19 Basic Car Parts You REALLY Should Know To Make Your Life Easier

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Back to tips-advice Published 5 months ago Written By Esther Faludi
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If you own a car, you’ll be visiting the mechanic sooner or later. But gas is expensive enough, and the last thing you want is to pay for unnecessary repairs. This fact makes it absolutely necessary that you know the basic parts and potential issues with your car. Knowledge is power-so read on!

Battery

The battery starts, lights, and ignites your car’s gas engine, using up less than 3% of its capacity before recharging itself. A major weakness with modern lead-acid batteries is that they can’t handle being completely drained, for example if the car’s lights are left on by accident. When it’s fully drained, a battery’s electrodes get covered with sulfate deposits, which can kill its lifespan by a third or more. This is why your driving instructor always said to double check that you turned the lights off before you walk away from your car!

Car Battery
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Car Battery

 

Axle

The axle is the central shaft or bar for a turning wheel. One axle joins your car’s front pair of wheels and another joins the back pair. It’s hard to break an axle, but driving over bumpy or rough terrain can put enough weight on the axle to stop it from turning. Still, an axle’s worst enemy is rust, which eventually leads to malfunctioning and breakage down the line.

Axle
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Axle

 

Brakes

You already know that your car has two kinds of brakes: service brakes, which stop the car when you step on the brake pedal, and an emergency or parking break that works independently. Modern cars have a hydraulic, or fluid-based, braking system. Changing your car’s brake fluid is crucial to keeping its brakes working and keeping you safe, and will help you avoid more expensive repairs over time.

Brakes
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Brakes

 

Pistons

Pistons control how much energy a car has, and mix fuel and air before they are ignited. Engines usually have four, six, or eight pistons that move up and down within the cylinders. The width and length of pistons and the speed they pump at help determine a car’s RPM and horsepower, says Car and Driver. The more smoothly the pistons pump, the better a car’s fuel economy, and the more power it has.

Pistons
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Pistons

 

Fuel Injector

This little thing is used to move gas from the fuel tank into the engine. The fuel injector succeeded the carburetor in the 1980s, when governments implemented stricter emissions guidelines. Fuel injection has increased the fuel efficiency of diesel and gas engines, and has become cleaner over time as gasoline quality has improved. This means that while regular fuel injection cleaning was a necessity a couple of decades ago, it’s less of an issue now. So if your car seems to be running just fine but your mechanic suggests a “routine” fuel injection cleaning, you may not really need it, says Popular Mechanics.

Fuel Injector
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Fuel Injector

 

Radiator

The radiator is part of the system that keeps your car's engine from overheating. Here, the engine coolant has time to give off heat into the air before it goes back into the engine to be used again. The most common issues are springing a leak in the radiator or the car’s coolant going bad. If your radiator has issues, a mechanic can drain and flush the fluid, and repair small leaks. But if the radiator is completely rusted or full of holes, it may be time to replace it- which can get expensive.

Radiator
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Radiator

 

A/C Compressor

The A/C compressor is the heart of your car’s air cooling and heating system, and controls the temperature inside your vehicle. The compressor moves the coolant in the air conditioning system under high pressure and pushes it further down the line. The most common reason for an A/C compressor to break is because of leaky seals and not enough lubrication. Your Mechanic suggests that you turn on the A/C every so often so it can lubricate itself and keep from drying out.

A/C Compressor
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A/C Compressor

 

Clutch

The clutch is the mechanism that makes the connection allowing power to be transmitted to the wheels. In a car with manual transmission (AKA a stick shift), the clutch is controlled by the clutch pedal, which is the third pedal on the left. Stepping on the pedal breaks the connection sending power to the wheels and allows the car to shift more smoothly from gear to gear as you speed up or slow down. Driving a stick shift gives you greater control over your vehicle, and it’s also a money-saver over time. Manual transmissions are less expensive to fix than automatic transmissions, and replacing the clutch is on the cheapest end of that spectrum, according to the Transmission Repair Cost Guide.

Clutch
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Clutch

 

Engine Fan

While the radiator does a good job of keeping the engine cool, it can use some help. The engine fan keeps air flowing over the radiator, and is controlled by a thermostatic switch or the engine computer. The fan is turned on when the coolant gets hotter than a set temperature. After the fan has chilled the engine coolant, the control system turns it off again.

Engine Fan
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Engine Fan

 

Spare Tire

Some may argue this isn't technically a built-in car part- but it’s still a good idea to have a spare tire with you in case you get a flat. Your choices include a full-sized spare tire, a compact spare tire (a smaller, so-called “donut tire”), or a “run flat tire” that will keep rolling and get you to the mechanic even if it’s flat. A full-sized spare tire will look and work like your other tires, but a donut tire can usually only be driven at about 50mph over a maximum distance of 70 miles. At least as important as having a spare tire is knowing how to put it on… for this you’ll need a car jack.

