As many an instructor has said, the real learning happens after you pass your driving test. While the theory examination and practical test can teach you a fair amount of car knowledge, they cannot realistically document everything.
Learning all there is to know about a car requires a lot of time and dedication, but even then, some lesser-known terms can slip through your grasp.
If you’re serious about driving or are simply curious to know all that you can about your vehicle, we can help. Here, we’ve collated a few lesser-known driving and motoring phrases to help you become a little bit more knowledgeable about your vehicle and the open road in this glossary of automotive terms.
The flywheel is a crucial component of any manual car. It sits in between the transmission and the clutch, connecting the two when needed in order to transmit power. As its name suggests, the flywheel is a large disc that rotates at high speeds to store kinetic energy. The flywheel is usually made from some sort of tough metal, mainly being iron, steel, or even aluminium. It is constructed to be extremely rigid in order to fight against warping from near constant use.
Flywheels tend to weigh a lot in contrast with other similarly sized mechanical parts, and for good reason. This additional weight helps balance the engine and smooth out any slight imbalances.
Unless you’re into motorsports, chances are you’ve never even heard of camber. Despite being more commonly used in the racing world, camber is a universal aspect of all cars – including your own.
Simply, camber refers to the inward/outward tilt/orientation of the upper part of a tyre. Different camber settings result in varying performance for your vehicle. Zero camber means that there is no tilt on your tyres, meaning that they sit perpendicular with the road surface underneath.
Positive camber generally provides more stability while cornering, whereas a negative camber offers better speed at the detriment of stability. Different vehicles call for different levels of camber, which is usually set by the manufacturer. However, some road users may wish to alter their vehicle’s camber if they notice stability issues while turning.
It’s worth noting that both positive and negative cambers imply additional tyre wear, causing some to wear out faster than others in different spots.
“Hitting the Apex” is a term you’ll hear quite often if you’re a fan of motorsports like F1 or Rallying.
In driving, the apex is the outermost facing point of a corner/turn. Turning a car into the apex places the vehicle in a much more advantageous position once exiting, allowing drivers (particularly those travelling at speed) to apply throttle earlier, helping them carry more speed. Hitting the apex provides a smoother exit, but it’s unlikely that regular drivers will need to account for it in the day-to-day, especially on UK roads.
Heel and toe shifting is another practice that is mostly used by serious motorsports enthusiasts, particularly those who actually partake in racing.
Sports cars are usually designed to be driven fast. Their engines tend to have a much higher idle RPM rating, which means that drivers must keep the accelerator depressed for much longer than the average road user. This can get tricky when taking a turn because, as we all know, the slower your car goes, the lower the gear it must be in to prevent stalling.
So, how do racing drivers handle taking turns, applying the brake, and keeping the engine revolutions high? That’s right; heel and toe shifting.
Heel and toe shifting means using both ends of your foot during gear changes. Normally, drivers would lay off the accelerator, depress the clutch, and shift to the desired gear. However, in cars that demand higher engine revolutions and more optimal RPM ranges, racing drivers first apply braking pressure, then tilt the heel of their braking foot over to the accelerator, apply a short amount of pressure to make the revolutions spike, and then change gear accordingly.
Heel and toe braking mainly applies during downshifts, and allows drivers to change gear at the most optimum point during a turn, stabilising the engine’s RPM and allowing for a smoother exit.
If you’ve ever watched an F1 race, you’ve probably seen a lock up. You’d be hard pressed to miss one with commentators continually scanning the track for any miscalculations by the drivers, with a lock up almost certainly resulting in some callouts.
Put simply, a lock up is when a driver applies too much braking pressure to the wheels, causing them to stop spinning and skid along the floor. Thankfully, normal road users seldom have to worry about such things thanks to anti-locking brake systems (ABS).
Read more: What is ABS and how does it work?
Not to be confused with a driving line, a driveline is simply another term used to describe the drivetrain (or powertrain).
The drivetrain (or driveline, whichever you prefer), is what helps transfer power from the engine to the wheels.
Cars thrive on aerodynamics. Skilled engineers and car designers work tirelessly to make sure our cars cut through the air in the most efficient way possible, all of it in pursuit of improving the aerodynamic profile of a vehicle.
As a result, there are various small alterations made to vehicles to improve aerodynamics. At face value, the most commonly known of these alterations is the introduction of a spoiler. Spoilers help push the car closer to the ground while in motion, allowing it to travel much faster.
While forcing a car to the ground is one way of introducing downforce, aerodynamics doesn’t stop there. Of course, cars can’t effectively deal with every single cubic metre of air that they are exposed to, meaning some of it needs to be redirected. This is where air dams come in. An air dam is found on the front of a car, usually by the front bumper, and used to re-route oncoming air from on the vehicle, to underneath it. Stylistically, air dams look like little pockets on the front of your car, which are designed to force the air downwards.
Armed with this additional motoring knowledge, choosing your next car will soon be a doddle. Not only will you be able to find a car that drives well, but you’ll know all about how it runs and what a good car should feel like. All you need now is a place to find one! We can help with that.
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