The Idiot’s Guide to Egyptian Mechanic Lingo
Getting your car fixed at an average mechanic’s in Egypt often necessitates learning a whole new language.
Cars are quite the terrible things. What was supposed to be a (costly) ticket to cover more ground turned out to be, in essence, a four-and-a-half tonne money-hungry sinkhole. If it isn’t the soaring gas and spare part prices, it’s the fact that each kilometre of road you cover incurs a slew of maintenance costs that are as relentless as they are confusing.
None of that is the worst part though. It’s the fact that mechanics become a necessary part of your existence, and not just any mechanics; Egyptian mechanics. Ones that (more often than not) don’t speak a lick of English, yet 90% of their terminology is cobbled together from bastardised French, English, German, Martian and whatever other bird-speak they employ. To try and (somewhat) educate folk on what the hell an olseih is, I’ve compiled this minimalist guide covering what mechanics say when they speak their gibberish, what it means in regular old English and what it should mean to you as a driver.
Disclaimer: I am not a mechanic, nor have I studied automotive engineering. My info comes from research, interviews and being a downtrodden Egyptian driver. If (and when) my info misses the mark, please vehemently correct me via social media or email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
El blok is pretty self-explanatory; it literally means your engine block (where all the explosions happen), and everything associated with the engine as a whole. A problem with your engine can mean any combination of the bits stuck to it wearing down, so it’s useless to try and dig up a solution at this point.
‘Wesh Slender’ is not something you want to hear under any circumstance. It literally means your engine’s cylinder head – the top part of your engine block where air and gas come through, and where exhaust comes out. It’s usually separated from the block by a jwan – which is basically the French word joint (get the picture?) meaning gasket. Tell-tale signs of a faulty cylinder head are coolant and pressure leakage, white smoke, overheating and your engine flat out not working. Damage to the head can be fatal to your entire engine.
Pro Tip: You’ll find the term jwan used more than a few times when it comes to maintenance. It’s basically a gasket that ensures maximum compression between whatever it’s sealing.
Bostoms is bastardised English for Pistons (much like how jerry can is jerken). Pistons compress air and gas inside the engine to get totally lit, causing many modest little explosions that turns the other bits and baubles in your car to go vroom vroom. There are way too many reasons why a piston might get damaged (extreme pressure, accidents, poor lubrication), but the signs are usually white smoke, fucked-up oil consumption and remarkably poor performance (you’ll also hear violence).
Accompanying each bostom is a shambar; an incomplete metal ring that slots into a piston to connect it to the motor, seal all the gases (and magic) inside as well as wipe away any excess lubricant stuck on the walls of shemeez (it never ends). A shemeez (literally; shirt) is a piston sleeve in English, it basically houses and guides the movement of a piston. Any damage to any part of the piston assembly – whether it’s wear, heat, collision or just destiny – will severely damage your engine, if not end it altogether.
How do all these bostoms move the way they do? Why with the help of a handy dandy 3amood el takehat of course. Also known as the camshaft, 3amood el takehat (I have no idea what takehat means thus far) or 3amood el kamat (self-explanatory) is a little rod with strategically (mathematically even) spaced out cams that, when rotated, push each individual piston in a specific order and at certain rates, depending on speed. It hides under the cylinder head, and you’ll notice it’s faulty if your car stalls a lot, unusual sounds and performance while idling and your RPM will suffer drastically.
Pro Tip: Wear and tear are things that people gingerly neglect when it comes to car parts, favouring the “poor craftsmanship” excuse above all else. Come to terms with the fact that each and every part has a lifespan and things won’t be so surprising when they inevitably happen.
El Bee-yel is, again, French (bielle) for connecting rod. The narrow end connects to the lower side of a piston, while the wide end connects to a rotating crank shaft – colloquially known as el karrank. Crank shafts rotate around their axis, but when connected via a rod, the piston’s reciprocating (back and forth) motion turns into rotating motion (round and round).
How does a karrank factor into the overall motion of the car? It’s connected to almost everything, so it shuffles that rotatory movement to the wheels via magic that we’ll get to later. You’ll notice it isn’t exactly straight; it’s offset by a bunch of counterweights, journals (not the ones you read) and webs (again, not that), with lubricant running through the whole thing. It’s one solid piece, but it has way too many parts to delve into. Excessive vibration from the engine, wear and tear from motion and plain old cracking can turn it into scrap metal, and it means a dead car.
Ters el Katina or the cam wheel is a pivotal component in any engine assembly. It connects the crankshaft and the camshaft via a Seir, also known as a timed belt. Seeing as both have to rotate at specific intervals, each belt is custom made for that specific model of automobile. Damage to the cam wheel or belt can incur catastrophic damage to the camshaft, crankshaft and the engine overall. You’ll know when it’s busted if your car straight up doesn’t go, or when you notice your engine catching fire. Whichever comes first.
