Having a basic understanding of vehicle safety and maintenance is never a bad thing - it can help keep you safe, and can save you money.
Not knowing what the common jargon actually means can leave you at a disadvantage when dealing with mechanics and car dealers when you’re shopping for a car, or simply taking your motor for an MOT.
So, here's our glossary covering some of the most common motoring upkeep and performance terms.
This prevents the wheels from coming to a total stop, or ‘locking’, if you have to slam on the brakes in an emergency. Locked wheels can cause a skid and send the car out of control. An ABS system rapidly applies, releases and re-applies the brakes to slow you down without locking the wheels.
This means the engine is powering all four wheels, and is otherwise known as ‘4x4’. These cars tend to provide better grip, which is why many off-roaders and performance-orientated cars have this.
This converts mechanical energy from the engine into an alternating electrical current. This is stored in the battery, which powers the vehicle’s electrical systems. It’s the alternator’s job to keep your battery topped up, so if it’s working correctly you should never have a flat battery - unless you leave the lights on all night.
All four wheels on your car will have their own brake. The front brakes are usually shaped like a disc and are attached to the wheels. When you apply the brakes, brake pads press against the discs to slow the car down using friction.
Over time, the pads will wear down and need replacing. The rear wheels often use a different sort of brake, with what are called ‘shoes’ rather than ‘pads’. On front-wheel drive cars, the rear brakes will need replacing less often.
Brakes run on a hydraulic system, and are filled with fluid. When you apply the brakes, the fluid ensures the right pressure is placed on the brake discs to slow the car.
This rubber belt drives some of the moving parts of your engine, ensuring everything is running at the right speed. For this reason, it’s sometimes known as the timing belt.
Cam belts - when to change
An old or well-worn cam belt can snap and instantly cause massive amounts of damage to your engine, so it’s important that it’s changed in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Some cars have a chain instead of a belt, and they're designed to last the car's lifetime so generally won’t need replacing unless there's a serious problem.
These are fitted to petrol cars and convert poisonous exhaust emissions into carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen and water. They should last the lifetime of the car, but can fail in some circumstances, usually because of a fault somewhere else on the car causing a domino effect of failures.
The clutch connects your engine to your gearbox. In a manual car, when you press the clutch pedal, the clutch disconnects the engine from the gearbox temporarily so you can change from one gear to another. The clutch will eventually wear out with use, so will need replacing.
A simple and vital form of lubricating oil that reduces wear and tear on moving parts of your engine. There are different oils for different engines, so make sure you use the right one - you can find out which one’s right for your car by inputting your registration number online with Halfords. It’s free and takes seconds.
A device that removes soot from the exhaust emissions of diesel engines. Cars fitted with one are designed to burn this soot and turn it to ash by running at high speeds for an extended period: above 40mph for 10 minutes or more.
If you only make short journeys in stop/start traffic, and never make the longer, high-speed journeys the car needs, the filter can become blocked and fail.
Similar to the cam belt, the fan belt regulates the movement of moving parts in your engine. It’s called a fan belt because it’s typically connected to the radiator fan, which helps to cool the radiator fluid.
This means a complete record of the car’s maintenance history is supplied with the car. A car with a full service history may prove more reliable (and hold its resale value better) because there is evidence that it has been well cared for by its previous owners.
This means the engine is powering the front wheels, essentially dragging the car along the road. Most cars are front-wheel driven, although some sports and performance cars use the rear wheels because FWD cars have less front-end grip during high-speed cornering. In everyday driving, you won’t notice a difference.
A car immobiliser is an electronic security device that stops your car from being started or taken without its key - so it makes life pretty difficult for would-be thieves. You can check your car's handbook to see if it has a factory-fitted immobiliser as standard.
This is a nickname for the V5C Certificate, which proves ownership of the car. When you buy or sell a car, there are parts for both the vendor and buyer to complete. If you’re buying a car from someone and they can’t show you the logbook, walk away. The car may not legally be theirs to sell.
The radiator prevents your car from overheating. It’s full of fluid - normally antifreeze - which runs through the engine, absorbing the heat the engine produces. It then comes back to the radiator, at the front of the car, and is cooled by the air rushing over it, and a fan.
This means the engine is powering the rear wheels, pushing the car along the road and leaving the front wheels to steer. Rear-wheel drive cars are often more enjoyable to drive at high speeds, but have less grip in slippery or snowy conditions.
These are part of the suspension, and swallow some of the energy forces the car is subjected to by driving along the road. They help to deliver a smoother and more comfortable ride.
These help create the spark that ignites the mixture of fuel and air in your engine. If the spark plugs aren’t working, the car won’t start when you turn the ignition.