# Lists

Car Jargon Explained, or, What the Hell Do All These Words Mean?


4WD: Stands for 4-Wheel-Drive. It’s a drivetrain that uses two differentials and a transfer case to send power to all four wheels. See: DRIVETRAIN; See: DIFFERENTIAL.

ABS: Stands for Antilock Braking System. It prevents the wheels from locking when you try to stop quickly. This improves steering control and allows you to stop faster. Note: IBS is a totally different thing.

Alternator: Takes the energy generated by the engine and turns it into alternating current for the battery. The battery controls all electrical systems in a car. If you’re from a rural area you may also hear this pronounced as “altenator” without the R. Which is wrong.

AWD: Stands for All-Wheel Drive. Similar to 4WD, it sends power to all four wheels. The difference is that AWD vehicles also send torque to all four wheels constantly. See: TORQUE.

  • Again, we we actually a video that explains the difference between 4WD and AWD. It’s fun.

APR: Stands for Annual Percentage Rate. This is basically a fancy schmancy way of saying the finance/interest rate on a vehicle. So if you pay 1.9% interest on your vehicle, then the APR of that vehicle is 1.9%.

APR is a commonly used in automotive ads. Notice under the 0%, where it says “APR financing.”

Brake Fluid: The fluid used in the hydraulic brake system. This fluid helps move different parts of the system around. Without it, your vehicle would literally not be able to stop, so don’t avoid topping up Brake Fluid.

Cash Rebates: Rebates given to the customer during a vehicle purchase to help lower the cost. Customers can choose whether to put this rebate towards the car as a down payment, or as a cash payout.

Comprehensive Insurance: Insurance that also covers non-collision damage.

Coolant: Another word for “antifreeze.” This mixture of water and ethylene glycol has a lower freezing point than plain water.

Coupe: A two-door car with a fixed roof.

CPO: Stands for Certified Pre-Owned vehicle. This is a special designation for some used vehicles, in that they have been inspected, repaired, and certified to a higher standard. They also typically include an extended warranty, special financing, and additional benefits. Translation: CPO vehicles are good, and you should look for those first when you’re buying pre-owned.

Crossover: Crossovers are SUVs constructed on car frames. See: SUV.

The front vehicle is a Honda CR-V, a larger SUV. The back vehicle is the Honda HR-V, a smaller crossover.

CVT: Stands for Continuously Variable Transmission. A CVT (used in Honda vehicles, for instance) maintains a steady acceleration curve with no pauses for gear changes. Driving enthusiasts have pointed a slight lack of responsiveness in CVT transmissions, but the big advantage they have over automatics and manuals is that they can seamlessly provide power without shifting while driving uphill. Note: a CVT transmission feels like an automatic when you’re driving.

Demo: If you’ve ever seen a “demo” vehicle advertised in the paper, that is describing a vehicle that has been used as a demonstration vehicle by the dealership. Demos are heavily discounted, even though they’ll only have a few thousand KM on them.

Diesel Engine: Diesels don’t use spark plugs to ignite fuel. Instead, fuel is compressed in cylinders until it reaches combustible temperatures. So diesel engines generate more torque and use less fuel.

Differential: This device is what allows your vehicle to turn the outside wheels faster than the inside wheels. Found in most modern vehicles, especially all-wheel-drive vehicles.

Drivetrain: The drivetrain works in tandem with your transmission. The transmission keeps the engine turning in time with the wheels (think a chain on a bike, as a comparison), no matter what gear the vehicle is in. The drivetrain, on the other hand, is what delivers power from your engine, through the transmission, to the wheel axles. It controls the amount of torque your vehicle is getting. (See: TORQUE)

FWD: Stands for Front Wheel Drive. FWD vehicles channel engine power and torque to the front wheels only. So in this case, the back wheels are literally just along for the ride. They are not propelling the vehicle. The main bonus of a FWD vehicle is that they’re less expensive. They’re also lighter, which means they get better gas mileage. FWD is most commonly found in lower-priced vehicles.

Head Room: The distance from the hip of the driver to the vehicle’s interior rooftop. Yes, they measure the room for your head starting at your hips. Figure that one out.

  • Are you a tall person who has a hard time finding a vehicle that fits you? Check out Cars for Tall People.

