5 Car Parts Every Driver Should Know and Understand


The average mid-sized car has roughly 30,000 parts that work in harmony to provide a functional means of transportation. Of course, some of these parts are minor, consisting of nothing more than bolts and screws. As a driver, you should familiarize yourself with the five following car parts.

#1) Alternator

While most drivers are familiar with their car’s battery, many overlook the role of the alternator. Nonetheless, the alternator is a critical component of a car’s electrical system. When your engine is running, it converts energy produced by the crankshaft into electricity for the battery. If your alternator dies or otherwise stops working, your battery will eventually run out of power; thus, preventing your car’s electrical components from working.

#2) Timing Belt

The timing belt, also known as a cambelt, is a chain or belt that rotates the engine’s camshaft and crankshaft at specific times to ensure the valves open and close correctly. As explained by CBS News, the timing belt can cause substantial damage to a car’s engine if it’s break. This is particularly true for interference timing belts, in which breakage causes the valve to hit the piston. To protect your engine from potentially catastrophic damage, you should replace your car’s timing belt according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

#3) Radiator

Most car engines are designed to work at 195 degrees to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. If an engine exceeds this temperature range, it can pop gaskets, warp cylinder heads and create cracks in the engine block. Thankfully, modern-day cars are equipped with cooling systems to regulate internal temperatures and protect against overheating.

The radiator is a large, flat component that’s designed to transfer heat from the engine to outside the car. Coolant — typically a 50/50 mix of distilled water and antifreeze — travels from the engine to the radiator at the front of the car. As it travels through the engine, it picks up heat and transfers it to the front of the car where it’s released by cooling fans.

#4) Engine

The engine is a complex device consisting of multiple components that’s designed to convert fuel, air and spark into energy. While there are dozens of types of engines, most feature a few key components, including the block, cylinder head, pistons, crankshaft, camshaft, connecting rods, valves, spark plugs, gaskets, piston rings, fuel injectors, push rods and an exhaust manifold.

Because of the extensive labor it requires, repairing a damaged engine is often costly. A blown head gasket, for instance, can easily cost up to $1,500. The actual head gasket is typically inexpensive; it’s the labor of replacing the gasket that costs the most. You can prolong the life of your engine, however, by keeping it cool, changing the oil and replacing spark plugs according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

#5) Ignition System

The ignition system is responsible for creating the initial spark needed to engage the spark plugs and subsequently ignite the engine’s combustion chambers. It pulls power from the car’s 12-volt battery and sends this power to each spark plug attached to the engine’s cylinders. If your ignition system fails, you won’t be able to turn on your car’s engine.

Like the engine, a car’s ignition system actually consists of several components, including the ignition switch, battery, distributor, spark plug and ignition coils. These components work together to ignite the fuel-air combination in your engine’s cylinders.

Familiarizing yourself with these five essential car parts should give you a better understanding of how automobiles work. With this knowledge, you can make smarter decisions when seeking professional mechanic services — decisions that could save you big bucks.