Basic car knowledge: Car parts you should know about

Published on 23 Dec, 2021, 10:24 AM IST
Updated on 20 May, 2024, 6:47 AM IST

Team Ackodrive
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If you are planning to buy a new car or already own one, the names of car parts and components might seem like foreign languages. As a car owner, having basic car knowledge and knowing about essential car parts will go a long way in helping you take care of your car. For instance, basic automotive knowledge can come in handy if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Read ahead to know more about essential car parts.

Basic car knowledge

Basic car parts one should know about

A car is a complex machine that comprises several mechanical and electrical components. However, understanding the basic parts of an automobile is not rocket science. You can go through the car parts list below to improve your car knowledge.

1. Engine 

The engine has multiple cylinders containing pistons that move up and down to generate power from fuel combustion. The crankshaft converts this up-down motion into rotational motion while the camshaft and valves coordinate airflow into the cylinders. An ignition system provides sparks to ignite the air-fuel mixture. The resulting small explosions push the pistons down, turning the crankshaft, which ultimately drives the wheels through additional drivetrain components.

2. Transmission  

The transmission uses a series of gears in shafts to modulate torque and rotation speed coming from the engine. Bigger gears reduce speed while increasing torque, while smaller gears do the opposite. The appropriate gear can be selected manually or automatically based on the vehicle speed and power needed. This ensures the engine stays in an optimal operating range while the wheels get usable torque based on driving conditions.

3. Clutch 

The clutch has a friction disk connected to the engine flywheel on one side and the transmission input shaft on the other. When the pedal is pressed, a throwout bearing pushes the disc away to disengage the engine from the transmission. This allows changing gears without transferring power. Releasing the pedal brings the spinning components together smoothly to prevent abrupt torque transfer.

4. Battery 

The lead-acid battery has lead oxide plates immersed in sulfuric acid solution encased in a plastic container. A chemical reaction between the plates and electrolyte generates electrons, charging the car battery. It provides a high current in spikes to the starter motor to crank the engine. It also powers all the electronics continuously or when the alternator is not running.

5. Alternator 

The alternator contains magnets and wire coils that spin inside a casing driven by the engine belt. As they spin, the magnetic field induces current flow in the coils. Diodes convert this alternating current into a 12-volt DC that charges the battery and powers the electrical system while the engine runs.

6. Radiator 

The radiator is a heat exchanger having narrow pipes through which coolant passes. Numerous aluminium fins surrounding the pipes increase the surface area for heat dissipation. As hot coolant from the engine flows through the radiator, the moving air absorbs and carries away excess heat, sending cooled fluid back to prevent engine overheating.

7. Axles 

Axles are sturdy shafts fixed to the wheels on both ends that transfer torque from the drivetrain to enable wheel rotation. Axles must bear the vehicle's weight and force during acceleration, braking and turning. They allow differences in left and right wheel speeds when cornering and accommodate suspension travel.

8. Steering and Suspension System 

The steering and suspension systems in automobiles work together to provide control and stability. The steering uses a gear assembly to convert rotary motion from the steering wheel into sideways motion to precisely turn the front wheels left or right as the driver desires. Meanwhile, the suspension bears the entire weight of the vehicle on axles connected to wheels by linkages and springs. The modern power steering system uses hydraulic or electric assist to decrease the amount of effort required by the driver to turn the wheels when steering the car.

9. Brakes 

Cars use two kinds of brakes to slow down and stop - drum brakes and disc brakes. Brakes utilise hydraulic pressure generated when the brake pedal is pressed to stop the wheels from turning. The pressure passes through fluid lines to drums or rotors at each wheel, where it forces brake shoes or pads against the rotating surface. The friction created slows the wheels, draining their kinetic energy to halt the vehicle.

10. Catalytic Converter 

The catalytic converter contains a coated ceramic honeycomb matrix mounted in the exhaust system. It provides increased surface area for chemical reactions. Pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons pass over catalysts like platinum, palladium and rhodium that convert them into benign gases like carbon dioxide and water vapour.

11. Muffler 

The muffler uses perforated tubes and resonant chambers along the exhaust system to cancel out sound waves and make the exhaust quieter. Sound energy causes pressure waves that dissipate through smaller reflections and absorption by the muffler packing material like fibreglass or steel wool.

12. Fuel Tank 

The fuel tank is a sealed reservoir usually made of plastic or steel that safely contains gasoline or diesel. An intake pipe with a pump draws fuel, while a float level sender indicates how much is left on the fuel gauge. An outlet pipe directs pressurised fuel to the engine. Vents allow airflow so fuel flows easily.

13. Wheels 

Wheels are circular metal frames made from steel or alloys that bolt onto the vehicle's hubs and hold the tyres in position. They must support the vehicle weight and cornering stresses. Wheels have an inner bead seat diameter matched to the tyre size. Stylish covers called hubcaps commonly protect the central mounting area.

14. Shock Absorbers  

Shock absorbers contain hydraulic fluid and valves inside a cylinder. As the wheel experiences bumps, the hydraulic forces dissipate kinetic energy to dampen the up/down motion. This smooths out the ride and maintains vehicle control. The valves resist quick motion more than slow movement.

