Texas Living

9 Basic Car Parts Everyone Should Know

By Staci Parks 10.1.20

There’s no doubt about it: With nearly 80,000 miles of TxDOT-managed roads, Texas is one of the most car-centric states in the U.S. But, if you’re having car trouble, it can be hard to pinpoint the pain if you don’t know what’s under the hood. Stop ignoring that “check engine” light and erase the mystery with this car parts guide for auto amateurs.

car parts guide alternator


In addition to charging the battery, this car part also operates the vehicle’s electrical system while the car is running. Dim or flickering headlights, a stalling car, and a rattling engine are signs of a failing alternator.

car parts guide braking system

Braking System

This crucial security system makes sure your vehicle slows and stops. If you hear a grinding or squealing sound when you brake, the brake pads might need replacing. Another common sign you need a repair is if you press on your brakes and they’re slow to respond; you might have a leak in your brake line.

car parts guide

Catalytic Converter

This car part helps filter pollutants and harmful gases before they exit the exhaust system. While this component can last approximately a decade, reduced acceleration, a lethargic engine, and dark exhaust smoke can signal potential issues.

car parts guide engine


Acting as the vehicle’s “heart,” the engine transforms gas into motion, allowing it to move. Sometimes, a failing engine may stall, give off an unpleasant smell, or make sounds such as hissing, knocking, or backfiring.

car parts guide muffler


An essential element of the exhaust system, the muffler is located underneath the rear of the vehicle. It helps dull the noise coming from a combustion engine. If your car sounds much louder than usual or you’re getting fewer miles per gallon, it might be time to replace the muffler.

car parts guide radiator


This critical segment helps keep the engine from overheating, which can lead to damage. Some telltale signs of a defective radiator are an overheating vehicle, pools of leaked coolant under your car, or recurringly low coolant levels.

car parts guide shocks

Shock Absorbers

As part of the suspension system, your vehicle’s shock absorbers keep it from bouncing, ensuring the tires stay on the road. This helps you keep a firm grip on the steering wheel and provides a proper braking response. A bouncing vehicle and unusual noises from the front or rear wheels could mean the absorbers are worn and need replacing.

car parts guide steering

Steering and Suspension

These two systems work together to provide a smooth ride and effective control of the vehicle. If your vehicle abruptly drifts to one side while driving or there’s a harsh vibration, it could be time for an inspection.


This system transfers power from the engine to the wheels, helping the vehicle drive at certain speeds. Replacing the entire transmission can be an expensive endeavor, so pay attention to any fluid leaks and long pauses between revving the gas and movement.

Take your newfound knowledge a step further with basic car maintenance you can do yourself.

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