Rarely do any of us think twice about the names associated with the various components on a car. From bumpers to wipers, every part of a car has a name, and most of the time this name explains what the piece does for the driving experience. Kick panels get kicked, hood deflectors deflect debris, and splash guards keep your tires from blinding the driver behind you.
But there are a handful of obscure titles that are not very self-explanatory, and people just take them at face value and never wonder why they are referred to as such. Surely there is a reason why these components have their respective titles, but history often fades into obscurity as time marches on, and this stands true in the automotive world as well.
So in the tradition of keeping our readers informed we have drafted-up this cheat sheet to illustrate the reasoning behind the everyday components we take for granted. Many of these parts have history that charts all the way back to the early automotive days, with a few of them hailing from pre-automotive days.
Despite their humble beginnings, every single one of these automotive staples is still being used today, and while they all have synonyms, many of the titles used here are commonplace in the automotive business. Which gives us pause, as we wonder what interesting automotive designs from today could become historical novelties one day?
1. Glove box
Years ago, before steering wheels were wrapped in heated suede, they were typically made from hard materials like metal and wood. These crude apparatuses became incredibly hot in summer and freezing in winter, and prior to windscreens, one’s hands would get quite cold while driving, so drivers would often done gloves to protect their hands. But driving gloves served little purpose once the driver arrived at their destination, so they would often be left on the seat. Automakers eventually began installing locking compartments in their vehicles, and the BBC says that pioneering British racing driver, Dorothy Levitt may have been the first one to use the term glove compartment in reference to these pockets.
2. Rocker panel
Centuries ago, many horse-drawn carriages had rounded lower sections to prevent snagging. According to “A Practical Treatise on Coach-building” from 1881, this design was also rumored to be more appealing to the eye, thus giving the overall shape of the carriage an outline that resembled that of a child’s rocking cradle. Many of these carriages were suspended by a series of straps and ropes to help make rides more comfortable (primitive suspension if you will), and these suspended cabins would rock back in forth on a journey.
3. Jerry can
According to the dictionary, this slang term for a gas can originated back in the second World War, when American GIs started using a German-designed fluid canister to transport water and gas from place to place. The German version was far superior to that being used by the Allies, and after a few failed designs of our own, America reverse-engineered the German version and sent thousands of these things overseas to aid in the war. Soldiers recognized this design as being German in origin, and since a slang word for a German was a “Jerry,” it was only befitting to name the canister such.
Here’s another automotive component that draws its name from the days when we were drawn around by horse and buggy. Back when cobbled roads were reserved for urban sprawls, and the majority of people had to rely on rutted roads that turned into mud troughs when a downpour occurred, there was an issue with horses kicking mud into the faces of the people riding behind them. To combat this issue, carriage builders began installing horizontal boards across the front of buggies to catch whatever was kicked-up when at a full dash. The name “dashboard” seemed to stick, and a century later we still use this term without fully knowing its origin.
5. Mansfield Bar
The History website tells a tragic tale about how actress Jayne Mansfield met her fate in a collision with a semi trailer in 1967. What the report fails to mention is how Mansfield’s Buick slid under the rear of the truck, shaving the roof off, and instantly killing the actress and the two men who were in the front seat. After this gruesome incident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began pushing for the use of a tubular “underride guard” at the back of all tractor trailers. It took a while for this safety equipment to become commonplace, but today they can be found on almost every trailer out there, and many truckers still refer to this component as a “Mansfield Bar.”
6. Dead cat hole
This is one of those terms that most people don’t hear very often. But talk to any mechanic who’s worth their salt and they will tell you that this is indeed a real automotive term. Apparently during the dead of winter, cats will often climb into the “hole” between the tire and the fender to warm themselves on the hot rubber after a car has been driven for a long distance.
7. Shaker hood
Our last little bit of history comes to us courtesy of the boys over at Dodge, who originally introduced us to the engine-mounted hood scoop decades ago. Originally dubbed “The Incredible Quivering Exposed Cold Air Grabber,” this functional design did indeed grab air, but sadly its complex title did not grab our interest. So Dodge enthusiasts began calling the air duct and its shrouding a “shaker hood” as it would shake when the engine was under throttle. The name stuck and performance versions of the modern Challenger still feature this iconic creation.