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Dashboard to Spoiler: How These Common Car Parts Got Their Names

While some car part names make sense, some are pretty weird. Most people don’t take the time to think about where these unique names came from. However, we had an interesting conversation the other day that resulted in us doing some research.

Today, we’re examining how some common car parts got their names. Some are straightforward, and others have an interesting history.

Buckle up, and let’s get started!

Car Parts Explained🚘{+ their function}: What are Basic main different parts in CAR? Explanation pics

Car Name History

A typical internal combustion car has approximately 30,000 individual parts. As a result, assigning names to these parts helps to avoid communication errors. Communication is critical, whether during the assembly process or a maintenance trip at a mechanic. Naming the parts creates a standard that helps unite the automotive industry.

Having a global standard for car parts makes maintenance, repairs, and manufacturing substantially easier. When you tell your mechanic the radiator leaks, they’ll know exactly where to look. You know there’s been a miscommunication if you see them poking around in the trunk.

Many car parts receive their name due to their function or appearance. However, quite a few have inventors or companies as namesakes. You could even come up with a car part and name it after yourself.

Additionally, many car parts get their names from tasks they once did or were part of even older vehicles. These names we keep calling the part even if its original meaning is lost.

Pile of car parts
Common car parts don’t always have a common history as to how they got their names.

Interesting Car Part Names

Some car part names make sense, and others are confusing. We’ve compiled a list of several car part names to research how they came to be. Let’s dive in!

Grille

The car grille is the front area of the car that allows airflow into the radiator. We generally refer to the grill as any area of the front of the car that is not the bumper.

A grille is not for cooking hot dogs and hamburgers. A grille’s primary function is to allow air to flow into the engine compartment. This helps with cooling and avoiding overheating as you drive down the road.

The name comes from the French word “grille,” which means “grating” or “lattice.” It makes more sense when you consider the definition of grating, “a partition, covering, or frame of parallel bars or crossbars.”

A car grille generally lets air in; many electric cars no longer have grilles.

Dashboard

A vehicle’s dashboard, often shortened to “dash,” is the front panel inside an automobile. It contains a cluster of instruments in front of the driver and extends across the vehicle. This part has a crucial role.

While dashboards are standard on modern vehicles, they’re far from new. The term comes from the days of horse-drawn carriages. The “dashboard” was a board at the front of the carriage to protect the driver and passengers from getting dirty from horses “dashing.” The term dash means to move with speed, so when the horses were dashing, they were trotting. Horses would toss up mud and debris as they trotted down the road.

Early cars were pretty much-powered carriges, and parts were similar. Automakers carried the concept over when making vehicles. Eventually, manufacturers found it was a convenient spot to place instruments. This allows the driver to easily see information from speedometers, fuel gauges, and temperature indicators.

Carriage Dash Board
This is the original dash board, its in front of the driver but serves a very different purpose

Hood

The hood is a cover that protects the engine and other sensitive parts. In some parts of the world, they name this car part a “bonnet.” The term grew in popularity during the early 20th century. A hinged cover enclosed the engine compartment but still made it easy to do maintenance and repairs.

The term “hood” comes from its resemblance to a head covering. However, people used this term long before the “hoodie” sweatshirt became a fashion choice. Many believe it was most likely inspired by the hooded cloaks monks wore. It’s a word based on its function and role in a vehicle.

Open car hood
While it may not be a fashion statement, your car hood is crucial to keeping your car parts safe.

Tailpipe

The tailpipe is a part of a vehicle’s exhaust system. It helps expel exhaust gasses from the rear of the car. This keeps the noise and toxic gasses away from passengers and the vehicle’s cabin. It originated during the development of internal combustion engines.

The term combines what it is and where it sits on the vehicle—a pipe at the car’s tail. Its placement on the rear of the vehicle makes it appear like the tail of an animal or aircraft. The industry combined these ideas to create the word.

Spoiler

A spoiler on a vehicle refers to the device typically mounted on the vehicle’s rear. Its design and purpose are to disrupt the vehicle’s airflow and change its aerodynamics. These devices also create additional downforce, reduce lift, and can result in improved traction and stability at higher speeds.

The name of this car part originates from the device “spoiling” the airflow over the vehicle’s body. Airflow naturally wants to stick to the body of the car, but the spoiler prevents this and forces it in a different direction. You’ll mostly see these in motorsports like Formula 1 and other car racing. However, they’re not uncommon in traditional auto manufacturing.

car spoiler origin name
The spoiler at the back of a car “spoiles” the air

Trunk

The trunk is the storage space at the rear of the vehicle. It’s where you typically store your luggage, belongings, and bags of clothes you’ve been meaning to donate. Some electric cars include “frunks,” front trunk spaces because they don’t have engines.

We get the term “trunk’ from the horse-drawn carriage days. Long before automobiles, carriages had a storage compartment at the rear. This was usually a spacious compartment that looked like a large container or chest for travel and storage. Many times a trunk with the traveler’s belongings was strapped to this area at the back. The term made the transition as automobiles began replacing horse-drawn carriages.

