How Complete Is Your Basic Car Knowledge?

By: Bambi Turner
Image: Da-kuk / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Do you know the difference between a clutch and a muffler? Know what ABS is all about, or which type of gas you need to put in your car? Know how often you should change your oil, your air filter -- or your tires? Take our quiz to test your knowledge of these car basics!

Automotive industry publication Kelly Blue Book estimated the average price of a new car or light truck at just over $36,000 at the start of 2018. For many, that alone represents a substantial percentage of annual salary. Add on insurance, gas, maintenance and repair costs and it's easy to see that cars are one of the largest categories in many family budgets. Yet for as much as people depend on their cars to get them where they need to go -- and as much money as they are willing to spend for the privilege of driving -- far too many people don't know the basics about cars, from how they work to how to keep them running in top condition over time. Understanding even the most basic information about cars is critical to maximizing the life of your ride, avoiding unwanted breakdowns and extending the life of your investment. Think you know the basics about cars? Prove your automotive IQ with this quiz! 

Which of these car components is being put to the test when you go in for an emissions inspection?

A catalytic converter helps to reduce the emission of three dangerous substances -- carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. By keeping these components under control, your catalytic converter helps to reduce air and water pollution over time. If your catalytic converter isn't doing its job, you'll likely find out the next time your car is due for an emissions test.

Which unique number helps to identify your vehicle and distinguish it from other cars?

The vehicle identification number, or VIN, on your car serves much the same purpose as your Social Security number does for you. It helps to identify your unique vehicle and distinguish it from other cars.

Squealing your way to the stop light? That sound usually means you need to replace ...

When you push the brake pedal, the brake pads clamp around the rotor of your car, forcing the vehicle to a stop. As brake pads wear away, you may hear a squeal or even a grinding sound when you try to brake. This sound means it's time to invest in some new brake pads.

How often should you get an oil change, on average, to keep your car running smoothly?

Some car maintenance companies have promoted the idea that every car requires an oil change every 3,000 miles, but that isn't necessarily the case. According to AAA, most vehicles can go 5,000 to 7,500 miles between oil changes. Always check your manual to see how often your oil needs to be swapped out, and head in for an oil change at least once a year if you haven't put very many miles on the car.

Which part of the car is responsible for helping the engine stay cool?

Your engine performs a tremendous amount of work converting fuel into power for your drive, and all that work produces a lot of heat. The radiator inside your car allows the coolant from the engine to release heat before circulating back into the engine to repeat the process.

Which of these do you use to change gears in a car with a manual transmission?

While many modern cars are equipped with automatic transmission, some vehicles are still manual, which means you have to shift gears yourself as you drive. This involves pressing down on the clutch, and timing your actions properly to keep the engine from stalling.

Which car system shifts into motion the moment you change gears, helping you reach your desired speed?

In simple terms, your transmission transforms the energy from your car's engine into the movement of the tires. That means transferring the correct amount of power to the wheels based on the speed you're trying to achieve.

What is the main job of the muffler on a car?

Ever seen that pipe sticking out of the rear of your car? That's part of the muffler. This device is filled with tubes that are designed to reduce engine noise. As sound waves from the engine enter these tubes, they bounce around and break up, reducing the noise your car makes as you drive.

The term prindle is slang for this car component.

On a typical automatic transmission, the gears are represented by the letters PRNDL -- park, reverse, neutral, drive and low -- near the shifter. Just don't get a craving for chips when you think about your gearshift!

What is the main job of the alternator?

The alternator in a car acts as a generator of sorts. It connects to the engine, allowing the car battery to charge when the engine is running. Without an alternator, the battery would run out of juice fairly quickly.

Which part of the car do brake pads clamp down on when you hit the brake pedal?

Rotors are disks attached to the wheels of your car. When you brake, the pads compress around the rotors to stop the vehicle. These disks are at risk for damage if you fail to change your brake pads when they wear out.

Which car part transfer the torque from your car engine to the tires?

A typical passenger car has two axles, and each axle has one tire at either end. The axles transfer rotation from the engine to the tires to get you moving along the highway.

What percent of new cars don't come with a spare tire?

Spare tires in the trunk used to be a given, but today around a third of all new cars don't actually come with a spare, according to Consumer Reports. Car makers not only save money by not supplying the tire, but also can slightly improve fuel economy by removing that extra weight.

Which of these is a typical tire pressure range for a passenger car?

Improperly inflated tires can not only be a danger on the road, but can also reduce both your fuel economy and the life of your tires. While 32 to 35 psi is a typical range for tires, you should always check your manual to confirm the correct psi for your ride.

What is the name of the device used to lift a car during a tire change?

A jack is a surprisingly simple device that holds a car off the ground while you change the tire. A standard screw or scissor jack comes with many new cars, while auto shops use hydraulic or mechanical jacks.

