Motoring jargon explained
- The ultimate guide to the most confusing car-related terminology
- Unsure of the difference between AWD and 4WD? Read on…
- Think we’ve missed something? Scroll to the bottom to contact us
The car world can be a confusing place to navigate. Acronyms such as ESP, SUV and ACC litter car brochure pages despite many people not knowing exactly what they stand for.
Help is at hand though – as we’ve created the DRIVEtorque’s car glossary designed specifically to guide you through the brochures, price lists and sales patter that every motorist will encounter. We’ve written in-depth articles on all of the terms too, so why not click the blue headings to go into more detail.
ABS allows the vehicle to maintain steering control when braking in slippery conditions by preventing the wheels from locking up.
Adaptive cruise control (or radar guided cruise control) automatically adjusts the speed of the vehicle in order to maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front. The driver can pre-set their vehicle’s maximum speed and minimum distance to the car in front.
If the camera-based Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus picks up oncoming traffic or vehicles ahead, it adapts the light distribution according to the specific situation when the main beam is on. A mechanism in the headlamp module masks the portion of the LED headlamps’ cone of light where there are other vehicles to prevent their drivers being dazzled. Possible back glare caused by increased use of the main beam and highly reflective signs at the side of the road is also detected and eliminated by dimming the headlamps accordingly. Consequently, the driver can simply leave the main-beam headlamps on at all times and use their full range without irritating or even endangering other road users. The system is active at speeds above 30 km/h when travelling on roads without street lighting in the dark.
Subfunction of the suspension system MAGIC BODY CONTROL. The Mercedes-Benz ABC suspension has four suspension struts with hydraulic cylinders to set the force individually in each suspension strut, thus all but completely eliminating the lifting, rolling and pitching motion of the vehicle body. Various acceleration sensors send information about the current driving situation to the control unit which, in turn, compares this information with the data received from the pressure sensors in the suspension struts and the level sensors on the axle links. Based on the results of this comparison, the system calculates control signals which are then converted into precisely measured oil flows by servo hydraulic values at the front and rear axle.
Active lane-keeping technology is designed to assist the driver by automatically guiding the vehicle within its lane on a motorway or dual-carriageway. Also referred to as Lane Assist (Volkswagen) and Active Lane Keeping Assist (Mercedes-Benz).
Adaptive suspension allows the driver to quickly switch between a soft, comfy ride or a firmer, sporty set-up depending on their mood.
A solution added to diesel cars in order to reduce the amount of harmful gases coming out of the exhaust.
Android Auto allows drivers with Android smartphones to connect to the car’s infotainment system by mirroring their phone and its functions on the move.
A system that displays functions from your iPhone on your car’s sat-nav screen. Apps such as phone, music, messages and maps can be accessed and controlled with your device safely stowed away.
APR – Annual Percentage Rate of charge – lets you compare interest and other charges across loans.
Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system is designed to generate optimum grip levels by distributing the majority of engine power to whichever axle has the most traction.
An automatic gearbox is a type of transmission that can change gear ratios without any input from the driver.
Park assist allows the vehicle to steer itself into a parking space using a number of cameras and sensors.
AEB is a safety system that detects a potential crash ahead and prepares the car by either audibly warning the driver or taking evasive action itself by applying the brakes.
Better known as a headphone socket, this 3.5mm plug is found on myriad devices, including many cars. These started appearing in the 1990s and are now starting to disappear thanks to the wide use of USB.
AWD is a system that can automatically send power to all four of the vehicle’s wheels in challenging driving conditions. Similar to 4WD.
Benefit-in-kind is a tax levied on employees who receive perks (such as a company car) in addition to their salary as part of their remuneration package.
A device fitted to your car which allows your insurance provider or fleet manager to collect and analyze data on how you drive in order to assess risk.
Blindspot assist warns the driver if another vehicle is positioned in their blind spot, usually by a visual or audible alert. Active blind spot assist, will, in certain circumstances, enable the car to take evasive action in the event of danger.
By far the most common way to connect your mobile phone to your car’s multimedia system, Bluetooth is fitted to almost all new vehicles these days.
The latest infotainment systems on all BMW cars explained: how they now use Skype, sync with your email and more
A car warranty is a type of insurance policy that protects the buyer from all or some of the costs incurred from a specified range of malfunctions with their vehicle.
