car's wheel?
Next up, we take a look at the outside of the car, and at the wheels themselves. What is the name for the disks that cover the center of the wheel? These are usually plastic, and come in many different designs -although most are simple, painted silver, and usually have the manufacturer's logo or name on them. Their function is largely decorative, but they do also help to protect the wheel nuts, which could otherwise rust a little bit more easily.
What is this optional thing?
This definitely won't be found on every car, but on many, especially on more powerful vehicles, you would be able to find this sticking out of the back of the car, around the mid-point of the bumper, attached to the undercarriage. These are common on pickup trucks and are used to safely attach a second vehicle (or anything else with wheels!) to the back of the car, so that the driver is able to pull it along behind them easily.
What helps you slow down?
Obviously, one of the most important parts of any car is the braking system - the whole process that allows the driver to bring the vehicle safely to a controlled stop. The driver themselves uses the brake pedal to control the process, but that's only a tiny part of the braking system as a whole. Most cars use disc brakes, which use calipers to slowly (or quickly!) squeeze around the rotor until the car is able to stop - what part of that system is pictured here?
What do you use to measure oil level?
Even if you don't work on your car yourself, you have probably dealt with this slim metal rod while doing basic maintenance on the vehicle. Usually, this has a small round plastic handle (often a bright color, to make it easy to find after popping the hood!), which sticks out. The rod itself then slides into the oil pan, and can be pulled out so that the driver can check the level of oil in the engine, as well as the quality of it.
What's the name of the thing that stops the engine overheating?
It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone to learn that an engine can produce a lot of heat (and if it does, again, please do not get behind the wheel of a car). This engine part is what's responsible for making sure that the engine doesn't overheat, by circulating coolant around the engine and then through this large, flat part where it can easily cool, before being pumped around the engine again. Usually found at the front of the engine.
What should you change on a regular basis?
This is another one of those parts that you may have dealt with, even if you aren't too big a fan of tinkering with your own car. If you haven't, of course, might be time to learn how to change them, and save yourself some money! You would usually find one of these in the glovebox, which cleans up the air coming into the car interior. Another is attached to the intake manifold, and cleans the air being used in the engine.
What is the name of this metal tube?
Ok, there are plenty of different metal tubes that go into the making of a car, but this particular one shouldn't be too hard to name! You would find this sticking out of the back of the car, especially on older models, although newer models often try to make these as unobtrusive as possible. This is where any waste products from the engine are expelled, and where emissions tests are focused when looking at the environmental impact of that particular vehicle.
What do you use to jump start a car?
Although the primary power source for a car is, of course, the engine itself, cars also need one of these in order to store power when the engine isn't running. The stored power is then used to run the electrical systems in the car, including the starter (which is the part that starts the engine, in case you didn't know!). Without one of these charged and functional, the car simply won't start - and then you need to find some leads and a friendly car-owner to help you jump it.
What do you call the part that measures distance?
Another gauge that lives on the dashboard, in front of the driver, this is usually not in the form of a dial, like the tachometer and the speedometer, but a simple counter. This is because this particular gauge only goes in one direction, steadily - and that is up! This measures the distance that the car has driven, which is a useful thing for buyers to know... although some unscrupulous sellers have been known to tamper with this to try and make the car seem like it has been used less.
What's this key engine part?
This is one of the biggest and most important parts of the car engine, comprising the cylinders of the engine as well as a large piece of metal that contains various passages for other parts of the engine. This can be made in pieces, and bolted together, or it can be cast as a single piece. This forms the basis of the engine, and houses the most important elements as well as being the part that the rest is built around.
What would you call this?
This is usually an integrated part of the exhaust system, with the exhaust pipe (or pipes) itself on one end of the cylinder that we are considering here. This can come in a few different shapes, although the one pictured is one of the most common, and serves to make the exhaust system of the car less noisy. It is essentially a soundproofing device for the exhaust pipe, but it does usually also decrease engine power slightly, which is why racecars do not use them.