15. AC Compressor 

The AC compressor intakes low-pressure refrigerant vapour and compresses it rapidly using a piston driven by the engine belt. The high-pressure gas output gets fed to the condenser up front. Compressing the vapour raises its temperature so the condenser can shed heat and condense it into a high-pressure liquid for cooling.

16. Starter Motor  

The starter motor is a high-torque electric motor that engages with the flywheel ring gear to crank the engine during starting. When the ignition key is turned, it draws heavy current from the battery and spins the engine a few hundred RPM to initiate the combustion cycle. Once running, it disengages automatically.

17. Headlights 

Headlights contain reflectors and lenses with filament bulbs or LED assemblies. They concentrate and project light ahead to illuminate the roadway at night or during low visibility conditions. Switches toggle between high and low beams as needed. Housings pivot to aim the beams.

18. Windshield Wipers 

Windshield wipers sweep water, snow and debris off the windshield to maintain visibility for the driver. An electric motor rocks the wiper arms back and forth using linkages. Variable speed settings allow adjusting wipe frequency based on conditions. Winter wipers are coated with rubber to resist freezing.

19. Door Locks 

Door locks control latching mechanisms that secure doors in the shut position. Manual locks have levers, while power locks use electric motors or vacuum actuators. Keyed locks provide security, while keyless systems use remote fobs or touch sensors for convenience. Child safety locks prevent rear doors from being opened accidentally.

20. Seat Belts 

Seat belts restrain occupants using woven fabric straps and buckles attached to the seats. They spread impact forces during a crash to the stronger pelvis and chest rather than just the ribs and head. Locking retractors allow leaning forward but restrain excessive forward motion in collisions.

21. Glovebox 

The glovebox is a lidded storage bin built into the front passenger dashboard. It provides enclosed, secure space for small items. A light comes on when opened. Air vents allow cooling and prevent musty smells. Gloveboxes should be latched while driving to prevent contents from flying out during crashes.

22. Trunk/Cargo Area 

The trunk or cargo area offers a sizable enclosed space to carry luggage and other bulky cargo safely. Access is via a tailgate or trunk lid that can be locked. Rear seats may fold away to create a longer, flat floor for large items. Tie-downs and cargo nets prevent contents shifting during sharp driving manoeuvres.

23. Bumper 

The bumper is a sturdy horizontal beam spanning the vehicle's front and rear. It is designed to protect sheet metal panels and safety equipment by absorbing low-speed impacts through deformation. Structural elements like beams, brackets and crash cans underneath dissipate crash energy before it reaches more critical systems.

24. Windows 

Windows are framed transparent panels made from tempered glass that allow visibility outwards. Power windows move up/down electrically, while manual ones use hand cranks. Tinted windows filter sunlight, while laminated glass prevents shattering. Heated wires remove fog and ice in cold weather.

25. Mirrors 

Mirrors provide rearward and side vision with reflective coated glass mounted in adjustable housings. The rearview mirror has automatic dimming, while power side mirrors can fold away. Heated mirrors remove ice and fog. Turn signal indicators, puddle lamps and integrated cameras enhance functionality.

26. Fuel Pump 

The fuel pump is located inside the fuel tank and connected to the fuel gauge sender. An electric motor spins an impeller to create pressure that pushes gasoline through lines to the engine. It draws from the tank inlet pipe via a filter and sends pressurised fuel to the outlet pipe. High-pressure pumps for direct injection are located outside.

27. Spark Plugs  

Spark plugs provide high-voltage sparks to ignite the compressed air-fuel mixture inside engine cylinders. They are connected to ignition coils that increase the battery voltage to over 20,000 volts for the spark to jump across the electrode gap. Materials like iridium and platinum enhance conductivity and resist fouling. Heat range must match engine temperature.

28. Cooling Fan 

The cooling fan sits behind the radiator and draws air through the radiator core when the vehicle is stationary or crawling in traffic. This maintains airflow to remove heat from coolant even at low speeds when the ram air effect is negligible. The electric fan spins faster as the engine temperature rises and may be directly temperature-controlled. 


Knowing the workings of these basic car systems allows you to make informed decisions regarding maintenance and repairs. Paying attention to critical components improves safety, extends vehicle life and prevents major breakdowns. Maintaining the key systems extends vehicle life and prevents major breakdowns.

Frequently asked questions

Below are some common questions related to basic car parts.

What are the basic parts of a car that one should know about?


The essential car components include engine, gearbox, clutch, battery, brakes, radiator, steering and suspension. Basic knowledge about these components can be helpful as a car owner.

Which are some of the essential car maintenance tips?


Below are some basic car maintenance tips.

  • Read your car's owners manual thoroughly to gain vital car knowledge. 

  • Pay attention to the different car warning light indicators on your car's instrument cluster.

  • Service the vehicle at regular intervals or as suggested by the manufacturer.

  • Ensure that all tyres are adequately inflated and have enough tread.

  • Keep a check on the levels of your car's vital fluids (engine oil, coolant, etc.).

  • Check your wiper blades regularly and replace them if necessary.

How do I find out the make and model of a car?


Usually, the car manufacturer's name will be present in the car's rear on one side and the model name on the other. You can also find the make and model of the vehicle either on the cover of the user's manual or within its first few pages.

How often do I need to service my car?


Stick to your car manufacturer's service schedule, which will be present in the user's manual. The service intervals vary from one car manufacturer to another. You may also refer to the owner's manual to know the exact service intervals of your car.

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