Glossary of Automotive Terms

Click on any letter to find automotive-related entries beginning with that letter.

C-pillar
The vertical metal roof support between the side edge of the rear windshield (also called the backlight) and the rear edge of the rear window.
CAM
The Championship Association of Mechanics, established in 1989, is a non-profit organization that serves the needs of Indy Car crew members. It also acts to publicize their efforts.
CMS
Charlotte Motor Speedway, home of the World 600 Winston Cup Race, now known as the Coca-Cola 600. This is a NASCAR event, also held on Memorial Day.
Camber
Inward or outward tilt of the wheels and tires. This adjustment affects how the vehicle holds the road and handles cornering.
Camshaft
A machined shaft with lobes that open and close engine-cylinder intake and exhaust valves. As the shaft rotates, the lobes push against valve springs to open the valves and rotate away to close them. Driven by the crankshaft.
Capitalized Cost
In a lease transaction, the price at which a financial institution buys a vehicle from a dealer. Equivalent to the cash purchase price if the consumer were buying the vehicle outright, it includes taxes and any other additional charges. Also called Capital Cost.
Capitalized Cost Reduction
In a lease transaction, an up-front payment made at the start of the lease. The lessee can use cash, a rebate or a trade-in. Similar but not equal to a down payment. The lessee must pay sales tax on the cap-cost reduction amount. Also called Capital-Cost Reduction.
Captive Finance Company
:A financial institution owned by a manufacturer. Examples include Chrysler Credit, Ford Motor Credit and GMAC.
Carburetor
Device that mixes air with fuel, delivering the mixture into the engine's combustion chambers. Only found on older vehicles. By the mid-1980s, new emissions standards led to the use of fuel-injection systems, which do not require frequent adjustment.
Carrier
The insurance company that provides the insurance.
Casualty Insurance
Insurance covering the insured's legal liability for damage to other person's property or injuries to them. Other forms of insurance, such as burglary, robbery and worker's compensation, belong in this category.
Catalytic Converter
An emissions-control device that removes unburned fuel from the exhaust by burning it.
Catastrophe Hazard
The risk of loss by a peril to which a large number of insured are subject. Typical examples are hurricanes and tornadoes.
Center High-Mounted Stop Light (CHMSL)
NHTSA-required brake light mounted higher than the taillights, at the top center or bottom center of the rear windshield.
Center of Gravity
The point of the car where, if it is suspended, it would balance front and rear.
Center-Locking Differential
On all-wheel drive vehicles, a third differential in addition to those for the front and rear axles. This third differential allows the front and rear wheels to turn at different speeds as needed for cornering on dry pavement. On slippery surfaces, it locks all four wheels together, either automatically or manually depending on the system, for greater traction.
Central Locking System
On a vehicle with power door locks, the system locks or unlocks all doors at one time.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
Chemicals formerly used as refrigerants in cooling systems. No longer used because they are considered harmful to the Earth's ozone layer.
Christmas Tree
The pole of lights that starts a drag race, named for its red and green lights. Most drag races use the pro or heads up start which has three lights in between the first (red) and last (green) stage.
Claim
Request for payment of a loss as covered under the terms of an insurance contract.
Clause
The term used to identify a certain section of the contract or policy.
Clearcoat
The transparent top coat of paint on many newer vehicles; designed to create a long-lasting, lustrous appearance.
Climate-Control System
The non-technical term for the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system (HVAC). Most current vehicles have all three -- heating, defrost and AC.
Closed-End Lease
In a lease contract, specifies the vehicle's residual value at the end of the lease term. The lessee is not responsible for the value of the vehicle at term end, but he may face charges for excess wear-and-tear and excessive mileage. Also called a walk-away lease.
Closing Costs
Any expenses added onto the lease that are incidental to the purchase. (For example, title fees and appraisal fees.)
Clutch
Device that connects or disconnects the engine from the transmission.
Clutch Disk
Presses against the the transmission flywheel to transfer power from the engine to the transmission.
