If you have read the page entitled How Car Engines Work, you know that the idea behind an engine is to burn gasoline to create pressure, and then to turn the pressure into motion. A remarkably tiny amount of gasoline is needed during each combustion cycle. Something on the order of 10 milligrams of gasoline per combustion stroke is all it takes!
The goal of a carburetor is to mix just the right amount of gasoline with air so that the engine runs properly. If there is not enough fuel mixed with the air, the engine "runs lean" and either will not run or potentially damages the engine. If there is too much fuel mixed with the air, the engine "runs rich" and either will not run (it floods), runs very smoky, runs poorly (bogs down, stalls easily), or at the very least wastes fuel. The carb is in charge of getting the mixture just right.
On new cars, fuel injection is becoming nearly universal because it provides better fuel efficiency and lower emissions. But nearly all older cars, and all small equipment like lawn mowers and chain saws, use carbs because they are simple and inexpensive.
Go to the next page to check out the inside of a carburetor.