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I was looking under the hood, trying to learn what's what, and I was wondering what this was.

The circled part.

enter image description here

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Yor alternator is suspiciously clean. Is it new, or do you just like it better than the other components? – Juann Strauss Mar 11 '14 at 9:05
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Distributor, it's what provides the electrical energy to the spark plugs at the correct time.

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Distributor cap, DO NOT switch the cables around

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