Climate control automatically maintains a desired temperature within the car’s cabin by continuously adjusting the air-con and heater settings.
Together with the perforated leather, four fans in the seat cushion and two fans in the backrest ensure uniform relative air humidity where the occupant’s body meets the seat. For the first time, so-called reversing fans are used in the climatized seats. Here the rotational direction of the fan, and therefore the airflow within the seat structure, can be reversed. This enables the surface temperature of a heated-up seat to be reduced much faster.
Carbon dioxide is the gas emitted from the exhaust of a car as a result of an engine burning fuel.
A crossover is a relatively large car often based on the platform of a hatchback. Larger than said family hatchback but smaller than an SUV, the crossover is usually capable of carrying five adults while being modestly capable off-road. Examples include the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga and Kia Sportage.
Cross-traffic alert uses sensors to monitor and alert drivers to any passing traffic in their blind spot when emerging out of a parking space.
Cruise control is a clever system that allows you to programme in a set speed, for example 70mph, for the car to maintain without any input needed from the driver.
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a simple alternative to an automatic gearbox.
DAB is a form of radio broadcasting whereby analogue audio is translated into a digital signal. Typically gives better quality sound than FM/AM and is not region dependent.
Dash-cams record video footage of the road ahead while you’re driving, and are commonly fitted to give the driver peace of mind in the event of an incident, and to protect you against false claims.
Daytime running lights (or DRLs) automatically switch on with the vehicle’s engine and are designed to operate during daytime hours.
A deposit is the upfront payment put down by a customer at the start of a car finance scheme.
Deposit contributions act like a discount on finance schemes, cutting the amount you pay.
Drive modes alter the vehicle’s handling characteristics by changing various settings around the car.
Driverless cars are vehicles that are capable of driving for you. They might also be referred to as autonomous, depending on where you’re reading about them.
DSG is a form of automatic gearbox developed by the Volkswagen Group. Uses two clutches to change gears extremely quickly and often equipped with steering wheel paddles.
DTE is the most common term for remaining range on a trip computer. Rather than needing to guess how far you’ll get on your remaining fuel, most modern cars will display the remaining range – whether diesel, petrol, electric or ‘other’ – in miles or kilometres.
An electric vehicle is one that’s powered exclusively by a battery-fed electric motor rather than it supplementing an internal combustion engine
The electronic parking brake – or electronic handbrake – is operated via a switch in the cabin and works to hold the vehicle in place when stationary. It can also be automatically disengaged.
What does the jargon surrounding engine size, power and torque mean? Why are modern, smaller capacity engines are so powerful?
ESC is an electronic stability aid which automatically controls engine power and individually applies braking to a vehicle’s wheels if a loss of traction is detected. Very similar to dynamic stability control and electronic stability program.
The European New Car Assessment Programme is a series of tests carried out on almost all mainstream new cars to evaluate their safety and driver assistance features.
Euro 6 is a vehicle emissions standard dictating that all new cars sold in Europe must meet. It became mandatory in September 2015.
4WD is a system that enables the vehicle’s power to be sent to all four wheels (permanently or part-time), increasing traction in challenging driving conditions. Similar to AWD.
This automatic transmission has 9 forward gears for smooth, fast gear changes. The use of nine transmission ratios creates a large spread between the lowest and the highest ratio while at the same time maintaining an optimal, close-ratio configuration. The reduction in average engine speeds benefits fuel consumption as well as reducing noise. 9G-Tronic also includes Tip function which allows you to select the most appropriate ratio manually. Sport models with automatic transmission also feature steering wheel gearshift paddles for fingertip shifting precision.
Ford’s branding for its economy-tuned petrol engines – available in a variety of engine capacities and power outputs.
A vehicle advertised with a FSH has a complete collection of repair and maintenance documents, with every service carried out as per the manufacturer’s requirements.
Global Positioning System – The network of satellites that provides the location and time information used by a vehicle’s Satellite Navigation (Sat Nav) system. (See also Sat Nav/Satellite Navigation.)
The kerb weight of a vehicle or trailer plus the maximum load that can be carried safely for use on the road, including occupants and cargo.
Grand Tourer – A car that is designed for long-distance driving. Usually used as a prefix or suffix on high-performance, luxury vehicles.
Designed to reduce the driver’s need to take their eyes off the road, a head-up display (HUD) is a driver aid which works by projecting vehicle information (such as speed and sat-nav instructions) onto the windscreen, just below the driver’s natural line of sight.
