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What's Under the Hood of Your Car?

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I write about maintaining and troubleshooting cars as well as jet skis and lawn mowers!

A V6 internal combustion engine from a Mercedes-Benz.

A V6 internal combustion engine from a Mercedes-Benz.

If you want to begin your path to automotive self-reliance, then you'll need a general idea of what's under the hood of your car.

Don't expect to remember everything in this article right off the bat. Learning basic car maintenance takes practice, just like riding a bike for the first time or learning a new language. Intuition for parts and fixing random things will develop over time as you work more on your car. One day when you're trying to remove the fan shroud but "that stupid thingy is in the way", you'll remember that "thingy" in the way is the alternator!

Tips for Learning About Your Car Parts

  • Not every engine is the same. Two common engine types are V6 and V8. They are described below.
  • The oil dipstick, transmission dipstick, and radiator location are all crucial to frequent car maintenance for a vehicle owner.
  • It's a good idea to have a shop manual for your specific vehicle. There are specifications and instructions for each make, model, and year of a car or truck that often prove to be invaluable. Clymer and Haynes are two top-selling manual publishers.
Figure 1: A V8 Engine Diagram

Figure 1: A V8 Engine Diagram

Preparing to Investigate: Pull Your Hair Back and Dig In

Safety First

People with long locks: You may want to pull your hair back, especially if you're going to check your transmission fluid. The vehicle must be running to get an accurate reading of the transmission fluid, and I guarantee that you don't want the engine to get a hold of your hair. If your hair gets caught in a belt or fan, the engine will win that tug-of-war! Pull it into a ponytail or better yet, a bun for now. You don't need to remove your acrylic nails to explore the engine with me today.

What Is a V8 Engine?

Let's start off identifying the early model V8. V8 indicates that the engine has eight cylinders with two rows of four pistons. Pistons are the things move up and down with kinetic energy and are adjacent to each other on the crankshaft. Electrical energy is transmitted through the spark plugs and causes the combustion of air and fuel inside the cylinders which house the pistons. The cylinders and the pistons are set in a "V" pattern, hence V8. The engine displacement is 454 cubic inches. Huge engines of this size are used for racing or hauling heavy items.

Figure 2: Under the hood of a 1989 454 V8 1-ton engine.

Figure 2: Under the hood of a 1989 454 V8 1-ton engine.

Component Key for a 1989 454 V8 1-Ton Engine

  1. Radiator Reservoir: Radiator reservoir is used for coolant overflow.
  2. Power Steering Check-and-Fill: Use the same hole to check and fill the power steering fluid.
  3. Brake Fluid Reservoir: Check the fluid level and top off brake fluid here.
  4. Transmission Dipstick: Fill and check transmission fluid through this hole. The engine must be running to check the transmission fluid properly; see Safety Precautions section below.
  5. Air Filter: The air filter is located on top of the carburetor to supply the carb with clean air.
  6. Fuse Box: This is one of two fuse boxes; another fuse box is located inside the car.
  7. Radiator Cap: Never open the radiator cap when it's hot. Squeeze the hose to feel for pressure and heat before opening.
  8. Engine Oil Fill Cap: Remove the engine oil fill cap to add oil after checking the oil levels via the dipstick. The engine oil dipstick is identified at number 9.
  9. Dipstick: The dipstick is used to check engine oil. Once the engine is warm and shut off, pull the dipstick out of the hole and wipe it off. Stick back into the hole carefully, and slowly remove it. Observe where the engine oil falls on the measuring stick. If the oil falls below both notches on the meter, the engine needs more oil.
  10. Air Conditioning Components: Don't mess with the air conditioning components. The air conditioning compressor contains lots of freon under pressure.
  11. Battery: The battery is crucial to access when jumping your car or another person's vehicle.
  12. Information Labels: These labels provide information about your specific vehicle.
  13. Hood Latch: The hood latch is used to access under the hood. Typically, a button or lever inside the vehicle on the driver's side pops the hood to allow access to the hood latch.
  14. Serpentine Belt: The serpentine belt wraps around all the pulleys in the engine.
  15. Alternator: The alternator generates electrical power to keep the engine running and recharges the battery.
  16. Fan Shroud: The fan shroud assists with cooling the vehicle.