You’ll hear the term balf more than you want to at a mechanic’s lair. Sadly, it isn’t French this time (quelle dommage), but it is what happens when somebody butchers the word valve (again, jerken). Valves in an engine allow the entrance and exit of gases and liquids, such as air and gas (boom boom, vroom vroom), they close when pressure is required, and they also exist on a tyres to let air (or nitrogen) in and out. Seeing as engine valves are housed in the cylinder head, any damage that accompanies it can affect the valves as well.
Perhaps one of the most (personally) pervasive terms I’ve come across was el cartera. You’d think it’s a sultry South American form of dance, but it’s actually just gibberish (or some long lost language) for oil sump, and since nobody but the queen of England uses the word “sump” anymore, it’s basically just a metal well where engine oil is stored. Oil sumps are a usual suspect at the mechanic’s, seeing as Egypt’s roads are more speedbump than actual road, your cartera can easily be punctured and broken from driving on awkward terrain. If you leave oil slicks and puddles under your car, know that it’s the cartera, and an engine without oil is one that belongs in a scrap heap.
You can’t slink by a mechanic without hearing kalberateir or some other variation of the word passing you by. Originally French for carburateur (English for carburettor), a kalberateir exists mostly in manual transmission cars and older models. Its job is to trap air and a fine spritz of gas to create a suitable bang mixture for your driving buck. Carburettors have been largely replaced with automotive direct injection systems (or rashashat), eliminating the need to painstakingly find your model of carburettor. If your acceleration is noticeably slower than usual, then your car isn’t sucking up enough gas, meaning your carburettor or injectors need cleaning and maintenance.
Anybody who’s been in a car for at least seven minutes knows what a Fetees is; the stick that makes your car go forward and back. Originally the French word for speed – vitesse – it’s a simpleton’s term for the entire gearbox; an extremely complex and integral part of any automobile. An average fetees connects to the engine and the crankshaft via a 7adafa (flywheel) and estewanet el debreyaj (clutch disk). Gearbox issues largely occur in manual transmission vehicles; shifting too early (or not at all) can incur massive pressure on the gears and components inside, severely damaging and (more often than not) destroying your transmission entirely.
Top Tip: Gearbox issues hardly occur in automatic transmission cars, seeing as the whole purpose of an automatic is to automate the shifting process. Still, know when too P, N and D (and sometimes R).
Ah yes, el bojeh. Essentially really expensive lighter known as sparkplugs (French: La Bougie), their function is to create a teeny tiny little electric arc (within the confines of the cylinder head) to light up all that pent up gas and air. Lots of explosions = more vrrooommmm. If your bucket takes longer to start, stalls fairly often or doesn’t start whatsoever, a sparkplug might be to blame. Just try to spring for the higher quality ones, anything else is notoriously short-lived.
On to the Bobbina (or the Mobbina), or as it was once known in the land of baguettes, bobine d'allumage. In English, it’s an ignition coil, and you can look at it as kind of a step-up transformer in a way. It takes the car battery’s 12 or so volts and amps them up to dozens of kilovolts, all in order to generate an electric spark tough enough to transfer to your boujehat (spark plugs) so that gas goes boom and car goes vrroommm. Faulty coils (denoted by backfires and stalling) can usually be attributed to bad spark plugs ; if they can’t manage that massive a charge, they’ll overload, overheat and eventually destroy an ignition coil.
Of course, the bobbina’s massive spark can’t properly reach the spark plugs in time without an esperateir. Known as the distributor in English, and la distributeur in French (you can see how it got to esperateir), it distributes the electricity generated by the ignition coil to all the spark plugs at specific intervals, keeping in line with the overall rhythm of the car. Damaged distributor = damaged spark plugs = damaged ignition coil, along with the usual symptoms of each one.
You’ve always heard the term marsh, and it was never swamp-related at all, was it? A car’s starter in Egypt might have been termed marsh after the French Verb Marcher, or if it’s a metaphor for just…marching along, it’s responsible for giving your vehicle that initial push it needs to get shifting on to higher gears. As soon as ignition is properly achieved, it basically cuts out. Speaking of cutting out…
A car’s katawet, or more properly known as a car relay (no French here, just idiocy) is what helps low amperage circuits manage to interact with much higher amperage circuits. Most common of which would have to be your headlamps. Katawet are naturally prone to damage from fucked up electricity in your car, which can be anything really. You’ll know something’s wrong when your lights aren’t turning on right.
Last (on this article at least) and certainly not least whatsoever is el denamo. Folks tend to call anything that creates electricity a dynamo, but it’s actually called an alternator in a motor vehicle. In order to maintain proper power throughout the car, the alternator connects to the crankshaft via a belt to charge the battery while it runs to power all parts of the vehicle. A broken belt or just average wear and tear will render it useless, so if your car doesn’t seem to be drawing power, either look at the battery or the alternator.
Well, that’s about it for now. There’s a shit tonne more to actually delve into, way more than a humble pharmacist/writer can explain to you. However, these are the most common culprits to look for, and the most you’ll hear of at a mechanic. If you can afford to hire somebody to own a car for you, go ahead and do it, because this stuff is much more painful when you’re face to face with Sa3d in El Sabe3.
Main image from Bridgett Auger.