What are the major components of a car?

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Chassis of a 1947 Willys 6-70 (photo by aldenjewell - CC-BY)

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A passenger automobile vehicle, i.e. a car, is usually used for transporting people although small amounts of cargo can also be carried; specialized cars are used for racing and a myriad of other uses. The primary components can be broadly divided into groups belonging to the body, the propulsion system, the suspension and steering and the brakes.

The body of a car is essentially a molded sheet metal, or recently fiber-composite, enclosure that surrounds the passengers for protection from the elements. Whilst keeping the occupants dry and shaded, the primary purpose is to shield from the wind, which can be substantial when travelling at high speeds. The body of the car has evolved with a high regard towards aerodynamics and to style the body in aesthetically pleasing ways to capture bigger market share. The body can be based on a chassis but there are also cars of monocoque construction where the structural loads are distributed throughout the body, which acts as a load-bearing shell.

The propulsion system is made up of the engine and the transmission. The internal combustion engine (ICE) takes liquid or gaseous fuel and air as inputs to a combustion process that takes place inside a usually cylindrical chamber. The combustion exerts force on the pistons that are joined eccentrically via connecting rods to the crank creating a rotary torque on the crankshaft. The crankshaft is joined to a flywheel that balances out the intermittent forces from the pistons. The flywheel is connected to the transmission where the rotational torque is geared to a user-selectable ratio depending upon driving conditions, and is then transferred to the wheels via a differential. The complete system that transfers power from the engine to the wheels can be known as the drivetrain.

The body of the car is joined to the wheels through a suspension system that prevents sudden changes in vertical direction of the wheels from being transferred up to the passengers and cargo, the net effect of the suspension system being a smoother ride. The suspension system is composed of shock absorbers and springs. More elaborate systems can include anti-roll bars and anti-sway bars. Integrated tightly with the suspension is the steering system, since cornering at speed requires the

dynamics of the body to be coordinated with the dynamics of the unsprung components in direct contact with the road. The steering system usually consists of a rotary shaft linked from the driver's steering wheel via a steering box gearing to the two front wheels. Sometimes hydraulic pressurized lines are also used to transmit steering signals through the use of rams and pumps.

Once all this power and technology has put a car into motion, and fast, at some point it is necessary to stop it. That is what the brakes are for. The brakes are usually a hydraulic system of pressurized lines containing fluid, that take the force from a pumping action by the foot of the driver and amplify then transfer this pressure into a clamping action by brake calipers onto discs connected concentrically to the wheels. A hand-operated backup brake is also provided.


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