Coefficient of Drag (Cd)
A measure of the aerodynamic resistance of the vehicle body. The smaller the number, the more wind-cheating the body design and the greater likelihood that passengers won't have to endure wind noises.
Coil Spring
A suspension component made up of spiral-wound hardened steel, used to isolate a vehicle from the up-and-down movement of the wheels on the road.
Collateral
Assets owned by the borrower which document his or her ability to repay the loan. Listed assets may be seized by the lending institution if the loan is unpaid.
Collision Coverage
Optional insurance that pays for damage to your car caused by collision with another car or object.
Collusion
The cooperation between two or more people to secretly defraud another person or company.
Combustion Chamber
Top section of the engine cylinder, where the air-fuel mixture is ignited by a spark plug. The explosion of the combustion pushes the piston down into the cylinder, producing the force that the transmission delivers to the drive wheels.
Common Law Liability
The responsibility of injury or loss imposed upon a person because of his or her actions.
Compact
A small car that can seat two to four people.
Compound Interest
Interest computed on the sum of an original principal and accrued interest.
Comprehensive Coverage
Optional insurance that pays for damage to your car caused by things other than collision. For example, if your car is stolen or vandalized.
Compression Ratio
The ratio of the volume within an engine cylinder when the piston is at the bottom of its stroke, compared to the volume in the cylinder when the piston is at the top of its stroke. The higher the ratio, the more compression during combustion and the more powerful the engine.
Compulsory Insurance
Any type of insurance that is required by law.
Concealment
The withholding of facts by an applicant on an insurance application.
Console
This may refer to the unit found between the front driver and passenger seat that contains the automatic transmission shifter, cupholders and a storage compartment. But it can also refer to the section of the instrument panel that includes the controls for the sound system and climate-control system, particularly if the panel flows down the center of the vehicle and includes the automatic-transmission shifter.
Constant-Velocity Joint (CV Joint)
On front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles, a coupling that allows the front axle to turn at a constant speed at various angles when the vehicle turns. The CV joint is a shaft that transmits engine power from the transmission to the wheel.
Contribution by Equal Shares
Provision in insurance contracts which requires each company to share equally in the loss until the share of each equals the lowest limit of liability under any policy or the full amount of loss is paid.
Conversion
The wrongful use of a property by the person who owns it.
Convertible
Any car with a removable top, either a rag (cloth) top or hard top.
Coolant
Liquid used to carry heat away from the engine. Sometimes called antifreeze.
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE)
The government tracks the average fuel economy of all the vehicles produced in a single model-year by each individual manufacturer. CAFE is that rating.
Coupe
Generally, a two-door car with close-coupled passenger compartment.
Coupe de Ville
A coupe with an enclosed, rear passenger section and an open driver's section.
Craftsman Truck Series
These NASCAR Trucks are similar to a Winston Cup race car, under the skin. The body must be stock and its shape is monitored by NASCAR officials. This new series of races has been called one of the most exciting in motorsports.
Crankshaft
The shaft that converts the up-and-down motion of the pistons into rotation. It is connected to the transmission.
Credit Worthy
A consumer who will qualify for a vehicle loan. Same as a qualified buyer.
Cruise Control
A device that, when set by the driver, will hold the car at the chosen speed.
Crumple Zone
Portions of a vehicle's structure designed to buckle and fold in an impact, absorbing crash force rather than transmitting it to vehicle occupants.
Curb Weight
The weight of the vehicle without passengers, driver or cargo, but with all standard features, a full tank of fuel, and all the fluids necessary for proper function.
Cylinder Block
The main part of the engine to which other parts are attached.
Cylinder Head
At the top of the engine block is the cylinder head which contains intake and exhaust valves. Air and fuel enter the cylinder head through the intake valves and spent leftovers are released after combustion through the exhaust valves.

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