High beam assist recognises oncoming vehicles at night, switching headlights between main and dipped beam automatically.
Hill Descent Control – or HDC – is a function that allows a set speed to be maintained when driving off the beaten track.
Hill-start assist is a system which removes the potential peril of rolling back into the vehicle behind when driving away from a standstill on an incline.
Hire Purchase splits the cost of a car into a deposit and monthly payments; pay these and the car is yours.
HP (horsepower) is a unit used to measure a vehicle’s power output. Horsepower is the German translation of pferdestarke (PS) and is therefore the same unit. Not to be confused with brake horse power (bhp), which, although also used to measure a vehicle’s power output, is a slightly different unit.
Hybrids combine the power of a combustion engine with that from one or more electric motors in order to improve efficiency and performance.
A hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is one that uses compressed hydrogen to generate electricity, which is then used to power the car.
Infotainment is in-car digital screens and multimedia systems that deliver information (sat-nav, weather) and entertainment (radio, streaming services, music).
Two separate light sources in the headlamp assemblies light up the road ahead with invisible infrared light. Used for the Night View Assist Plus.
A car insurance write-off refers to a vehicle that has sustained damage and is either deemed unsafe or uneconomical to repair.
Isofix allows a child’s car seat to be attached directly to the chassis of the vehicle, rather than securing it with a seatbelt.
A driving manoeuvre in which a car being driven backwards is, without stopping, quickly turned almost about its axis so as to continue in the same direction but facing forwards.
A vehicle, typically a pick-up, the suspension of which is altered so as to raise it high off the ground.
Keyless entry automatically unlocks the car when the driver (or keyholder) attempts to open one of the doors.
Keyless ignition allows you to start your car without physically turning a key. The car detects the key inside the cabin and you push a button to start the engine.
Kilowatts are a metric unit used to measure power – in this case, the rate at which a car’s engine turns the energy stored in fossil fuels into movement. Usually, the more kilowatts an engine produces, the faster a car will accelerate.
Lane-departure warning is a safety system which alerts the driver if it detects the vehicle unintentionally straying out of lane.
LED headlamps are constructed using many small Light Emitting Diodes that consume a minimal amount of power and collectively produce a bright beam.
A limited slip differential allows greater cornering speed by using the vehicle’s power more efficiently.
MirrorLink is a system that allows elements of your smartphone functionality to be broadcast and controlled via your infotainment screen. Can control apps such as phone, music, messages and maps.
Finance schemes typically split a car’s list price into a series of monthly payments, making them more affordable.
A compulsory annual test carried out on most motorized vehicles in order to determine their roadworthiness.
MPG is a measure of how efficient a vehicle is, calculated by the number of miles it can do on a single gallon of fuel.
A way of measuring how far a car will go on a dollar’s worth of fuel using official fuel data. This can be used for electric cars, petrols or diesels, and therefore makes a great way of comparing the relative cost effectiveness.
An MPV is a type of car generally favoured by families due to a more practical interior than a regular hatchback’s, often coming in five- and seven-seat forms. They are falling out of favour as buyers increasingly turn to SUVs.
Naturally aspirated engines are those that do without turbochargers or superchargers, which means they breathe air at atmospheric pressure instead of using ‘forced induction’ to increase performance.
A car body style where the rear of the car is short or the rear window is more upright than normal. Can apply to a saloon, coupé or hatchback body style.
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. There are legal requirements regarding exterior noise and interior vibration but car makers will spend a great deal of time fine tuning the NVH of each new model to make it acceptable to the brand and the vehicle’s class
This is the amount you pay at the end of a PCP finance scheme if you want to buy the car outright.
This brings the internet into the car. The following functions are supported: WLAN HotSpot integrated into the head unit as standard, unrestricted browsing on the internet, read/write SMS/email, Mercedes-Benz services. Internet radio, Live Traffic Information
Outstanding finance refers to the amount of money which is still owed on a vehicle – the current registered keeper remaining liable for it until the balance is cleared.
Parking sensors are located on the bumpers of a car and assist the driver in parking next to or against other vehicles or objects by sounding an audible beep inside the car.
PCH (Personal Contract Hire) is a form of car finance whereby the vehicle is effectively hired from the finance company for a set period of time.
