What is under the hood of your car?

What is under the hood?The Handy Millennial has now been blogging for just a little over three months. And in this time the Handy Millennial has grown an appreciation for his readers.

You see, my dear reader, when I started this little site, I intended to put together a short, simple course that would help people become more handy. More importantly, I hoped that this course would help people become more confident as they discovered how truly easy most things in our “advanced” world really are. But through the last three months, the Handy Millennial increasingly became convinced that his readers are actually quite handy themselves, and that this course might need to be re-thought. And then this weekend happened…

While driving home one day last weekend, the Handy Millennial saw a car pulled over on the side the of the road. The owner looked lost, and was intermittently reading the manual and his phone with his little donut spare tire propped against the curb. This made the Handy Millennial reconsider… maybe it is time to finish that short course. After all, we all can’t already know everything, so why not share what the Handy Millennial knows with you, my dear readers?

So without much ado, let’s focus on one of the posts in the short course on handiness: what is under the hood of your car?

Understanding what you see is the first step

What is under the hood of your car, is it locked?

Now I’m sure that some of you will groan and wonder why the Handy Millennial is wasting his time with this. Great! This means that you are quite handy in the auto department. Congratulations, and I will see you on Monday :). For the rest of you, I’m willing to bet that looking at your hood makes you feel a little like you’re standing in front of a locked door which only your mechanic can open.

Worse, when you do go to the mechanic, your car disappears, and then the mechanic re-appears saying something like this:

“Im ‘non dicens quod tibi idea. Ha ha … Ego es mihi quia non sapis ea quae salute. Placere tradamus vobis vitae peculi. Nunc?”

Got that?

Yeah, me neither, but if you Google for a Latin translator, you just might. Of course, you need not feel like this! In fact, understanding the key words is all you need to be an educated consumer and someone who doesn’t get taken at the mechanic.

How do you open the hood?

Okay, this one might seem obvious, but how exactly do you open the hood? Well, you need to look down at your left leg while sitting in the driver’s seat. You will notice a release that looks like this. Pull it.

What is under the hood of your car, hood latch

Now your hood is equipped with a latch that catches twice; you know, in case you’re driving down the highway and for some reason it slips once! You don’t want that thing flying up! So to open the hood fully, find the second latch in the crack between the hood and the grill. Usually it’s just a simple metal lever (yellow in the picture below) that you need to push left or up.

What is under the hood of your car, hood release

Finally, open the hood and prop it up with a rod. It should be fairly simple to figure out where you stick the rod. If you’re fancy, you hood might just open and stay open on its own – good for you.

What is under the hood of your car, hood prop

Now once you have opened the hood, here is what you will see:

What is under the hood of your car, engine in cougar.

or something like this:

What is under the hood of your car, is it an engine?

Do you see any similarities? You should, and this is why I will be using two different cars and engines to point out that it’s really all the same!!

The air filter

Now first up on our tour here is the Air Filter. So what’s that? Well my dear reader, your engine is a little like you – it needs to breathe, it needs to eat, and it needs to um… well… release gas. The air filter is literally like a face mask that you might put on to make sure you don’t breathe in any particles.

The air filter is usually located in a box (or cylinder) and this box is held closed with metal clips. Here are the pictures:

What is under the hood of your car, is it an air filter?

and here:

What is under the hood of your car, filter in cougar.

Do you see the similarity? Good! Now an air filter will usually run less than $10 at the parts store (ebay) or $15+ dollars at your favorite oil change place. It takes about 5 minutes to change which means you might be paying yourself at a rate of $60/hr. Pretty cool huh?

So next time your friendly lube tech asks if you want a new filter, politely decline and simply pop one in yourself!

The intake manifold

Now next up on your tour here is the intake manifold. That’s a fancy way of saying a series of tubes that channel air from your filter to your engine. Simple right? Here it is in the photos:

What is under the hood of your car, is it a manifold?

and here again:

What is under the hood of your car, manifold in cougar?

Now there isn’t much for you to do here unless you have an old car. If that is the case, you might get into the situation where the manifold is no longer sitting correctly against the engine, or its gasket (the thing that sits between it and the engine) is leaking. You will know when this happens because your car will not sound or feel like itself. Essentially, it will be breathing too much air.

