Juliet McGuire

Car jargon you must know

Not every one is a petrol head, sure, but there is certain car jargon that you should know and understand. How can you buy a car and not know if it has or what ABS is. You get my drift?

To help you out, here is a list of car jargon that I think every single person should know. Unless you never intend on driving a car. But even then, just up-skill yourself, dammit.


ABS: Antilock Braking System – A computerised system that prevents the wheels from locking during emergency braking, improving steering control and reducing stopping distances.

ACC: Adaptive Cruise Control – An advanced automatic vehicle speed management system that monitors traffic ahead and reduces or increases the car’s speed based on the flow of traffic. Also known as Intelligent Cruise Control.

Airbag: A bag designed to protect vehicle occupants from injury in the event of a vehicle collision and which inflates on impact.

AT: Automatic transmission – A gearbox that shifts through gears automatically, doing away with the need for a manual clutch and gearstick.

AWD: All-Wheel Drive – When power is fed to all four wheels, otherwise known as four-wheel drive or 4WD.

Coupé: A two-door car with a fixed roof, which is often shorter and more steeply angled at the rear than its sedan equivalent, giving them a sporty look. Coupés can sometimes have limited space and headroom for rear passengers.

Crossover: A small SUV-like vehicle that is based on a car platform.

Cruise Control: An automated system that keeps the car at a constant speed set by the driver. 

Differential: A mechanical device that allows the driven wheels of a car to turn at different speeds, splitting engine torque between the wheels so that the outside wheel in a corner can rotate faster than the inside wheel.

DSG: Direct-Shift Gearbox – Volkswagen Group’s dual-clutch gearbox which dispenses with a conventional clutch pedal and allows either full automatic operation or semi-manual control via the floor-mounted selector and steering wheel paddles.

ESC: Electronic Stability Control – An electronic program that applies the brakes to a specific wheel when a loss of steering control is detected. Helps combat understeer and oversteer events to improve safety. Also known as Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) or Electronic Stability Program (ESP).

FSH: Full Service History – often seen in used car adverts to denote a full log of regular maintenance and annual service stamps from service outlets.

Fuel Injection: A system by which atomised fuel is sprayed directly into the combustion chamber of each cylinder of the engine.

FWD: Front Wheel Drive – When engine power and torque is channelled to the front wheels only.

Hatchback: A car with a boot lid that incorporates a large section of the rear section of the car, including the rear window.

HP: Horsepower – We use Kilowatts here in SA: It is the measure of an engine’s work rate, which is torque (twisting force) multiplied by speed (how fast it is spinning). It’s a useful measure of how quickly a car can overcome issues like weight and drag when moving. ‘Horse’ refers to the original measure which was based on a comparison of the output of steam engines with the power of draft horses.

Hybrid: A vehicle that is powered by both a petrol engine and battery-powered electric motors.

ICE: Internal Combustion Engine vehicle – abbreviation increasingly used to differentiate vehicles purely powered by petrol, diesel or other form of combustible fuels from electric or hybrid vehicles.

ISOFIX: The international standard attachment for child safety seats which permits a compliant seat to be fixed to anchor points on the car rather than secured solely by the seatbelt.

LED: Light Emitting Diode – a type of light source that requires less power to run than conventional filament bulbs and is often used on modern cars for low-beam headlights, brake lights, indicators and daylight running lights.

LWB: Long Wheelbase – A lengthened version of an existing vehicle chassis.

MacPherson Strut: A type of suspension in which a coil spring is positioned over a shock-absorbing strut. The benefits are fewer parts and less weight than conventional suspension systems.

MPV: Multi-Purpose Vehicle – a vehicle based on a family-car chassis and designed to provide maximum cabin space and versatility. Also known as People Carriers (UK) and Minivans (USA).

Naturally aspirated: An engine in which the cylinders draw in the fuel mixture under atmospheric pressure by the suction action of the pistons during induction, rather than it being forced in by a turbocharger or supercharger.

NVH: Noise, Vibration and Harshness – A measure of the noise and vibration characteristics of vehicles as well as a subjective measure of the quality of the ride.

Odometer: Device used to record mileage throughout a vehicle’s lifetime. 

Oversteer: A condition in which, as the car corners the rear wheels lose grip, provoking the possibility of a tail-out slide.

PHEV: Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle – a type of Hybrid vehicle with a larger on-board propulsion battery that gives better range in pure electric power. The propulsion battery can be plugged into an electrical supply and charged.

Power Steering: Steering that is aided by electric or hydraulic motors. This reduces the effort required by the driver to turn the wheels, particularly at low speed.

Regenerative Braking: An energy recovery system used in most electric vehicles that can help charge the battery while the car is slowing down. Typically the electric motor acts as the generator, so power can flow both ways between it and the battery. ‘Regen’ helps extend range, while the process also helps slow the vehicle in a similar way to engine braking in a conventional car.

RWD: Rear Wheel Drive – Power from the engine is sent to the rear wheels only.

Sedan: A car with three distinct sections; one central compartment for passengers, one in front, typically to house the engine and front wheels, and one behind, usually for cargo (known as a three-box configuration). Sedans can come with two or four doors, and can come with a boot that opens with a lid or with a hatchback.

SUV: Sports Utility Vehicle – a tall-bodied vehicle with some off-road capability but designed mainly to perform well on roads. SUVs may have four-wheel drive, but may also be two-wheel drive, and have varying degrees of off-road capability. But not always.

Supercharger: Similar to a turbocharger but the compressor is mechanically driven by the engine rather than being powered by the exhaust gases. Superchargers do not suffer from ‘lag’ (the delay as a turbo’s turbine ‘spools up’) but do require a portion of the engine’s output to power them.

Suspension: The springs, wishbones, dampers and links that attach a vehicle to its wheels. The main function of suspension is to provide a car’s specific ride and handling characteristics. A luxury car’s suspension will focus on isolating occupants from bad road surfaces while a sportscar’s set up will favour flatter handling through corners.

TCS: Traction Control System – an electronic system that contains wheel spin by cutting engine power and/or applying brake pulses.

Torque: Torque determines how quickly power can be transferred to the wheels and is particularly useful as a measure of acceleration. We use NM when measuring torque.

Torque steer: An imbalance of driving force between the front wheels of a front-wheel-drive vehicle that causes the car to pull to the left or right under heavy acceleration. Can be an issue with powerful front-drive models.

Transmission: Most often refers to the type of gearbox employed by a vehicle, typically automatic (auto) or manual, although several types of semi-automatic versions are available.

Trim level: The specification of the vehicle, including but not limited to wheel type/size, materials used in the interior, bundled technology, etc. The choices are often grouped together and priced from low cost “entry-level” trim to a “range-topping” highest specification option. Trim levels do not usual refer to the engine, rather a specific engine can be specified for each trim level.

Turbocharger: A method of getting more air into the cylinders by compressing it and blowing it in, increasing the engine’s power. The atmospheric air is compressed via a turbine that is spun by exhaust gases from the engine.

Understeer: A condition during cornering where the car tends to push on in a straight line rather than following the arc of the corner.

VIN: Vehicle Identification Number – a unique number, usually 17 digits, given to each vehicle during the manufacturing process. VINs can be used to identify vehicles so that their history can be checked.

Xenon: High-powered headlight bulbs that increase intensity and brightness.

If you have any other terms you are unfamiliar with, holla at a sista. I will help you out. Contact me via email or on Insta or FB, obvs.

Thanks to Driving.uk for all the car jargon help. These guys knows their stuff.

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