Car parts in English: A guide to car-related jargon

Car parts in English: A guide to car-related jargon

by Laura Jones

Updated June 12, 2023

Renting a car and heading out on a road trip gives you enormous freedom to explore a new place. And, for the most part, car rentals go off without a hitch. But when things go wrong, you’ll likely need to explain what happened. Unless you’re a multilingual maestro, the likelihood is that you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the names of different car parts in English. This is certainly true in the United States and England, but English is used as a business language in many other parts of the world, too. 

So, we’re here to explain the vocabulary you’ll need to talk about cars in English — from the brakes to the bumper and from the hood to the trunk. Buckle up and get ready to explore the fascinating world of car-related words in English. 

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The front

1. Hood

Let’s start with the hood: the front of the car, under which you can find the engine. There’s usually a lever on the driver’s side to lift the hood. We recommend finding it before you need to use it, because no one wants to be scrabbling around in the dark trying to pop the hood in an emergency. Note that the hood is called the bonnet in the UK and many other countries. 

2. Bumper

A typical car has two bumpers — one at the front and one at the back. This reinforced strip of plastic and/or metal helps protect your car in case of a collision or parking mishap. 

3. Headlights

The headlights are the two high-powered lights on the front of your car. Make sure to check local laws to know whether your car lights need to be on during the daytime, and don’t mistake your high beams (more powerful lights that help you see further down the road) for your low beams (the standard lights you’ll want to use while in traffic). 

4. Windshield

At the front of the car, there is a very large piece of glass called the windshield, or windscreen in British English. It’s there to make sure wind, bugs and harmful projectiles don’t fly straight into your eyes while you’re driving. You should have windshield wipers to clear water from the glass. 

5. Side mirrors

This one is self-explanatory. The side mirrors are on the sides of your car; one on the driver’s side and the other on the passenger side. They’re called wing mirrors in British English. 

6. Tires

At the front and back of the car on either side are the tires (spelled tyres in British English). A standard car has four tires;  they’re the thick rubber rings filled with air. If there’s not enough air in them, you may have a flat tire. Luckily, most cars have a spare tire somewhere — typically beneath the vehicle or in a compartment underneath the floorboard of the trunk. 

The back

1. Trunk

The trunk is the hood’s counterpart at the back of the car. It has a different name in British English: the boot. This is where you keep your suitcases and probably find the spare tire and the emergency kit for the car (first-aid kit, high-visibility vest, etc.).

2. Tail lights

The tail lights are the red and white lights at the back of your car that flash when you’re braking (i.e. slowing down) and occasionally at other moments, such as when you first start the car.

3. Fuel tank

The fuel tank is where you fill up the car with gas. There’s usually a little door covering the tank that requires a simple press or pull to open. Always check which type of fuel your vehicle takes before cruising out of the rental station.  

As we mentioned above, you should also have a bumper on the back of the car. 

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The power

1. Engine

The heart and soul of your car, the engine lives under the hood and is a powerful machine that makes the car work.

2. Battery

The car battery produces the electricity that makes the car work. If the battery is no longer working, you have a flat battery. This is a more common problem with older cars.   

3. Brakes

Your brakes bring your car to a stop, ensuring safety on the road. Someone might tell you to “hit the brakes” if they want you to stop. 

4. Gas/Accelerator

The opposite of the brakes is the gas pedal or the accelerator pedal. If someone tells you to “step on it,” they mean to push harder on the gas pedal and drive faster. They might also tell you to “hit the gas.” 

The interior

1. Steering wheel

Turn the steering wheel to point your car in the direction you wish to drive. 

2. Dashboard

The command center! The dashboard displays crucial information like the speed, fuel level and which side your fuel tank is on so you can avoid embarrassment at the gas station.It’s also home to a whole host of warning lights that hopefully you won’t see lit up.

3. Stick shift

Most Americans are accustomed to driving an automatic car, but abroad, manual cars are often the norm. And there, right between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat, is the dreaded stick shift that you use to change gears. Automatic cars have a version of this too, but it’s much simpler. 

4. Airbags

An airbag is a protective cushion that deploys during collisions, offering a softer and hopefully less damaging point of impact.

5. Parking brake

Also called a handbrake in British English, this is a device that locks into position and stops the vehicle from moving. It’s operated by hand (hence the name in British English) and it sits near the stick shift. You need to release or take off the parking brake before you set off (begin driving). 

Ready to hit the road?

Now that you’ve mastered the vocabulary of car parts in English, you’re ready to enjoy the open road with confidence. You can tell the mechanic when you have a flat tire or flat battery and ask for the windshield to be cleaned while you’re putting fuel in the tank. So, rev up your engine and enjoy the ride! 

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Laura Jones

Laura is a freelance writer and was an ESL teacher for eight years. She was born in the UK and has lived in Australia and Poland, where she writes blogs for Lingoda about everything from grammar to dating English speakers. She’s definitely better at the first one. She loves travelling and that’s the other major topic that she writes on. Laura likes pilates and cycling, but when she’s feeling lazy she can be found curled up watching Netflix. She’s currently learning Polish, and her battle with that mystifying language has given her huge empathy for anyone struggling to learn English. Find out more about her work in her portfolio.

Laura Jones

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