Can You Answer These Questions Every Auto Expert Should Know?



Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

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About This Quiz

What replaced the carburetor? What does the distributor distribute? There's a lot to know about cars and engines. How does your knowledge measure up?

A little background: Humanity dreamed of a self-propelled vehicle for many centuries (probably since we first started hooking horses up to our carts and carriages). Those dreams took wobbly steps toward reality in the 18th century, when inventors began to play around with prototype engines. It might surprise you to know that petroleum fuel was by no means the shoe-in to run early engines. Inventors were thinking along the lines of steam engines, or even ones that ran on hydrogen (which sounds very 21st-century to us!) Before the year 1800 had even arrived, the "steam dray" had been created by a Frenchman named Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot. But it was Karl Benz who is credited with the first "production" vehicle, which ran on gas, and gas-powered cars have dominated the market ever since. 

Cars represent different things to different people: freedom, status, recreation ... or, to those carrying a large car loan or putting money into a lemon,  a financial headache!  But to a certain minority, cars represent something else: a hobby, a skill and a body of knowledge. Maybe you're among this group, and pride yourself on understanding how your ride works, and being able to tinker with it yourself. If that's so, we've created a quiz for you. It's mostly on the mechanical workings of an automobile, but there's a little bit about history, brands and key figures, too. Good luck!

In what part of the car is friction a good thing?

Brakes work by creating friction, which in physics terms is a form of resistance, and creates stopping power. Almost everywhere else, friction is a bad thing that'll lead to failures.


Which of these is a synonym for "parking brake"?

Be aware that the term "hand brake" can be misleading. Though parking brakes are often hand brakes, some have small floor pedals, like a regular brake, except they "catch" and have to be released.


Most modern engines are ____-stroke.

The four strokes in the combustion process are called intake, compression, power (or ignition) and exhaust. You'll hear about "three-stroke engines" on small, low-powered vehicles, but they actually go through all four stages as well.


Which of these are you likely to find in a 1960s car?

Early cars like Mustangs often had simple brakes called drum brakes. They were replaced by disc brakes, which didn't lose efficacy when you drove through water, or when they got overheated.


Have drum brakes gone away entirely?

Some auto manufacturers find it more economical to have disc brakes in the front and drums in the rear. Your parking brake might also be a drum brake.


Which of the following comes in "weights"?

You'll see engine oil rated as, for example, 5W-30. This is roughly a range, indicating the oil's viscosity at low and high temperatures.


How efficient is a modern car engine?

Yes, an engine loses about 80 percent of its power to friction in the engine and powertrain. This leaves about 20 percent to actually turn the wheels. This underscores the importance of good maintenance -- you really don't want to lose any more!


True or false: Coasting down downgrades in neutral doesn't actually save any energy.

Experts advise against this. Idling actually consumes more fuel than running the engine in gear but with one's foot off the accelerator. Also, having the car in neutral costs you time (in putting the car in gear) in case emergency avoidance maneuvers are needed, which is dangerous.


About how many volts is a car battery?

This really isn't a lot. Compare it to the 9V battery you usually stick in a smoke alarm, for comparison. But the current is amplified many times by the ignition coil.


Which of these is easily removed to disable a car?

The distributor routes current to the spark plugs in the engine's firing order. If the distributor cap is missing, the car just won't start. This is where we get the old trick of removing a car's distributor cap to keep a drunken person from driving, or to prevent car theft in high-risk neighborhoods.


What does (or did) a timing light diagnose?

A timing light would strobe, and when shined on timing marks, the marks would appear stationary if the ignition system was firing at the proper speed. Only older cars have this kind of setup. Perhaps old timing lights have been repurposed as lighting at raves!


Loud and off-kilter firing in the combustion process is commonly called _____.

Some people use pre-ignition and knocking interchangeably, but these are not the same thing. High-quality fuels have largely made knocking a thing of the past.


What is displacement measured in?

Displacement is a measure of volume. It's how much fuel-air mixture the cylinders can hold, which affects the power generated in the power stroke of the engine.


Which of these, for a long time, was the traditional color for coolant?

Nowadays, coolant/antifreeze can come in myriad colors, including orange and pink. But for many years, in America at least, green was the true-blue coolant color.


True or false: It's OK to switch brands of coolant as long as the color is the same.

