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'Car Care for Learners' - The Best Way to Learn Basic Maintenance.

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  Jargon Buster

Don't know your airbags from your antifreeze? Take a browse through the Jargon Buster and get to grips with those tricky car terms!

Click on a bit of jargon to expand

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


A

ABS
Anti-lock Braking System, prevents the road wheels from locking up which would otherwise cause the car to skid. By making sure the wheels keep rotating in an emergency braking situation, the driver is able to steer the car.
AIR BAG

A safety device that rapidly inflates and deflates in the event of an accident. Often denoted as S.R.S which stands for Supplementary Restraint System. Modern cars now have multiple airbags such as curtain airbags which protect vehicle occupants in the event of a side impact and knee airbags which protects the driver's legs from the steering column.
Not all accidents cause the airbags to activate, with numerous sensors to relay information to an airbag control unit which will deploy the airbags accordingly.

AIR CONDITIONING
Air con not only cools the air supplied to the cabin but also removes moisture which controls the humidity in the car. Not only does this make the driving environment more comfortable but because the air is drier, it makes quick work of demisting the windscreen.
AIR FILTER

Before air is sucked into the engine, it passes through the air filter, which is usually made from paper or foam. This cleans out dirt and particles from the air which could be abrasive to the inside of the engine, causing premature wear and tear and also contaminate the oil. Air filters eventually become blocked and should be changed at routine service intervals to ensure the smooth running of the engine and maximise fuel economy.

ALTERNATOR
The alternator is the device that recharges the battery and powers all the electrical systems on the car. The alternator is powered via a rubber belt attached to a pulley which is turned by the engine.
ANTI-FREEZE

Anti-freeze is the substance mixed with water to create coolant. It has a lower boiling point and higher freezing point than water and also contains chemicals that prevent corrosion inside the engine.


B

BATTERY
Car batteries are rechargeable, normally 12 volt and usually made from lead acid. Although less common today due to advances in battery technology, some batteries have 6 removable caps where the water level inside the battery can be topped up. It is important to use distilled water and make sure the metal plates inside the battery are fully covered to prolong the life of the battery. The battery is recharged by the alternator.
BIODIESEL
Bio diesel is diesel that is partly made from renewable sources such as vegetable oils and animal fat.
BLOW OUT
A ‘blow out’ is when a tyre completely deflates almost instantly. Many things can cause a blow out, including the age of the tyre, general condition and incorrect inflation. 
BRAKE FLUID

The fluid used in the brake system, primarily for its resistance to high temperatures. Brake fluid should be changed at regular service intervals, as over time it absorbs moisture which reduces the effectiveness of the brakes. Brake fluid is highly corrosive and will strip the paint off a car if spilt.

BHP (BRAKE HORSE POWER)

A measure used to describe the power output by the engine. Not all the power produced by an engine reaches the wheels, as some power is lost through the gearbox, water pump, alternator, power steering pump etc. This often leads to a figure given as BHP ‘at the wheels’, which takes account of these losses and is typically 10% - 20% less than the total power produced by the engine.

BRAKE DISCS
Brake discs are usually made of cast-iron and work by slowing the rotation of the road wheels when the brake pads press against them. There are various designs of brake disc including ventilated, grooved and drilled, all of which are designed to improve performance in one way or another.
BRAKE PADS

Brake pads sit either side of the brake disc and are squeezed against the disc when you apply the foot brake. They are made from a hard wearing friction material but do eventually wear out and need replacing.

BRAKE SHOES

Brake shoes work in a similar fashion to brake pads, in that they are made from a frictional material and are pushed against the drum in order to slow the car when pressure is applied to the foot brake.


C

CABIN FILTER
The cabin filter is designed to remove pollen and pollution from the incoming air before it is blown out of the air vents in the car. Cabin filters should be replaced at routine service intervals as they become blocked and reduce the air flow.
CALLIPER
The calliper is the part of the braking system that holds the brake pads in place. The calliper sits either side of the disc and contains pistons that push the brake pads against the disc when pressure is applied to the foot brake.
CAMBELT
A toothed belt usually made of rubber that connects the top and bottom halves of the engine. It may also be used to drive the water pump and oil pump depending on the car.
CARBURETTOR

The carburettor supplies the mix of air and fuel to the engine but has been replaced in modern cars by fuel injection.

CATALYTIC CONVERTER
The catalytic converter removes some of the harmful gases from the exhaust before they exit the car.
CHASSIS NUMBER
Otherwise known as the ‘VIN’ which stands for Vehicle Identification Number. The VIN is unique to each car and given at the time of manufacture. It can be found in a variety of places but most commonly it is visible through the windscreen when looking from outside the car. In other cases it may be on a sticker or metal plate inside one of the door frames.
CLIMATE CONTROL

Climate control is a more advanced form of air conditioning that allows you to set the exact temperature desired. The system monitors the temperature in the cabin and adjusts the air flow and temperature accordingly.