PCP (Personal Contract Purchase) is a form of car finance whereby the cost of a new car is spread across a deposit, monthly payments and an optional final payment.
Platform sharing occurs when manufacturers base a number of different models on the same framework.
A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a vehicle that plugs into the mains and uses electricity as a power source, usually alongside a conventional engine.
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.
Residual values reflect how much a car is worth after several years – high residuals values mean the car is worth more used, low residual values mean the car is worth less used.
Run-flat tyres are designed to continue working for a short while even after suffering a puncture – in theory allowing the driver to make it to their destination or the nearest garage.
Sat-nav uses a combination of satellites and mapping software to determine the car’s position and plan the most effective route to a chosen destination.
A car service is a maintenance check-up for your vehicle to keep it in tip-top condition.
A service history is a record of what repair or maintenance work has been carried out on a vehicle and when.
A service plan deal allows you to prepay for a set number of services when you buy the car.
Smart motorways (also known as actively managed motorways) vary the speed limit and amount of lanes open according to prevailing traffic levels and incidents.
Snow chains are a mesh of metal chains fitted around a car’s tyres to provide extra grip in snowy road conditions.
Stop-start saves fuel by temporarily shutting down when in stationary traffic and quickly starting up again when the driver wishes to move off.
ZF six-speed automatic transmission with torque converter, known for its especially smooth shifts and quick response. The driver may operate the transmission in Drive mode, letting the automatic do the shifting, or may manually select the gear desired. ALPINA developed SWITCH-TRONIC many years ago for just this purpose. Two buttons on the back side of the steering wheel make removing one’s hands from the wheel when shifting redundant. The right button shifts up, the left button down – enriching the driving experience, and difficult to describe in words
The T-Charge is an emissions tax on older vehicles entering the central London Congestion Charge Zone. It came into effect on 23 October 2017.
Torque is a measure of twisting force, usually expressed in (lb ft) pound feet or newton metres (Nm), effectively telling you how much pulling power an engine generates.
Total amount payable is the overall amount paid to purchase a car through a finance scheme – excluding discounts.
Traffic sign recognition automatically reads upcoming road signs and displays them on the vehicle’s dashboard.
Traction Control System. It regulates power distribution to stop the wheels just spinning and wasting power when you put your foot down, which gives you extra control, safety and performance.
A turbo uses recirculated exhaust gases from the vehicle’s engine in order to generate extra power and improve efficiency.
Tyre sizes concern the width and height of the rubber your car wears, as well as the maximum speed you’re allowed to travel in them.
A USB connection allows you to plug your phone or other media device to your car’s infotainment system.
A condition during cornering where the car tends to push on in a straight line rather than following the arc of the corner.
Devices actuated by the camshaft that open and close around the combustion chamber to allow the fuel mixture in and exhaust gases out. High performance engines typically have four valves – two inlet and two exhaust – per cylinder.
The fundamental components that comprise a vehicle and which include the floor pan – the basis of the monocoque chassis – front and rear axles a set distance apart, the steering system, the type of front and rear suspensions and the location and orientation of the engine and powertrain. The platform is often shared between models and marques to provide substantial cost savings.
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.
A 12.3-inch screen fitted into some Audi cars that replaces the analogue dials with digital ones, plus can display sat-nav or media info.
Voice control allows the driver to operate a car’s functions through speaking instructions instead of using the physical buttons on the dashboard.
A car warranty is a type of insurance policy that protects the buyer from all or some of the costs incurred from a specified range of malfunctions with their vehicle.
Winter tyres are optimised to provide greater grip and traction in cold and wet conditions.
Wireless charging allows an electrical device to be charged without the need for a cable.
Xenon headlights (otherwise known as High Intensity Discharge or HIDs) are brighter than standard halogen bulbs, and feature a clearer, whiter beam.
High-powered headlight bulbs that increase intensity and brightness.
A once popular small car manufactured by Zastava, a former Yugoslavian car maker, in the 1980s and based on the Fiat 127. Still a common sight on roads in Serbia and Croatia
Lanes on some of Moscow’s major roads reserved exclusively for government officials and named after the manufacturer of Russian-built armoured limousines. The term was also used to describe the lanes on roads in London reserved for cars carrying officials and athletes during the 2012 Olympic Games.
The yardstick for measuring how quickly a car accelerates, 0-100kmh is a timed run from which the vehicle goes from a standstill to 100km/h.