What's this small part?
While this part is one of the smaller ones in an engine, it is absolutely vital - this is the part that starts the whole thing off! Set into the combustion chamber, this converts the electrical current (from the battery) into the spark that ignites the mixture of gas and air - creating the 'combustion' of an 'internal combustion engine'. They also need to be replaced on a semi-regular basis, and a malfunctioning one can prevent the car from starting at all (and turn that 'check engine' light on).
What starts working when you turns the key?
For those people who never think about how their car works, things are simple; put the key in the ignition, turn the key, and the car starts (or doesn't, in which case, call a mechanic). However, what the key actually does is get things going with a little hep from this little doohickey. This is what helps the engine start turning, which sucks air into the chamber, so that it can mix with the gas, so that the spark plug can ignite it.
What would you find mostly on older engines?
This used to be another key part of the ignition system, but over the years as engines have evolved, it has been slowly replaced and is becoming less common. Originally, this is the part of the system that ensures that the voltage is sent to the correct spark plug, and the correct cylinder. It also controls the timing of the spark. However, the parts of this would wear down and need replacing, whereas new systems without this can last much longer without replacements.
What recharges the battery?
Most people understand that cars need batteries in order to run the electrical and start the initial process of internal combustion - and they also know that the battery needs to be rechargeable (otherwise you would need to buy a new battery all the time, and jump starts wouldn't be a thing). What is the key part of the charging system that is driven by a belt from the engine, and that re-charges the battery as the car is being driven?
What helps you change gear?
Whether you have an automatic or know how to drive a stick shift, every car needs to change gears (it's just a matter of whether the driver does the shifting, or the car does it automatically). In manual cars, the driver uses the clutch and gear stick to control this part of the engine, whereas in an automatic, the speed of the car determines when the gear changes. For most people, the only time you would deal with this part of the engine is when topping up the fluids.
What part is vital to four wheel drive?
In cars with only front-wheel drive, this part isn't necessary, but if you have a vehicle with four-wheel drive (or with rear-wheel drive) this is absolutely vital. In a rear-wheel drive, one of these connects the transmission to the rear wheels via a rear differential, allowing for the engine to actually power the two rear wheels. In all-wheel and four-wheel drive cars, however, there are two of these, one at the front and one at the rear, to connect the transmission to all four wheels.
What vital engine part is this?
No matter how powerful an engine is, it wouldn't be very helpful to actually propel a car forward without this thing! This rotating part is what converts the up-and-down motion of the pistons (driven by the combustion engine), into the rotating motion that a car needs in order to turn the wheels. The cylinders are each connected to this with rods, which are themselves attached to rods in the pistons - and because the cylinders are all firing at slightly different times, there is always one powering the rotation.
What is used to remove contaminants?
Oil plays an important role in your car engine - lubricating it and preventing the parts from wearing away at each other (or melting together!), cooling it (although this is primarily done by the engine coolant) and finally, making sure the engine stays clean. However, the oil itself also has to stay clean, otherwise all the small particles that it picks up while being pumped through the engine would simply be recirculated, rubbing against the engine itself and potentially damaging it. What's used to clean the oil?
Where does the main reaction of the engine happen?
Engines are complex machines, and while every part has its own importance, there's little doubt that it all starts with the main reaction; where the mix of fuel and air in the engine meets the spark, and combustion takes place. This is where the engine gets its power, and what drives all the other parts of the engine - and there's a name for the space where it happens. The design of this part has also changed over the years; from flathead to hemi, to the now-common pentroof.
What's this thing on the exhaust pipe?
As well as the pipe itself and the muffler, the exhaust system has another important element - this cylindrical part. First introduced in the '70s, this will not be found on original cars from earlier decades (unless they've been updated, of course), and was created in order to reduce the emissions that could have a negative environmental impact. This cylinder uses chemical reactions in order to convert more harmful emissions (like carbon monoxide and VOCs) into less harmful emissions before they leave the exhaust pipe.