CLUTCH

The clutch in a car transfers drive from the engine to the gearbox which in turn supplies drive to the road wheels. It is essentially a plate covered in frictional material that can engage or disengage the two rotating shafts allowing them to spin at the same speed when engaged or a different speed when disengaged. For example, disengaging the clutch is what allows the car to remain stationary with the engine still running.

COOLANT

Coolant is the product of mixing water and antifreeze. It is pumped through the engine picking up heat and travels to the radiator where the heat is transferred to the air. An important characteristic of coolant is its higher freezing point and boiling point compared with water.

CRUISE CONTROL
Cruise control is an electronic system that controls the speed of a car. Cruise control can be set to maintain a certain road speed and can be instantly disengaged when the brake is applied or the clutch depressed. Modern cars sometimes have a feature called ‘adaptive cruise control’ where the speed automatically adjusts to the vehicle in front, maintaining a safe distance without the intervention of the driver.
CYLINDER
The cylinder is where the explosions that generate power in an internal combustion process take place.
CYLINDER HEAD
The cylinder head sits at the top of the engine and is the point where fuel and air enter the engine and exhaust gases are expelled.


D

DIPSTICK
The dipstick is used to measure the level of oil in the engine. It is commonly a long metal stick with markings towards the lower end that indicate the minimum & maximum oil level.
DISTRIBUTOR
The distributor is part of a car's ignition system that supplies the high voltage power to the ignition leads and in turn the spark plugs.
DISTRIBUTOR CAP
The distributor cap sits on the end of the distributor and works in conjunction with the rotor arm to make sure power is supplied to the correct ignition lead and spark plug.


E

ECU
Electronic Control Unit is the term given to a unit that controls an electric system within the car. Sometimes it may be used to refer more specifically to the ‘engine control unit’. (See engine management)
ENGINE MANAGEMENT
Can be abbreviated as ECU. It is a system that can control engine timing, the amount of fuel and air supplied to the engine etc. Some cars may have one Engine Management Unit to control everything whereas others may use multiple units to control different systems.
EPAS
Electronic Power Assisted Steering. Some cars have power steering that is driven by an electric motor to assist the turning of the wheels, rather than a hydraulic setup that draws its power from a pump driven from the engine. The benefit is a reduced load on the engine that increases fuel efficiency and there is also no fluid to check.
ESP
Electronic Stability Programme or sometimes called Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is an electronic system designed to help a driver stay in control when it detects skids or a loss of traction. It can automatically apply the brakes to individual wheels and also control the throttle to reduce engine power.
EXHAUST SYSTEM

The exhaust system carries the waste gases from the engine, usually to the rear of the vehicle in a system of metal tubing.


F

FUEL INJECTION
Fuel injection replaced carburettors as the way of mixing fuel with air before it reaches the cylinders inside the engine.


H

HEAD GASKET
The head gasket sits between the bottom half of the engine (the engine block) and the top half of the engine (the cylinder head). It is designed to seal the two together preventing any gas or coolant from escaping.
HYBRID

A hybrid car is where two ways of powering a vehicle are combined, for instance a Toyota Prius uses a petrol engine and an electric motor to power it.


I

IDLE SPEED
The speed the engine runs at when the car is running but no throttle is applied and the vehicle is stationary. The idle speed of a normal road car is usually less than 1000 rpm.
ISOFIX
Isofix refers to the attachment points used for securing a child safety seat in a car. It is an international standard.


J

JACK

The jack is the device used to raise a vehicle off the ground, for instance when changing a wheel. Most cars will usually have a jack in the boot along with the spare wheel and other tools such as a wheel brace.

JACKING POINT

A reinforced point underneath the car that should be used when raising a vehicle using a jack.

JUMP LEADS
Jump leads (sometimes called booster cables) are used to connect two cars together for the purpose of jump starting when the battery in one vehicle is flat.
JUMP START
Jump starting a car is the process of boosting the power of the battery in a vehicle where it has gone flat. Jump starting can either be achieved using jump cables connected to another vehicle or using a portable power pack.


L

LPG
Liquefied petroleum gas (sometimes called Autogas) can be used to power vehicles that have been converted to run on it. It is usually significantly cheaper than petrol or diesel but returns less favourable fuel consumption. There are environmental advantages as it burns more cleanly than petrol or diesel.


M

MOT
Stands for Ministry of Transport and is the test applied to vehicles over 3 years old to make sure they are road worthy, safe and comply to emissions standards.