Putting items in car trunk
As cars have evolved, some trunks have turned into frunks.

Glove Box

The glove box is a small storage compartment on the vehicle’s passenger side. While this may be where you store your important documents, extra napkins, and Taco Bell packets, that wasn’t its original purpose.

This car part receives its name as it initially—you guessed it—stored gloves. These boxes were standard on horse-drawn carriages. Vehicles had little insulation and protection from the elements. A place to store gloves helped ensure they were readily available when necessary.

Rocker Panel

Despite how it sounds, a rocker panel has nothing to do with a type of music. This car part sits in the wheel wells along the lower side of a vehicle. It provides structural support and protects the vehicle’s body. It helps prevent damage from road debris, rocks, and other potentially harmful impacts.

The term “rocker” originally referred to the curved bottom of rocking chairs. It was also a part that made the transition from carriages to automobiles. It not only has a purpose and function, but manufacturers have used it to help increase vehicle aesthetics too.

Quarter Panel

A quarter panel is the name of a car part that sits at the rear corner of a vehicle. It’s between the door and the trunk of the car. This part has many jobs, including providing structural support, protecting the wheel well, and increasing aesthetics.

It receives its name because it’s one-fourth of the vehicle’s body. Workers divided the body into sections for construction and repairs during the horse-drawn carriage days. Manufacturers continued to embrace the term as modern cars entered the scene.

Hubcap

Hubcaps are covers that go over the center of a wheel. Today, they’re primarily decorative items on a vehicle. However, they were initially an integral component of carriages. They kept dirt, debris, and moisture from getting to wheel bearings and other sensitive parts.

The name of this car part comes from its function; it’s a cap for the hub. The term hub refers to the center part of the wheel. In addition, the term cap refers to a protective covering. Some people refer to these parts as “dust covers.”

Mechanic holding hubcap
While hubcaps are mainly used as decoration, they still have an interesting history as to how they came to be.

Tire or Tyre

Tires or Tyres (in commonwealth english) are like shoes for your vehicle. They provide cushioning and traction as you and your truck travel down the road. Tires are from long before when they were made from rubber and include train, wooden and steel-dressed wheels. The word is an old English word that comes from attire, like clothing or a dress. Tires (like shoes, as mentioned before) are attire for a wheel.

As manufacturers discovered the benefits of rubber, the term naturally transitioned to include them. Older styles of tires eventually phased out as consumers enjoyed improved traction, shock absorption, and a more comfortable ride.

Windshield or Windscreen

A windshield protects drivers and passengers from wind, debris, and other potential hazards that could impact visibility. Vehicles originally did not have enclosed cabins like they do today. However, as technologies advanced, speeds increased, and the need for protection grew. 

Like many car parts, this part has a less-than-creative name. It does precisely what its name implies; shields occupants from the wind. However, it offers protection from more than the wind. It keeps water, road debris, and occasional bird droppings from entering your vehicle.

Pro Tip: Protect your rig with one of these 5 Best RV Windshield Covers.

Putting windshield onto car
As the name suggests, a windshield shields you from the wind.

Transmission

The transmission is responsible for delivering power from the engine to the wheels. The transmission changes gears to help the driver achieve different speeds without overworking the engine.

Its name comes from its ability to transmit and transfer power from the engine to the wheels. Transmissions are used in more than just cars and are common terms for any power transfer component. These allowed drivers to control the speed and power output of the vehicle. By selecting different gear ratios, the driver can maintain more vehicle control.

Jake Brake

A Jake brake is a braking system you’ll typically find on large trucks with diesel engines. These unique brakes began appearing in the 1960s and grew in popularity. Today, they’re relatively common, especially on semis.

The term originates from its development by Clessie Cummins, who worked for Jacobs Manufacturing Company. It formed Jacobs Vehicle Systems, which pioneered the technology. Most people shortened its name to Jacobs when referring to it, with Jake as a nickname for Jacob.

Pro Tip: Learn more about the ins and outs of your vehicle. Discover what is Brake Shudder: Understanding Car Vibrations When Braking.

The History of American Vehicles

Names Go Down in History

To understand where we’re going, we must understand where we’ve been. Many modern car parts have history to thank for their names. Some parts receive their names from equipment people used long before the first automobile hit the roads. Technologies from horse-drawn carriages are still in use today.

Automobile technologies aren’t likely to slow down any time soon. There’s a clear push to get as many electric cars as possible. However, while technology changes, many car part names remain the same. For example, Tesla and other electric car drivers call the acceleration pedal a gas pedal. However, as many of these owners will remind you, it uses no gas.

The origin of car part names is intriguing. It ties together the automobile manufacturing industry’s past, present, and future. What new car parts will we see next is anybody’s guess. However, we’ll be looking at their names differently from now on.

What piece of automobile history surprised you the most? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Billybob

Monday 19th of June 2023

Thanks guys. Entertaining article. One thing. The picture you show as a hubcap is a wheel.

Mortons on the Move

Monday 19th of June 2023

Lol you are very right! I will change that.