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Car Parts

Ferdinand Verbiest was said to have built the first steam-powered motor car in 1672 to get around in China while he was on a Jesuit mission. Since then, automotive technology has undergone many changes. In the 1920's, mass-production standardized car parts, car production and how cars are put together.


Airbags were invented in 1951 and not required on cars until 1989. A frontal crash at speeds as slow as 14 mph is enough to deploy the airbag. When a chip in the engine senses a crash or a vehicle fire, the airbag fills very quickly with nitrogen gas. Airbags inflate in .02 seconds and deflate immediately after impact. They reduce fatalities by about 8%.


Car batteries provide a jolt of power to get the car started. Inside a car battery are lead plates submerged in a 35% sulphuric acid and 65% water solution. Shallow cycle batteries start a car and then recharge while the car drives. Deep cycle batteries provide continuous power and are found in golf carts and electric or hybrid vehicles.


A fine mist of gasoline and a spark from a spark plug ignite inside an "internal combustion engine" to create an explosion. This explosion shoots a piston away and makes the engine run. These engines have been around for over 100 years and find uses in locomotives and airplanes, not just cars.

Gas Tank

Most car fuel tanks are made of plastic rather than aluminum or steel. They are in the back of the vehicle and are accessed from a hole above the rear wheel. Keeping the tank in the back of the car is a safety precaution in case of an accident. Gas is highly flammable and keeping it close to the engine is a recipe for disaster.


Cars have regular headlights, fog lamps and some new cars have daytime running lights. Fog lamps are the orange light next to the headlights. Daytime running lights stay on all the time to make cars more visible, even in the day. Headlight technically refers to the light made by the car, not the actual lamp itself. The correct term is headlamp.


Until you learn to drive, the world below the steering wheel can seem complicated. Cars have a small gas pedal and a large brake pedal. In cars with manual transmission, there is also a "clutch" pedal that the driver uses when they shift gears. Automatic cars let the driver drive with the right foot only, while manual cars take two feet to drive.

Seat Belt

The seat belt has been an idea since the 19th century. However, Volvo was the first company to make three-point seatbelts standard on vehicles in 1959. In 1970 the state of Victoria, Australia made seat belts required. Some cars older than 1960 are not required to have seatbelts and cannot be pulled over for seatbelt violations.

Spark Plug

Spark plugs live in engine chambers and fire off a spark very quickly to light a fine mist of gasoline. Nikolas Tesla, inventor of the Tesla coil, was the first person to come up with the idea for a spark plug in 1898. Before it was perfected in 1902, the automobile "internal combustion engine" was impossible.

Steering Wheel

Steering wheels rely on pistons to turn. In recent car technology, power steering has been added to most cars to make steering wheels easier to turn. In power steering, the driver gets help from hydraulic or electric systems. Steering wheels are disabled when the key is out of the ignition to limit car theft.


Think about your bicycle. You go slow when your chain is on a big gear. You can go faster with a small gear. The engine needs to go from a big gear to a small gear when it's speeding up and from a small gear to a big gear when slowing down. With an automatic transmission, the car does this for you. With a manual transmission, you have to shift gears yourself.


Some cars have their trunk in the front and their engine in the back. A famous example is the old Volkswagen Beetle. In North America and Jamiaca, the space is called the trunk. Everywhere else in the world, the correct term is the "boot" of the car.