Headroom grade: terrible AF

HP: Stands for Horsepower. It’s a common misconception that 1 HP equals the power of 1 horse. Confusingly, this isn’t true. Roughly 15 HP is equal to the power of 1 horse. This is because it measures the amount of work a horse can sustain over an extended period of time, and not the peak amount of a horse’s strength. HP is measured by multiplying the amount of torque generated (how fast power can be sent to the wheels) by speed (how fast the wheels are turning). Fun fact: a human can generate up to 5 HP.

Jack: Jacks lift one corner of a car off the ground so you can change a wheel. All cars come with a suitable jack that fits correctly into the car’s jacking points.

Load Capacity: The maximum weight that can be carried in a vehicle.

Make: The brand of a vehicle. Examples: Honda, Nissan, Ford, etc.

Model: A specific vehicle from a MAKE, or brand. Examples: the Civic (Honda), Rogue (Nissan) or F-150 (Ford).

MSRP: Stands for Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price. This price is, in fact, the mandated price of a new vehicle by the manufacturer. Dealerships are not allowed to set their own prices for new vehicles.

OEM: Stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, i.e., the manufacturer of a vehicle. At Go Auto, we only use OEM parts when we repair our vehicles.

Oil Filter: This filter strains the dirt and abrasive materials out of the oil in your vehicle, keeping it as clean as possible.

Power Steering: You’re not doing all the turning in your vehicle. There’s a system that uses electric or hydraulic motors to help turn your wheels with you. This is power steering. It reduces the effort required to turn the wheels, especially at lower speeds. This is why replacing your power steering fluid is important. Steering becomes difficult when the system is not properly lubricated.

Rain-Sensing Wipers: A feature that uses rainfall sensors to engage the wipers and adjust wiper speed automatically.

Recall: When a vehicle has a serious defect that could compromise the safety of the driver, a manufacturer (Hyundai, Dodge, etc.) will issue a recall. This is a request to take said vehicle to a dealership to undergo repairs (free of charge).

Seat Belts: If you don’t know what these are, I don’t think you’re ready to buy a vehicle.

Spoiler: It’s when someone tells you what happened on Lost before you actually get to see it for yourself (thanks, RYAN). But it’s also a styling feature on cars. People think that it aids in aerodynamics, but street-legal cars don’t actually go fast enough for this to make much of an impact.

This is a spoiler. Also, this is: Leia is Luke’s SISTER, man. So gross.

Suspension: Ever notice how your car bounces over bumpy roads and smooths out smaller bumps? That’s your suspension at work – a complicated spring setup at each corner of the car that allows the wheels to move independently of the chassis, reacting to bumps and unevenness in the road.

SUV: Stands for Sports Utility Vehicle. People often confuse SUVs and Crossovers. Crossovers are built on the frames of cars. SUVs aren’t, so they’re typically larger with taller bodies. They can handle off-roading better than cars, but still perform well on roads. Examples: the Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Rogue, Ford Explorer, and Honda CR-V.

Torque: The twisting/turning force generated by a motor, typically measured in pounds per foot (lbs. ft). In a nutshell, torque determines how quickly power can be sent to the wheels of a vehicle. It’s useful as a measure of acceleration (and by extension, hauling/towing).

Transmission: The transmission determines the amount of power sent to the wheels at any given speed. Each successive gear sends more power, so as you speed up your transmission kicks into higher gears. There are automatic transmissions (“auto”) that make these gear changes automatically, and manual transmissions that require the driver to decide when to shift gears.

Trim Level: So we’ve covered the Make (Honda, Nissan, etc.) and Model (Civic, Rogue, etc.) of a vehicle earlier. Now the really annoying one: Trim Level. For each make, there are typically 5-7 (or more) variations, each with different wheels sizes, interior materials, technology, features, etc. These variations are “trims”.

So for example, the 2018 Honda Civic comes in the following trims:

  • DX – starts at $16,690
  • LX – starts at $19,500
  • SE – starts at $22,390
  • EX – starts at $23,990
  • EX-T – starts at $25,390
  • Touring – starts at $27,590
  • Si – starts at $28,590

While trim levels do not usually refer to the engine, rather a specific engine can be specified for each trim level.

VIN: Stands for Vehicle Identification Number. Each vehicle has a unique string of numbers that identifies it; no two vehicles have the same VIN.

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