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Motorsits Guide to Car Repair

Improving your "Shop Talk"

Don't use technical jargon unless you are absolutely sure what it means - it's a temptation, but it can sure cause confusion. These are common terms overheard in repair facilities.

Aftermarket Parts: A part not originally installed by the vehicle manufacturer.

Backfire: Gunshot-like sound from the engine or tailpipe. Usually occurs during acceleration or deceleration.

Bottoming: When your vehicle reaches the lower limits of the suspension travel, and the vehicle's spring is completely compressed with no additional movement possible. The vehicle will sometime scrape the pavement.

Brake Drag: When you let off the brakes, the vehicle "feels" like the brakes are still applied. Slow acceleration will occur, sometimes accompanied by a burning odor.

Brake Grab: Brakes react to quickly with light pedal application.

Brake Light, ABS Light: Two separate lights. ABS light indicates a problem with the ABS system (Anti-Lock Braking System). Brake Light indicates a problem in the normal brake system or parking (emergency) brake system.

Bucking: Typically an intermittent engine problem that causes the vehicle to lurch violently.

Check Engine, Service Engine Soon, Power Loss or MIL (Malfunction Indicator Light) Light: Light controlled by engine computer that indicates there is a possible problem with the vehicle's computer system.

Crank: If the car "will not crank", when you turn the ignition key, you either will hear a clicking sound - or you will hear nothing. When this occurs, watch the vehicle's interior lights while turning the key. Pay attention to the brightness, tell the technician, if the lights do or don't change in intensity.

Cranks, but won't start: The engine spins, but will not start.

Cuts Out: When an engine "cuts out" it feels that the engine momentarily shuts off, losses power or misfires.

Detonation: Rapid, rattling noise during moderate to heavy acceleration or when the engine is subjected to heavy load conditions. Sometimes referred to as "spark knock", "knocking" or "pinging".

Dieseling, Run-on: Engine continues to run after the ignition has been turned off.

Engine Flare: Engine speed increases and the vehicle doesn't accelerate.

Fast Idle: High idle speed when the vehicle is stopped. Sometimes the vehicle will accelerate, without stepping on the accelerator pedal, after you let off the brakes at a stop sign. Remember, a high idle is needed when the engine is cold or when an additional load is placed on the engine (A/C system or an electrical load).

Flooding: Excess fuel in the engine making starting difficult or impossible. The engine may start after you push the accelerator pedal all the way to the floor. Normally accompanied by black smoke after the engine starts.

Hesitation: Momentary loss of power while accelerating. When you step on the accelerator pedal, it takes a few moments before the vehicle accelerates.

Miss, Misfire: Engine runs rough at idle or under load. Sometimes occurs during acceleration.

Play: "Looseness" in steering components, delay between turning the steering wheel and the wheels turning.

Power Loss: Engine runs at a reduced speed or requires more accelerator pedal movement to maintain a constant speed. The vehicle will act "sluggish", does not accelerate with authority.

Pull: Vehicle pulls to one side while braking, or an effort is require to keep the vehicle going straight ahead.

Rough Idle: When the vehicle is stopped, with the engine running, the engine vibrates or shakes.

Shimmy: Side to side motion that makes the steering wheel shake. Make sure you make a note of the vehicle speed the shimmy occurs at.

Stall: Engine dies, make note of conditions the stall occurs.

Surging: Vehicle speed changes without changing the position of the accelerator pedal.

TSB: Technical Service Bulletin, an advisory issued by the vehicle manufacturer that describes the problem for a specific make, model and year vehicle.

Vibration: Unbalanced feeling that changes with engine speed or vehicle speed. Make sure you make a note of the vehicle speed the vibration occurs at.

Wander: Vehicle drifts from side to side while the driver steers straight.

Next: When repairs are completed »

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