Techincal Car Terms

Car Dictionary

List of techincal words and terms that your mechanic would usually mention.

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An instrument used to used to measure engine speed in revolutions per minute (RPM).


Many of today's cars are equipped with a timing belt in place of the old timing chain. The function of this small yet critical member is to keep your engine mechanically "in time." How they work: In a four-stroke internal combustion engine (intake, compression, power, exhaust) the top half of the engine must be synchronized (or in time) with the bottom half to complete the four stroke cycle. The timing belt achieves this by meshing with cogs connected to the crankshaft and camshaft. The driving of these components in perfect time achieves the four stroke cycle, producing power in the engine. The timing belt is made out of rubber and is subject to wear and tear due to mechanical and environmental conditions. The bottom line with timing belts is to have them checked every 25,000 miles and replaced every 50,000 miles. Telltale signs of a failing belt are cracks, cuts, worn or broken teeth, and deterioration from wear and exposure to harmful fluids and/or high temperatures. If the belt's teeth are gone, the valve timing can be affected by either excessive advancement or retardation, resulting in poor engine performance. If the belt breaks, major engine damage can occur on some engines.


Traction control is an option on many cars today. When engaged, it "senses" when a driving tire has no traction. The system will then conpensate for this by slowing the spinning wheel through partial application of the brake. The system uses wheel speed sensors to monitor the wheel speed. When traction is lost, the sensor prompts the brake computer to partially apply the brake to the wheel that is spinning, allowing it to gain traction. I call it "Antilock brakes in reverse." This system improves traction in areas where it may normally be hard to do so (snow, gravel, and rain). Traction Control has its origins in Formula 1 Racing where optimum traction is a must for safety and maximum performance.


A combination of transmission and differential found in front-wheel-drive vehicles. The differential is inside the transaxle, and the drive axles are connected through constant velocity joints (CV joints) to the wheels.


An auxiliary gearbox attached to the transmission, which allows you to shift into a high and low range for serious pulling.


Similar to a supercharger but powered by exhaust gases.

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