When you’re learning to drive, there’s a lot to take in. Not only do you need to learn how to physically operate the car, and memorise the highway code, but there’s the ‘show me, tell me’ part of your practical driving test to think about.
This section of the test is about vehicle safety and maintenance. You’re only expected to have very basic knowledge, so might be asked to check some fluid levels under the bonnet, but the examiner won’t ask you anything about how the cars works mechanically.
That can leave you at a disadvantage when dealing with mechanics and car dealers when you’re shopping for a used car, or simply taking along your motor for its first MOT. They might use several phrases that aren’t familiar to you, often in reference to the countless moving parts in your car. It pays to know more than the minimum…
So, the Admiral Learner Driver team has put together this short guide to explain some of the most commonly needed motoring upkeep and performance terms for the complete beginner.
ABS - anti-lock braking system. 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.
AWD - all-wheel drive. 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.
Alternator - 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.
Brake discs / pads / shoes - 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.
Brake fluid - 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.
Cam belt - 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.
Old or well-worn belts 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 these generally don’t need replacing.
You can check when your car’s cam belt is due to be changed online at www.mytimingbelt.com
Catalytic converter - 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 ef-fect of failures.
Clutch - 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.
Engine oil - 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.
Diesel particulate filter - a device that removes soot from the exhaust emissions of diesel en-gines. 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, this can cause the filter to become blocked and to fail.
Fan belt - similar to the cam belt, the fan belt regulates the movement of moving parts in your en-gine. It’s called a fan belt because it’s typically connected to the radiator fan, which helps to cool the radiator fluid.
FSH - an abbreviation meaning ‘full service history’. This means a complete record of the car’s maintenance history is supplied with the car. A car with a FSH 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.
FWD - short for ‘front-wheel drive’. 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 per-formance 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.
Logbook - 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.
Radiator - 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.
RWD - ‘rear-wheel drive’. 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.
Shock absorbers - 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.
Spark plugs - 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.