Coolants now come in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and pink -- and sometimes it can be hard to tell, say, red from pink. In addition, General Motors has an orange variety of coolant that shouldn't be mixed with Chrysler's orange coolant. When in doubt, ask a mechanic.


Redirecting exhaust gases back into the combustion chamber to increase compression is called ______.

Turbocharging gets more power out of the combustion process (though with the dreaded "turbo lag"). It doesn't increase fuel consumption, either, which means it has a neutral effect on the environment.


Which carmaker produced the unsuccessful Edsel?

Edsel Ford was one of Henry Ford's son. Contrary to what some people believe, Edsel Ford was not involved in the fiasco of the Edsel line -- in fact, he was already dead. The line was named in his memory.


What is "supercharging"?

Supercharging has its own gear or belt powered by the engine. Regular turbocharging uses a turbine that works with the flow of the exhaust gases. Supercharging demands some power from the engine, but has no turbo lag, which is why lovers of high-performance cars tend to prefer it.


Which of these parts mixed fuel and air in older vehicles?

The carburetor is essential to making the car actually, you know, go. That's why it's no surprise that Karl Benz, credited by many as making the world's first viable motor car, held a patent on one.


What replaced the carburetor in most modern cars?

Carburetors control the flow of gasoline into the combustion chamber. Fuel injection does the same, but in a more efficient way, explaining why race cars were the first to have fuel injection.


True or false: Ford is America's longest continuously operating carmaker.

This distinction belongs to Buick. The company made its first vehicle in 1899 and became the cornerstone of General Motors.


What is "hotwiring"?

This method was most commonly used by thieves. It still is, but less frequently with today's more sophisticated ignition systems.


How long should a car battery last?

It's true that today's batteries are rechargeable, but as you probably know if environmental concerns have led you to use rechargeable household batteries, "rechargeable" doesn't mean "eternal." Depending on your driving habits, a battery might last from two to eight years. Don't forget to keep your charging system well-maintained -- the battery can't be recharged without it.


True or false: The term "horsepower" came from an actual comparison to horses.

It's true that horsepower is a general measure of energy, and is measured in watts, which is generally associated with electricity. But it was at first a way of comparing the work that could be done by a horse as compared to that of a machine. One unit of horsepower is about 745 watts.


Which of these is part of a vehicle's suspension system?

The suspension system strikes a balance between providing a smooth ride for the passenger and keeping the car in safe, solid contact with the road. One easy adjustment to the suspension system is adding air to or taking air out of your tires. More will give you better mileage and acceleration, but with a rougher ride and decreased roadhandling. Letting air out does the opposite.


What kind of engine does not need spark plugs?

In a diesel engine, only the compression of the fuel-air mixture is needed to create an explosion. It's hard to believe at first, but true!


Which of these will NOT increase your gas mileage?

All of these will affect your mileage, to different degrees. Opening windows and a moonroof increases drag on the vehicle, to a small extent. Bear in mind, though, that if you're running the AC instead of opening the windows, that does take some power away from the engine, increasing fuel consumption to a small extent.


True or false: Running the heater doesn't affect gas mileage.

The heater simply redirects air that your engine is generating anyway. So, unlike air conditioning, it doesn't take power away from the engine or add to fuel consumption.


Which of these American carmakers made the Bel Air?

When people think of a classic 1950s car, they are probably picturing something like the Bel Air. It was full-sized, often two-toned and with tail fins.


On which kind of vehicle would you find a "fork"?

The fork connects the wheel to the rest of the bike -- and we mean "bike," as a fork is also found on bicycles. The end of the fork connects to the hub of the wheel.


"Octane" refers to a _____.

Many people think of "octane" solely as a rating. But it refers to the level of a particular hydrocarbon in the gasoline.


Which of these is a fuel-cell car?

The Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius are examples of gas-electric hybrid cars. And the Vantage? That's a classic gas-burning car -- and boy, will it burn a lot of gas!


What decade was the first Ford Model T produced?

The Model T came out in 1908. It was the Ford Motor Company's first big success.


What was the first hybrid car widely available in the United States?

The Honda Insight was a two-seater that went on the market in 1999. Some people erroneously think the Prius came first, but it only overshadowed the Insight because it had four doors and a backseat, which many buyers wanted.


Which of these cars can you no longer buy?

This is a trick question (sorry). Nash is out of business, but you can still find the beloved Nash Rambler on the vintage car market. Prices vary widely on the secondhand market.


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