5 Most Innovative Car Parts in History
Jan 19, 2022 · 4 min read
The car has come a long way since its inception in the 1880s. Speed, safety, affordability, and longevity have all improved drastically, changing the way we live along the way. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without them.
But we didn’t get to self-driving electric powertrains with the snap of a finger. Innovations came one at a time over more than a century, some making a bigger impact than others.
While every mechanical and technological improvement played its part, the following are five innovative car parts that changed the car forever. Each one improved Carl Benz’s invention in a way he couldn’t possibly have imagined.
Any film or TV series set in the turn of the century will likely show a man standing in front of a car, spinning a handle to try to get the thing started. This handle was called a crank, and until 1912, it was the only way to start a car.
Interesting Engineering says Cadillac introduced the first electric starter to a production car that year, but despite its obvious improvement to the crank, adoption was slow.
Still, the fact that the modern driver can laugh at the misfortunes of the old shows you how much the electric starter changed the automobile.
Turbos did a lot to improve engine power and efficiency. But before you can understand why turbo is such an important innovation for cars, you need to understand the problem it solves.
An internal combustion engine (ICE) feeds off two things: fuel and air. In order for it to run properly, the ratio of air to fuel needs to stay within certain parameters. Early ICE engineers wanting more power had to rely on bigger cylinders to match increased fuel with sufficient air.
Donut Media says that changed in 1905 when Swiss engineer Alfred Buchi designed an air compressor to push more air into the engine. His invention was first used in airplanes to counteract air density lost in high altitudes.
General Motors introduced turbo to regular cars in 1962, but it wasn’t until the ‘80s and ‘90s that it became more common. Now, you can find a turbo in almost any type of vehicle.
The catalytic converter
Turbo helped cars use less fuel, lowering their environmental damage, but the exhaust created by internal combustion was still as toxic as ever. Enter the catalytic converter.
Catalytic converters are one of the more complex parts of a car. Without getting too technical, Catalytic converters force a chemical reaction, converting the exhaust gases into less toxic forms.
Originally invented by a French engineer named Eugene Houdry in 1930, catalytic converters were not widely adopted until the mid-’70s when the U.S. government forced stricter exhaust regulations onto the industry.
Anti-lock braking and electronic stability control systems
Another ‘70s automotive adoption with a much longer history is anti-lock braking (ABS). Originally conceived in 1908 (the same year as the first Model T), ABS helps drivers avoid skidding by preventing brakes from locking the wheels in place while the car is still in motion.
ABS systems were computerized by Chrysler in 1971 and became widely adopted by the industry in the following two decades. As it gained popularity, automakers like Toyota, BMW, and Mercedes introduced electronic stability control (ESC).
ESC improved ABS by managing its engagement based on the performance of each wheel while simultaneously moderating the engine’s power. Together these systems have saved countless lives.
The three-point seat belt
Speaking of saving lives, Volvo’s three-point seat belt might take the cake as the most effective safety feature in automobile history. Engineered by Swedish mechanical engineer Nils Bohlin, it was introduced by Volvo in 1959.
If Volvo had used Bohlin’s life-saving concept as a competitive advantage and kept it to itself, it might not have made the impact it did. But by bucking industry norms and sharing the patent with the rest of the industry, Bohlin and his employer changed the car forever.
Innovations in car insurance
As the automobile evolved, so did insurance coverage for it. While the basic concept of insurance hasn’t changed for centuries, how its rates are calculated has.
Car insurance companies have applied technology to their risk assessments for years, but over the last decade especially, they’ve used new data collection techniques like telematics and artificial intelligence (AI) to help replace old-fashioned factors like credit scores.
AI is also used by Jerry to help you find the best price for car insurance. A licensed broker that offers end-to-end support, the Jerry app gathers affordable quotes, helps you switch plans, and will even help you cancel your old policy.