"Sideways" or Transverse Engines Explained

What Is a "Sideways" Engine?

Let's look at a 1996 high-performance engine. The following engine is a 2.5L V6 24-valve Chrysler engine that is positioned sideways. What does each of these things mean?

  • 2.5L: The number of liters indicates the size of the engine.
  • V6: "V" indicates the engine shape and "6" points to the total number of cylinders.
  • 24 valve: "24 valve" means there are two intake and two exhaust valves in each of the six cylinders.

This engine is said to be "sideways". Instead of facing front to back when you open the hood, the engine is facing right to left. The accessory belts are located on the left side facing the passenger-side wheel. Figure 3 details the parts of a "sideways" engine.

Where's the Battery?

A couple of car makes position the battery in difficult spots. On some Chrysler models, such as the 2004 Chrysler Sebring, the battery is located in one of the oddest places I've ever seen: in front of the driver-side wheel. In order to access the battery on this particular make of vehicle, you must:

  1. Turn the steering wheel to the left, until you see inside the wheel well on the front driver's side. Remove the removable panel on the battery box.
  2. Once the panel is removed, you will see the battery.

The other vehicle is the Corvette. The battery, primarily on older models, is located behind the driver's seat in a box under the carpet.

Figure 3: Under the hood of a 2.5L V6 24-valve Chrysler engine.

Figure 3: Under the hood of a 2.5L V6 24-valve Chrysler engine.

Component Key for a 2.5L V6 24-valve Chrysler Engine

  1. Radiator Reservoir: Radiator reservoir is used for anti-freeze overflow.
  2. Power Steering Check-and-Fill: Use the same hole to check and fill the power steering fluid.
  3. Brake Fluid Reservoir: Check the fluid level and top off brake fluid here.
  4. Transmission Dipstick: Fill and check transmission fluid through this hole. The engine must be running to check the transmission fluid properly; see Safety Precautions below.
  5. Air Filter: The air filter is located on top of the carburetor to supply the carb with clean air.
  6. Fuse Box: This is one of two fuse boxes; another fuse box is located inside the car.
  7. Radiator Cap: Never open the radiator cap when it's hot. Squeeze the hose to feel for pressure and heat before opening.
  8. Engine Oil Fill Cap: Remove the engine oil fill cap to add oil after checking the oil levels via the dipstick. The engine oil dipstick is identified at number 9.
  9. Dipstick: The dipstick is used to check engine oil while the engine is off.
  10. Air Conditioning Components: Don't mess with the air conditioning components. The air conditioning compressor contains lots of freon under pressure.
  11. Windshield Washing Fluid: Windshield washing fluid is crucial for cleaning the windshield while driving and should be checked regularly.
  12. Technical Labels: Labels for SMOG, A/C, spark plugs, etc. The information on these labels pertains to your specific vehicle.
  13. Hood Latch: The hood latch is used to access under the hood. Typically, a button or lever inside the vehicle on the driver's side pops the hood to allow access to the hood latch.
  14. Access to Shock Absorbers: Shock absorbers absorb shock impulses. Leave tampering with these to a licensed mechanic.

Safety Precautions

Transmission

When checking the transmission fluid, the engine should be warmed up and running for a proper reading.

Be very careful of moving parts and wires, especially with hair or dangling/loose clothing! If your hair or a scarf is near the serpentine belt, the breeze caused by the fan could lead it to catch the belt. This could pull your head or neck towards the engine. Please be careful!

Cooling System

If you find your car overheating, do not remove the radiator cap (Figure 3, number 7). Pressure builds under the radiator cap in the cooling system as a car runs. Open the hood so cool air can blow over the engine. Wait until the temperature gauge inside your vehicle has gone down to zero degrees.