N

NCAP
New Car Assessment Programme. A safety rating system that awards stars to vehicles based on their performance in a specific range of tests. These include frontal impact, side impact and pedestrian safety.


O

OCTANE
Is a system for measuring the resistance of fuels to self-ignition i.e. how much it can be compressed before it ignites on its own without the need for a spark. The higher the number, the less prone the fuel is to self-ignition for example standard fuel is rated as 95 whereas a premium fuel may be rated as 97 or higher.
OIL FILTER
The oil filter is used to trap dirty deposits that are collected by the oil. It should be replaced at regular intervals when the oil is changed.


P

PAS
Power assisted steering. Assists the turning of the road wheels and reduces the effort required by the driver to turn the steering wheel. It’s especially helpful for manoeuvres in tight spaces such as parallel parking or making a turn in the road.
PISTON
The pistons move up and down inside the engine compressing the fuel and air mixture.
POWER STEERING
See PAS


R

RADIATOR
The radiator is part of the cooling system in a car and transfers heat from the coolant to the air.
ROTOR ARM
The rotor arm spins inside the distributor cap. As it passes the metal posts inside the distributor cap, power is transferred across to the ignition lead to supply the spark at a particular cylinder.
RPM
Stands for Revolutions Per Minute and describes the speed of the engine i.e. 3500 rpm.
RUN FLAT TYRES
A run flat tyre is designed to let you carry on driving with a puncture without the need to change the wheel. As with space savers, run flat tyres should only be used for a limited distance and at a reduced speed.


S

SORN
Statutory Off Road Notice. If a vehicle is not being used on a public road and does not require road tax, it must be declared ‘SORN’ i.e. that it is off road. If the vehicle is not declared SORN it is deemed the equivalent of driving without road tax and the owner would be subject to a fine. The vehicle could also be clamped or removed.
SPACE SAVER
Many modern cars are now provided with ‘space saver’ spare wheels to save weight and boot space and are thinner than the normal wheels of the car. A space saver should only be used for a limited distance, usually around 50 miles and at a maximum speed of 50mph.
SPARK PLUG

A spark plug provides the ignition for the fuel & air mixture inside a petrol engine. The high powered spark (usually between 10,000 & 25,000 volts) causes the explosion of the fuel and air mix.

SRS
Supplementary restraint system. It is the term given to a safety device such as the airbags. (See airbag)
STARTER MOTOR
The starter motor is an electric motor powered by the battery. It is used to turn the engine over when you start the car until the engine fires up and powers itself.
SUMP

The sump is at the very bottom of the engine and is the place the engine oil collects when a vehicle is switched off.

SUPERCHARGER

A supercharger is used to force air into the engine at a higher rate than would be achievable on a normal engine. The extra supply of air (oxygen) means a greater amount of fuel can be supplied to the engine increasing the power output.


T

THERMOSTAT

The thermostat in a car regulates the temperature of the cooling system. In a car, the thermostat is closed when the coolant is cold, so the coolant only circulates around part of the engine. As the coolant heats up, the thermostat opens and allows the flow of coolant to the radiator to dissipate unwanted heat and maintain a stable temperature.

TIMING BELT
See cambelt
TORQUE
Torque is a measure of the engine's turning force.
TURBO

A turbo is used to force air into the engine at a higher rate than would be achievable on a normal engine. The extra supply of air (oxygen) means a greater amount of fuel can be supplied to the engine increasing the power output.


V

VALVES

The valves in a car engine sit inside the cylinder head which open and close to allow air and fuel to enter the engine and exhaust gases to escape.

VIN
Vehicle Identification Number (See chassis number for details)


W

WATER PUMP

The water pump moves the coolant around the engine and can either be powered from a belt using the power of the engine or be electric.

WHEEL ALIGNMENT
(Often referred to as tracking). Tracking is the direction the wheels face in relation to each other and should run parallel.  Poor tracking can cause a car to pull to one side and is a common cause of premature tyre wear, often visible as one side of the tread being more worn than the other. Driving over pot holes or hitting a wheel on the kerb can cause the tracking to become misaligned. To prolong the life of your tyres, suspension and steering, have your tracking checked every 10,000 miles.
WHEEL BALANCE
Tyres are never completely evenly weighted and tend to have heavy spots. When the tyres are rotating, these heavy spots can cause vibration through the steering wheel, making the car uncomfortable to drive and causing unnecessary wear to the tyres, suspension and steering. A wheel can be balanced by using a machine to find the heavy spot and a weight added to counteract it. Wheels should always be balanced when the tyres are replaced, but will also need balancing during their lifetime as the tyres wear.
WHEEL BRACE
A wheel brace is the device which is used to remove the wheel bolts from a car.


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