Understanding Confusing Car Terms

Statistics from the RAC show that more than half of drivers get confused by the language mechanics use to describe faults in their cars.* From faulty ABS to spongy brakes, screaming fan belts to mayonnaise beneath the cap, it can often feel like they’re speaking a foreign language.

To help you familiarise yourself and feel confident talking to a mechanic, take a look at this list of some common confusing car terms you’re likely to hear, together with a short explanation of what the phrases actually mean.

If they say: “Your ABS are faulty”
They mean: There’s an issue with your anti-lock braking system – the part of your car that helps prevent the wheels from locking up when you brake. Often, dirt can get into the sensors and activate the ABS light, though it’s usually a simple fix.

If they say: “Your brakes are spongy”
They mean: If you push down on the brake pedal, it feels soft, like there’s a lack of resistance. The most common cause is air in the brake line or lines, which can stop brake fluid from performing properly.

If they say: “Your big end has gone”
They mean: The bearings inside the larger end of a connecting rod in the engine are likely to have worn out. Left ignored, it can damage other parts of the engine.

If they say: “Your little end has gone”
They mean: The smaller end of a connecting rod in the engine is showing signs of wear. Replacing it isn’t usually a big job, but it isn’t a common complaint.

If they say: “Your dampers are shot”
They mean: Your car’s shock absorbers are worn out and need to be replaced – a common issue. Functioning shock absorbers keep your car’s tyres in contact with the road and dampen the shock of uneven surfaces.

If they say: “Your DPF is clogged”
They mean: Your Diesel Particulate Filter should be stopping soot from escaping from the exhaust and into the atmosphere, but it isn’t. This is often caused by lots of short journeys at low speeds. The soot will need to be burned off to regenerate the DPF.

If they say: “You’ve got excessive play in the steering”
They mean: Your steering isn’t responding as it should – you may notice it turns further than you want it to, or that the car feels like it moves from side to side when you’re driving at higher speeds. It’s commonly caused by defection in the car’s front suspension.

If they say: “It’s misfiring”
They mean: Your engine isn’t running smoothly, so your journey can become jerky as a result. Several possible reasons include worn spark plugs and ignition system issues.

If they say: “Your tracking’s out”
They mean: Tracking refers to the angle and direction your car’s wheels are set at. If your tracking’s out, the tyres have become misaligned – driving over potholes is a common cause. It’s usually a simple job to realign them.

If they say: “You’ve got mayonnaise under the cap”
They mean: Water has mixed with your engine oil to create a sludgy white substance under the oil filler cap. This could mean your head gasket – which keeps coolant and oil from mixing – needs replacing. It could also be a result of repeated short journeys, but it’s best to get it checked.

If they say: “Your cambelt needs changing”
They mean: Your cambelt, aka a timing belt, is a strong rubber belt that keeps various parts of the engine in sync with each other. It can deteriorate over time and can need replacing.

If they say: “Your sump is dripping”
They mean: The oil pan at the bottom of the engine is leaking, leaving oil on the ground beneath your car. It’s most likely the drain plug needs tightening or replacing.

If they say: “Your fan belt is screaming”
They mean: Your fan belt is a large rubber band connecting various parts of the engine. If it becomes worn, it can cause friction and make a screeching noise when you accelerate. If this happens, it may need to be replaced.

If they say: “Your head gasket’s gone”
They mean: The seal between the cylinder block and cylinder head in the engine has been compromised – it can often crack through wear and tear, though that’s unlikely in new cars. Left untreated, this can cause significant engine damage.

If they say: “Your cylinder head needs skimming”
They mean: The cylinder head sits above the cylinders and forms a roof on the combustion chamber in your engine, creating a tight seal with the cylinder block. It can become distorted through overheating and may need to be ground down to reestablish the seal – a cheaper option than replacing the cylinder head.

If they say: “The bushes on the wishbone are going”
They mean: Triangular ‘wishbones’ are part of your car’s suspension, and the bushes are small, rubber attachments that often crack and wear out. Replacing them is a simple fix.

If they say: “You’re going to need a re-gas”
They mean: Your car’s air conditioning loses refrigerant gas over time, meaning it will stop working efficiently. Re-gassing is a simple process of replacing the old gas with new refrigerant, so your air conditioning blows cold again.


* Source: Car mechanic jargon is too confusing, claim majority of drivers

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