Never spray or "hose down" a hot engine. When your car overheats and you turn it off, spraying cold water on it may crack the engine! The severe temperature change is too much for the metal.

Final Tips

Parts That Require a Technician

In Figure 3, the heavy duty fuse box (6) and the air conditioning components (10), both require a licensed technician. There's nothing you can do for these components, so leave those to the experts.

Easy Fluid Check

Check your power steering fluid, engine oil, radiator fluid, and transmission fluid regularly. Fill or top off as needed and check your owner's manual to determine when your vehicle needs to be serviced.

Battery Replacement

Batteries need to be replaced about every two to three years. Remove the negative terminal first, then the positive. Automotive batteries can be very heavy, and some are upwards of twenty pounds plus, so be careful when you're lifting it out and putting the new one in. Be sure to have the terminals on the correct side, positive to positive and negative to negative. Attach the terminals by connecting the positive first then the negative.

With all that said and done, take the quiz below to see what you remember!

What's Under Your Hood Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. You're headed to Disneyland with a car full of kids when your car over heats. What do you do?
    • Keep going because the car is still running.
    • Pull over at a safe spot, then open the hood until the engine cools.
    • Turn the car off and spray the engine with water.
  2. What's wrong with wearing a coat, gloves, and scarf when you check your transmission fluid?
    • Nothing, I'm freezing but I need to check the transmission fluid.
    • The scarf can get caught in the moving parts and hurt me.
    • Nothing if I turn the engine off to check the transmission fluid.
  3. How many cylinders does a V8 engine have?
    • 16
    • I have no idea.
    • 8

Answer Key

  1. Pull over at a safe spot, then open the hood until the engine cools.
  2. The scarf can get caught in the moving parts and hurt me.
  3. 8

Interpreting Your Score

If you got 0 correct answers: Go directly to jail, but you gotta walk, leave the car! Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200! :P

If you got 1 correct answer: You might want to reread this hub. Skipping through is a waste of time.

If you got 2 correct answers: Coffee breaks over, shift your attention into gear and I'm sure you'll better.

If you got 3 correct answers: 100%! Your awesome! You can work on my car anytime!!

Words of Encouragement

If you feel overwhelmed, relax. Like learning anything, basic auto maintenance takes repetition and practice, and occasionally making a few mistakes. You can't "hurt" your car just by looking around under the hood or checking the fluids. You can increase the longevity of your car by checking under the hood early and often to catch problems before they begin!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do different cars have different parts in them?

Answer: Basically, a gasoline engine will have specific parts that are required to make the engine run. A carburetor, pistons, spark plugs, exhaust, etc. Some manufacturers have additional items they will install such as a stereo system, an alarm system, tinted windows, leather seats, etc. ALL of the parts vary in size and methodology (how they are attached and used in the car). Different engines may have a different set-up to accommodate a larger or smaller engine size and requirement. So, to answer your question, yes, gasoline engines all have basically the same parts.

Question: What is the function of the carburetor?

Answer: The carburetor is the method for which the engine is fed fuel. Its function is to combine air and fuel into a highly combustible combination. This air/fuel mixture is then drawn into the engine by the vacuum the engine creates when it is running. The mixture is fed into each combustion chamber where a spark plug is at one end of each chamber. The spark plug ignites the fuel mixture sent by the carburetor causing an explosion in the combustion chamber. The energy from the explosion is transferred to propel the vehicle.

Comments

Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on March 24, 2013:

Thank you sany72! I hope it was helpful.

Panga Sandu Teodor from Romania on March 24, 2013:

very nice post good work

Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on January 25, 2013:

Thank you CelebrateUSA! I love your screenname! I also wrote a hub on baking an American flag cake you may want to check out!

Ken Kline from Chicago, Illinois on January 25, 2013:

Delightful hub! And the quiz was simply fun! Enjoy your energy - keep up the great work!

Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on October 29, 2012:

Thank you koustubh, I hope it was helpful for you.

koustubh from Mangalore, India on October 28, 2012:

Great article

very nice

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