This type of circuit is called an earth-return system any part of it connected to the car body is said to be earthed.
Often, however, it is hidden away, perhaps under the dashboard or down in the front knee-well. The car handbook usually gives the location, but without a book finding the box can prove difficult. Get to know where it is before anything goes wrong.
The side and tail lights, however, which you may need to leave on when the car is parked, are always wired independently of the ignition switch. When fitting extra accessories, such as a rear window heater which consumes a heavy current, always wire it through the ignition switch.
Electricity flows from a battery in one direction only, and some components work only if the flow through them is in the correct direction. This acceptance of a one-way flow is called polarity. On most cars the negative () battery terminal is earthed and the positive (+) one feeds the electrical system.