What is this important safety feature?
Hopefully, you've never had to make use of one of these, but every car has them - just in case! This piece is found at both the front and rear of the car body, and can be either integrated into the body or a totally separate part. This exists to try and minimize damage to the car in an accident (as well as to whatever the driver has hit!). Traditionally, these were black or silver in color, but are now often matched to the paint.
What gives you a smoother ride?
This system is the part of the car that ensures you don't feel every tiny bump in the road, but get a smooth, gentle ride - as well as being the part that affects handling when driving (the ability to steer and brake smoothly). There are multiple parts to this system, but some of the most important include shock absorbers on the wheels, struts, and anti-sway bars, all of which cushion the impact of bumps in the road and help you get a smoother ride.
What are all the other parts bolted to?
One of the biggest parts of the car is the basic frame that holds it all together - this is what the suspension, the body, and all the other parts are bolted to. It forms the basis of the car itself, and stops the car from simply flying apart on the road (admittedly, there's more to it than just this, but this is the basic purpose to this metal frame!). There's another name for it than frame, though - do you know what it is?
What transfers energy to the spark plug?
This little part is a vital component of the starter system - and the process that takes the turn of a key and creates a running engine. This is part of the process that takes the low-voltage current from the car battery and transforms it into a high enough voltage to create sparks from the spark plugs (which then ignite the fuel and air mix, which drives the whole engine). Without a fully functional one of these, you may have issues starting the car, or with backfiring and stalling.
Which part is most associated with drag racing?
When you think of drag racing, you probably think of bright colors and souped up engines - but this optional extra is likely to also spring to mind! You would find this on the back of the car, in varying sizes and shapes. The purpose of this (and the reason that it is, therefore, so common in racing) is to affect the flow of air over the car, and reduce drag - allowing the car to move just that little bit faster.
What is a vital part of A/C?
Most cars come with air conditioning as standard these days, but not many people know exactly how that works! This part is a vital component of the a/c in a car (or really, any a/c system) is this little pump, that starts the process that cools the refrigerant, which in turn cools the air that blows out of the a/c unit and into the car, cooling down the passengers on a hot summers day - and making long road trips bearable!
What is this part that connects to the crankshaft?
These are one of the smaller parts in a car engine, but definitely important ones! They connect the crankshaft and the pistons, with the small end attaching to the piston pin (aka the gudgeon pin or wrist pin), and the larger end attaching to the crank pin on the crankshaft. While this might seem like a minor part, if something goes wrong with one of these, it can actually destroy the engine - snapping and tearing through the side of the crank case. Thankfully, this isn't a common problem!
What are these for?
You wouldn't find these in older cars - or even in many newer ones! However, this optional extra can be a real benefit to people - especially those trying to make tight maneuvers, those driving trucks and very large vehicles, or parking in small and difficult spaces. This system can use either ultrasonic or electromagnetic technology, although it's already becoming obsolete, with many newer cars replacing this system entirely with a rear-view camera that the driver can watch on the dashboard!
What is this pan that would be found at the bottom of the engine?
Many people only know this as an 'oil pan', but it does have another name... this pan sits at the bottom of the engine, and is where the engine oil is stored. From here, a pump is used to push the oil around the engine to lubricate the various moving parts. However, because the oil in a pan will slosh when cornering at high speeds, causing problems with the pump, race cars use a dry system. What is the technical term for the oil pan?
What part used to be manually controlled?
More and more engine parts are controlled automatically in newer cars, including this one - which you never see a manual control for these days. However, a few decades ago most cars would have had a manual control for this, usually near the steering wheel on the dashboard. This little lever controls the flow of air into the engine, and thus the fuel/air mix in the combustion chamber. By restricting the air flow, more fuel is allowed in, which allows the car to start 'cold'.