The basic idea of a car is pretty simple — turn wheels to pull you down the road. But, as illustrated by the hundreds of individual parts for sale at your local Pep Boys, AutoZone or Napa Auto Parts, it actually takes a lot of machinery to make cars work.
If you're trying to figure out what all the parts in your car do, HowStuffWorks AutoStuff is the place for you. Here's a collection of our key car part articles.
How Car Engines Work
It's the reason you can put the pedal to the metal and go from zero to 60 in about 8 seconds. The car engine is a piece of engineering genius and one of the most amazing machines we use on a daily basis. Learn how the four-stroke internal combustion engine works.
How Diesel Engines Work
Ever wonder what the difference is between a gasoline engine and a diesel engine? Diesels are more efficient and cheaper to run than gasoline engines. Instead of using carburetion or port fuel injection, diesel engines use direct fuel injection. Find out what else makes diesel engines different!
How Hemi Engines Work
The HEMI engine has an awesome design and great performance, and it's pretty unique in operation. With the revitalization of the HEMI in the 2003 Dodge trucks, industry and consumer attention is once again on this interesting configuration. Check out how the HEMI works and see what makes it different from the typical engine design.
How Rotary Engines Work
A rotary engine is an internal combustion engine, but it's not like the one in most cars. Also called a Wankel engine, this type of engine performs intake, compression, combustion and exhaust in a different part of the housing. Learn about the unique rotary setup and how it compares performance-wise to a piston engine.
How Radial Engines Work
Radial engines reached their zenith during WWII. But today they are not that common. One place where you can still see the radial engine's influence is in the two-cylinder engine of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This remarkable engine can be thought of, in a way, as two pistons from a radial engine. Find out about radial engines.
How Quasiturbine Engines Work
The quasiturbine engine takes the Wankel concept and improves on it: Instead of three combustion chambers, it has four, and the setup of a quasiturbine allows for continual combustion. That means greater efficiency than any other engine in its class. Learn about the quasiturbine and why it might be the most promising internal combustion engine yet.
How Camshafts Work
The camshaft has a huge effect on engine performance. It helps let the air/fuel mixture into the engine and get the exhaust out. Learn all about the camshaft and how a new one can radically change an engine's behavior.
How Superchargers Work
Since the invention of the internal combustion engine, automotive engineers, speed junkies and race car designers have been searching for ways to boost its power. One way is by installing a supercharger, which forces more air into the combustion chamber. Learn how superchargers can make an engine more efficient.
How Turbochargers Work
When people talk about race cars, or high-performance sports cars, the topic of turbochargers almost always comes up. Turbochargers use some very cool technology to make an engine more powerful, but the concept is really quite simple. Find out how turbos increase the speed.
How Fuel Injection Systems Work
The last carburetor-equipped car came off the assembly line in 1990. Since then, fuel injectors have been the primary means of getting gasoline into the engine cylinder so it can combust and you can drive. Find out how fuel-injection systems work.
How Manual Transmissions Work
If you drive a stick-shift car, then you may have a few questions floating around in your head. Have you ever wondered, "What would happen if I were to accidentally shift into reverse while I am speeding down the freeway? Would the entire transmission explode?" Find out all about manual transmissions.
How Automatic Transmissions Work
Automatic transmissions take the work out of shifting. A truly amazing mechanical system, the automatic transmission in a car accomplishes everything a manual transmission does, but it does it with one set of gears. Learn how the whole setup works.
How Clutches Work
You probably know that any car with a manual transmission has a clutch -- it connects and disconnects the engine and transmission. But did you know that automatics have clutches, too? Learn how the clutch in your car works, and find out about some interesting and perhaps surprising places where clutches can be found.
How CVTs Work
In a regular transmission, the gears are literal gears -- interlocking, toothed wheels. Continuously variable transmissions, on the other hand, don't have interlocking gears. The most common type operates on a pulley system. Learn all about the smooth-operating, ultra-efficient CVT.
How Differentials Work
Without a differential, the driven wheels (front wheels on a front-wheel drive car or rear wheels on a rear-wheel drive car) would have to be locked together, forced to spin at the same speed. Find out how this essential component allows the wheels to rotate at different speeds.
How Brakes Work
A car's brakes are probably the most critical system on the vehicle -- if they go out, you have a major problem. Thanks to leverage, such as AUDI VW headlight level sensor, hydraulics and friction, braking systems provide incredible stopping power. Find out what happens after you push the brake pedal.
How Sequential Gearboxes Work
Combine the ease of an automatic with the driver control of a manual, such as a window switch, and what you've got is a sequential manual transmission. Instead of having to navigate an H pattern, a simple forward push advances the gear. It's the transmission used by race cars and an increasing number of high-performance street cars. Learn all about the sequential gearbox.
How Torque Converters Work
Cars with automatic transmission parts have no clutch that disconnects the transmission from the engine. Instead, they use an amazing device called a torque converter. Find out all about the torque converter.
Without windshield wipers, a rain storm would make cars pretty much useless. What began as a hand-cranked system is now automatic, including auto switch and headlight switch, and only getting more so: There are now some windshield wipers that can actually sense rain. Learn the mechanics behind this essential automotive tool.