Spare Tire
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Spare Tire

 

Car Jack

Jacks come in many types and weight ratings, but almost every new car sold comes loaded with a jack for changing a tire. Car jacks work by using hydraulic power to lift a part of your car, allowing you to change a tire or make a small repair. Always exercise caution when using a jack: never use a jack on a car that is heavier than the jack’s rated capacity. For example, if your car weighs two tons, you’ll be best off using a jack rated to lift at least 2.5 tons.

Car Jack
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Car Jack

 

Shock Absorbers

These are mechanical or hydraulic devices that dampen shock impulses, such as the jerking and bouncing you experience while driving on a poorly maintained road. Shock absorbers work together with cushions and springs, and convert any shock registered by the car into energy for later use, or heat, which is then dispersed into the air. These are the unsung heroes making your ride more pleasant, and helping to reduce the stress of daily bumps and wear on your car.

Shock Absorbers
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Shock Absorbers

 

Transmission

The transmission refers to the gearbox that helps transmit the energy generated in the engine to the car’s wheels, translating into speed and torque. Most cars on the road have automatic or manual (stick shift) transmissions. Traditionally, manual transmissions were cheaper and gave better performance, but advances in automatic transmission technology have increased this system’s fuel economy. However, manual transmissions are still cheaper to repair and replace. Racecars sometimes use dual clutch semi-automatic transmission, which has two clutches that engage/disengage between gear changes to provide a virtually seamless gear shift with no jarring. Nice!

Transmission
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Transmission

 

Spark Plug

The spark plug gets your car started by using an electric spark to ignite fuel in the engine's ignition chamber. This small but vitally important part was developed over a few decades, with an early patent filed by Nikola Tesla, among others. The final commercial design has seen many improvements, and now some car manufacturers proudly advertise that their extended-life spark plugs can last 100,000 miles. To make sure you’re not left in a lurch, the plugs should probably be changed before then. Spark plugs are very cheap parts, but the real cost to car owners is the labor to replace them.

Spark Plug
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Spark Plug

 

Air Filter

You’ve got two kinds of air filters: one for your car’s engine, and one for the air you breathe in the car cabin. The engine’s air filter keeps dirt, dust, and other contaminants from entering the engine. The engine draws air through the filter and into the cylinders, where it is combined with fuel to run the car. According to Mr. Lube, having a dirty air filter can cause bad fuel economy. Meanwhile, your cabin air filter helps your A/C perform its job, and keeps you breathing easy by weeding out harmful gases, tiny particles, and bad odors. The more time you spend in your car, the more important it is to replace these air filters regularly, particularly during allergy season.

Air Filter
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Air Filter

 

Muffler

Mufflers are designed to keep cars quiet by literally muffling the sounds coming out of the exhaust pipe. They also have a second job, to direct exhaust fumes out and away from the engine, explains Your Mechanic. When a muffler is worn out, it can no longer silence the sound of a car’s exhaust. Mufflers usually last about five to seven years, unless they undergo cruel and unusual punishment in the form of salt exposure, frequent impacts from speed bumps and potholes, or custom upgrades that are against manufacturer guidelines. Repair costs depend on the damage, and can be affordable for simple fixes like welding the muffler back into place or fixing small holes, or fairly costly for replacing the muffler entirely.

Muffler
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Muffler

 

Catalytic Converter

The catalytic converter helps reduce your vehicle’s gas emissions, and is one of the parts being inspected when you take your car for emissions testing. Walker Exhaust states that common reasons for converter failure include physical damage, contamination (for example from a coolant leak or carbon buildup), internal meltdown from engine misfires, getting doused in cold water or snow, or simple aging. Luckily, the catalytic converter is designed to last as long as your car, so in many cases a mechanic should be able to test and repair the problem.

Catalytic Converter
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Catalytic Converter

 

Alternator

This tech allows your car battery to charge while the engine is running, and is separate from the starter motor. The alternator keeps modern car amenities running, including our cars’ powerful headlamps, windshield wipers, heated rear windows, and more. This part is connected to many systems, so problems with other parts of the car can affect the alternator’s functioning. Warning signs that something may be wrong include dim or flickering lights when the car is on, the battery warning light coming on, or having to jump start the car. It’s important to address any issues with the alternator early on, to avoid getting stranded with a dead battery down the road!

Alternator
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Alternator

 

Pressure Gauge

This last gadget isn't really a car part, but it's useful for keeping your car in tip-top shape. Using the pressure gauge, you can make sure your car’s tires are properly inflated. This will prevent flat tires, unsafe driving in bad weather, and keep your car’s gas consumption in check. In short, having a tire pressure gauge on hand will save your money- and maybe your life, too.

Pressure Gauge
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Pressure Gauge

 

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