Spannerhead Dot


July 1, 2011 by Matt

Hand writing on chalkboard

Let’s get these out of the way, right up front.

Below are some common mishandled car terms that can provoke a raised eyebrow when they pop up on the car boards. Yes, I know, several of them are colloquial terms for the actual parts they’re referring to, and I recognize the intent behind their use, in many cases, is not deliberate inaccuracy, but lack of knowledge or just laziness. But there’s no harm in a friendly re-alignment every now in then, is there? Besides, I’d rather the incorrect term not become the “correct” one though frequent misuse, as has happened with far too many words in our language already.

So behold, the convergence of car and grammar nerd-ery:

  1. Unless you’re interested in a set of three-piece CCWs or BBS LMs, you don’t want a set of aftermarket rims. Nope. You want wheels. Rims are the edge of the wheel that makes contact with the tire bead; wheels are the whole thing. No, you do not want some phat 19″ rims for your sweet ride, you want some killer 19″ wheels. Or, even better, some 17-inchers.
  2. What’s under the hood of your car isn’t a motor. It’s an engine. A device which internally converts heat energy into motion is an engine; a device which takes energy (such as electricity) from an external source and converts it into motion is a motor. If you drive a Nissan Leaf, you’re exempt from this one. And I pity you.
  3. Before you come on the boards and announce to everyone that you want to add an aftermarket cold-air intake (or CAI) to your car, you might want to check your stock airbox. Chances are that it already draws cold air via a snorkel from behind the bumper or one of the headlights. What you most likely mean to say is that you want to replace your factory air filter with a cone filter, because that’s what your buddy who works at Pep Boys said was the first thing to do and would get you “into the 15s.” And because you think the chrome on that Weapon-R intake would look crazy tight under your hood, broceratops. Have fun sucking hot engine bay air through a less-than optimized intact tract.
  4. Better men than me have railed against this one for years, but the damage is done: The components at all four corners of your car that attenuate the up-and-down motion transferred to the car body after the wheel contacts a road imperfection and the spring transmits the energy are not shock absorbers. Yes, they’re almost universally called that, but it doesn’t accurately describe their function. They don’t absorb the shock of impact; the tire and spring do. A better moniker would be dampers, in that they dampen the unibody’s movement in response to a bump on the road. But as I said, this one’s a lost cause; 99.9% of the automotive crowd is stuck on shock absorber. So I’ll just roll with this one and bow to the will of the masses.

Not giving up on the other ones, though. Stand with me!


Filed under: Miscellaneous, Technical


  1. David says:

    Amen on the “damper” term. I agree that it will never change from “shock absorber” the suspension system for a wheel tends to be a very clean form of a mass-spring-damper system. Oh, pitty the fool with an under-damped system.

    • Matt says:

      Those physics equations are greek to me. And agreed, under-dampening can lead to involuntary ejection of partially-digested nutritional supplements from the alimentary canal. Which would be pitiful. :)

  2. Maralyn says:

    Congratulations on the new site! I have NO idea what your talking about in — BUT, good job! It looks very nice!

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