The battery

Next up we are going to stop by the battery. If you remember my last post on keeping your battery terminals clean you know that you should look here from time to time. The purpose of this is to make sure that the connectors are clean – and therefore your battery is charging correctly. Check out the other post if you’d like to know more.

Here is the battery:

What is under the hood of your car, is it a battery?

and in the other car:

What is under the hood of your car, battery in cougar?

The only thing to keep in mind here is that you do not want to ever connect the positive and negative terminals inadvertently. For example, try not to lay that beautiful new metal wrench you just bought across the terminals; you don’t want to be winning any Darwin awards today.

The brake fluid reservoir

Alright now let’s get to some action items! Next up is the brake fluid reservoir. Now this little guy holds fluid that is used to stop your car. Whhhaaattt??? How can fluid stop my car, Mr. Crazy Handy Millennial? Well you see, my dear reader, hydraulic systems (based on fluids) are quite powerful. Your brake system uses this fact and multiplies your foot force to stop the car!

But to do this the brake system must have enough fluid in it! How much? Well, look at yours carefully; there is a minimum and a maximum level right on the reservoir. Typically, brakes don’t lose fluid. A drop in the fluid level indicates that your pads are worn!

Pretty cool, right? You can tell how low your brake pads are by looking at the fluid in the reservoir! So the next time your mechanic recommends new pads, check the fluid level. If it’s low you’re good to go, if not…

Here is the reservoir in the car itself:

What is under the hood of your car, is it a brake reservoir?

and here again:

What is under the hood of your car, brake fluid in cougar

Now a word of caution – brake fluid is a pretty nasty fluid. Please try to be smart and not touch it, lick it, inhale it, or whatever crazy idea you might have. Also keep it off your car’s paint – it will eat right through it!

The radiator and its coolant

Next up is your radiator and its coolant reservoir. Now this is the thing that keeps your car cool enough to run. Did he just say cool? Yes my dear reader, yes I did. You see your car, as it chugs along merrily, propelled forward by tiny controlled explosions, has a tendency to get a little hot. If no fluid ran to cool the car, your would eventually melt (kind of) the metal.

So the radiator, through a series of tubes, keeps your car cool. So how is that? Well, the radiator is at the front of the car. It gets filled with hot fluid (coolant) which gets cooled by air hitting your car as you drive. The cooled down fluid then gets pumped back into the engine where it heats up, thereby taking away heat from the engine. Cool huh?

Just like the brake fluid, no coolant should even escape your car. If it does, you have a problem. To check if you have enough, pop open your hood and see if the fluid is between the minimum and maximum marks on the coolant reservoir. Note: You should do this when the car is cold – ex. first thing in the morning.

Here is where the reservoir and coolant are: (sadly I didn’t get a good shot on the Subaru, but you get the point).

What is under the hood of your car, is it a radiator?

Here it is on the other car:

What is under the hood of your car, radiator in cougar

Now you should go and check your car. Why? Because the Handy Millennial has noticed that for some reason new cars are showing up with low coolant. I’m betting somewhere a middle manager decided to save 6 Oz of fluid and increase the profit margin. Nevertheless, it’s your car now – take care of it! If your fluid is low, grab a gallon of DISTILLED water at the store for $0.99 and top it off to the max line.

If you see no fluid at all, it’s time to visit your local trusty mechanic.

The windshield washer fluid

Last but not least in our tour is the windshield washer fluid reservoir. This little guy gets no love, but in the Handy Millennial’s humble opinion, he’s quite important! If you live anywhere where there is difficult weather, keep this little guy filled to the brim so that you can always see where you’re going.

And get the good stuff too. I personally like this stuff (hint: you can get it locally for $3-4). If you’re getting topped off at the quicky lube, chances are you’re getting some pretty bare bones stuff – probably mostly distilled water.

Here is where you can find the windshield washer fluid reservoir:

What is under the hood of your car, is it windshielf washer fluid?

And on the other car:

What is under the hood of your car, is it windshielf washer fluid in cougar?


So there you have it, my dear readers – a short tour under the hood. This is basically all you need to know to feel conversant about what’s under there. I encourage you all to go and look at your car. Just go and look for 1 minute. Then next week look for another minute. In a month of doing this you will KNOW your car. Then when something does break, you will instantly know because you took the time to get familiar!