ABS is a type of ____________ system.

Anti-lock braking systems, or ABS, are designed to prevent your wheels from locking up. On older cars without ABS, you're often told to pump the brakes when wheels lock, but this pumping isn't necessary with ABS technology.

How often should you change your spark plugs?

Believe it or not, modern platinum or iridium tipped spark plugs can last 100,000 miles or more! Despite that, most mechanics recommend replacing them at specific intervals, such as every 30,000 miles, to reduce your risk of a breakdown.

Which shape should you use as your guide when tightening lug nuts?

If you tighten your lug nuts one after the other, moving around the tire, you could run the risk of one or more coming loose. Instead, use a star pattern to tighten lugs on a diagonal to ensure they stay tight.

What's the name of that wand used for checking the oil?

Checking the oil level in a car is one of the most basic DIY maintenance tasks. To do it right, park the car on level ground, pop the hood and pull out the dipstick that's hidden under the oil cap. Wipe it clean then reinsert it before pulling it out to see how your oil levels stack up.

How long does the average car battery last?

A typical car battery lasts 3 to 5 years, according to AAA. Plan on a shorter life for your battery if you take lots of short trips or live in a hot climate.

Which car system do calipers play a role in?

Calipers are metal devices used in the braking system of a car. Brake pads are attached to the calipers, which are mounted near the rotors. When pads wear out, the calipers can eventually become damaged if the pads aren't replaced.

What is the primary job of the suspension system?

The suspension system in a car consists of springs and shock absorbers. This system not only absorbs the bumps on the road so you don't feel them as much, but also helps to keep tires in contact with the road regardless of the driving conditions.

When must you use premium gas?

While some cars absolutely benefit from premium gas, the majority will enjoy similar performance when filled with regular fuel. Check your manual to see whether you need to splurge on premium, and if you don't, stick with regular gas and soak up the cost savings.

What is the proper name for the frame of a car?

The chassis of a car is the frame that systems like the brakes, steering and tires are attached to. A rolling chassis generally includes the frame as well as the engine, tires and other parts needed to make the car move.

How often do you need to replace your wiper blades?

AAA recommends replacing wipers blades every 6 months. You should also swap them out for new ones if they are streaking, squeaking or skipping.

Which of these car components sometimes needs to bleed?

If air gets into your brake lines, you may notice that the brake pedal feels or functions differently. To fix this, you must bleed the brakes by removing the air using the brake bleeder screw and some relatively simple tools.

How do you regain control of a skidding car if you don't have anti-lock brakes?

Cars without anti-lock brakes are prone to skidding out of control if the wheels lock up. If this happens to you, pump the brakes to regain control of the car.

How often should you plan to replace a serpentine belt?

A serpentine belt connects various parts, like the alternator and pumps. Plan to replace this belt every 60,000 to 100,000 miles to keep your car in top condition.

What is the name of the trim that extends up from the back of some cars to catch the wind?

A spoiler is a piece of sporty trim offered as an option on many cars. While it gets its name from the fact that it ruins the aerodynamics of the vehicle, it also helps to prevent lift -- and looks cool, to boot.

What are the very low lights that are close to the road on the front of a car called?

When it's foggy outside, standard headlights can reflect off the fog and make visibility worse. Fog lights, located closer to the road surface, are designed to shine down onto the road itself rather than reflecting off the fog.

How far can you travel in a standard car before changing the engine air filter?

While the exact mileage you can get out of an engine air filter depends on driving conditions, AAA recommends springing for a new one every 15 to 30,000 miles. Not only will this allow you to maximize fuel efficiency, but it also keeps unwanted debris out of your engine.

Which of these situations would warrant a switch to low gear?

While most cars these days use an automatic transmission, many still come with extra gears beyond the standard drive, reverse and neutral and park. Switching to low gear might be helpful if you are driving down a steep hill, or even driving slowly on an icy road where braking could cause you to slide.

Yikes! What do you need to do if your car is squealing when you turn the steering wheel?

That terrible screech when you turn your steering wheel often occurs when power steering fluid is low. Other culprits include dirt and debris in the lines or a failing pump in the steering system.

What is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of dying in a car accident?

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, a staggering 50 percent of victims who died in car accidents in 2016 weren't buckled up. When you consider that around 90 percent of all drivers and passengers nationwide do wear a seat belt, you kind of have to wonder what the other 10 percent are thinking leaving that belt unbuckled.

How many miles are most tires designed to last?

Wearing down the tread on your tires can leave you vulnerable to an accident. While most tires are designed to last between 25,000 and 50,000 miles, you should check your wheels periodically to ensure your treads still measure at least 4/32" of an inch or more.

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