There comes a time in every car owner’s life when your car needs a service or repair. While there are some maintenance items you may be able to take care of yourself, more often than not a licensed mechanic will be required to handle more complex car repairs.

When choosing a car repairer you should look for a mechanic who is trusted by other vehicle owners and has the required skills and experience for the job. Once you’ve found your mechanic, however, you might find they use industry jargon that doesn’t make much sense.

By learning some of the basic terms a mechanic may use, you can have a better understanding of what information they’re providing and what it means for you.

Common technical terms used by mechanics

One of the first steps to understanding your mechanic is to understand your car. By knowing the various parts of your car, you’ll already be a step ahead of the game. Knowing your car make and model, its features and different parts will help you to understand what your mechanic is discussing with you.

One way to do this is to read the owner’s manual of your vehicle. This will help you learn the location of different parts, the functionality of different buttons, and much more.

Here are some key terms which your mechanic will commonly use to describe any repair work which may be required.


A misfire is what happens to a car engine if one or more of the cylinders inside the engine fails to fire correctly. There are three components to fire a cylinder, including the fuel to ignite, oxygen, and a spark to ignite the engine. A misfire results in a loss of power and fuel efficiency, and an increase in CO2 emissions.

Camshaft, crankshaft and timing belt

An engine’s camshaft controls the operation of pistons in the cylinder – so without the camshaft, the engine wouldn’t work. The camshaft is connected to the crankshaft by the timing belt.

A crankshaft converts vertical movements of the car’s pistons into a rotation – to be transferred through to the flywheel and the transmission. What happens is the camshaft spins once, and the crankshaft (controlling the valves) rotates twice in the four-stroke cycle. This relationship is known as ‘mechanical timing’.

The timing belt is a rubber belt which controls the mechanical timing. Without the timing belt, the pistons and valves fall out of sync and collide. If this were to happen, it would be extremely costly for you.

As a rule of thumb, the timing belt will need to be replaced every 100,000 kms or after 5 years.

But, check the service guidelines in your manufacturer’s logbook, as there are no warning signs that the timing belt is worn out.

What you should look out for

As well as knowing common mechanical language, it’s also important that you know what to look out for in your car, so you know when to get it looked at by a professional. Here are some common hazards to be aware of.

Is the tread on your tyres worn out?

Did you know that it’s illegal to have a tread depth of below 1.5mm on your tyres? But, for optimal safety, it’s recommended to never let your tyre tread fall below 3mm.

To check the tread depth on your tyres, you can check the tread wear indicators on the tyre. But, if the tread has fallen below 3mm, you may not be able to visibly see this indicator. So, you’ll need some additional tools. You can try the coin test. Get a 20 cent coin and place it in the main tread groove of your tyre. If the tread doesn’t reach the bill of the platypus, there’s less than 3mm of tread left on your tyres and you should replace them.

Do you need new brake discs?

A brake disc removes kinetic energy from the car in order to stop it. Here are 5 warning signs that you’ll need to replace your brake discs:

  • You hear a high-pitched or grinding noise when you brake
  • There’s an unusual vibration when you brake
  • The brake pedal feels softer to press than normal
  • The stopping distance has increased
  • The vehicle pulls to one side when braking

Are your brake pads worn out?

Brake pads use the part of the brake which contracts and applies pressure to a vehicle’s brake rotors. So, they are the part which slows and stops the wheels. Brake dust is the most obvious sign of pad wear – the heavier the car, the more brake dust you’ll see on the wheels of the car. Also, if you hear a screeching noise when you brake, this can be another indicator of wear.

Why learn mechanical language?

Learning technical jargon is important for understanding how your vehicle works and knowing how to maintain it. By understanding some basic mechanic issues, parts and technical jargon, you will ensure your vehicle is maintained correctly and that only essential repairs are completed.

When talking with your mechanic, there’s a fine line between speaking their language and getting in over your head. You may want to learn about the car issues you’re having and feel confident in telling the mechanic what you think the problem may be, but remember that at the end of the day, they’re the expert.

Your mechanic will likely have a lot of experience in fixing cars, so don’t take their knowledge for granted. When there’s an issue with your car, let the experts take a look and analyse the situation for themselves.

If you need to, offer to take the mechanic for a drive to show them what issue you’re having or allow them to listen to any problems you’ve been experiencing. Chances are, having hands-on experience of your issue can help them to narrow down the problem quicker and easier.

Arm yourself with knowledge and confidence

Learning more about your car and what is required to keep it running can leave you feeling confident to take your car to your local mechanic knowing that you have a better understanding of what is going to be fixed and how.

At the same time, you’ll be able to make sure you’re not breaking your budget by being overcharged for services that aren’t required.


Alex likes to write about anything related to technology, marketing and gadgets. He sometimes reviews the latest tech and also writes on other blogs.