March 2020

An A - Z of Vehicle Terminology

When you’re out on the market for a new car do you often feel like you should really know what all the fancy terms and acronyms that are casually thrown about are? 

Whether you’re fairly versed or completely clueless, you certainly don’t need to be an expert – but having a basic understanding of the main terms and specifications and how they affect you can help you make better car-buying decisions.

Adaptive headlights

These headlights are an active safety feature that turn as you turn the steering wheel around corners. It improves illumination and increases visibility in the direction of the turn and over hills. 

Aerodynamic drag

This is the force that, in the case of a car that is moving, is exerted by the flow field of oncoming air. The moving car displaces the air and the air offers resistance or friction to the moving car.

Automatic Gearbox

The opposite of a manual gearbox, more commonly known as automatic transmission. An ‘automatic car’ will select gear ratios for you as you accelerate and decelerate the vehicle, freeing you up from constantly shifting the gearstick.


‘Aux’ is short for ‘auxiliary’ and refers to an audio connection. An aux-in socket in your car connects devices such as your mobile phone, tablet, or other device that has a standard headphone connection, to your car’s inbuilt speakers.  


This wireless technology allows compatible devices within range to connect and communicate with each other. The main use of Bluetooth in your car is that it allows you to drive while operating your phone ‘hands-free’. Compatibility is an important factor to consider, since this can vary between different cars and devices. 

Brake Assist

This electronically controlled safety system helps you apply the right amount of pressure to the brake pedal during an emergency panic stop situation. It maximises brake efficiency if a driver fails to apply enough force. 


A.k.a. a convertible, this type of passenger car is fitted with a soft-top roof that can be folded down, allowing the car to be driven open-air as desired. 

Catalytic Converter

This is a canister fitted into your car’s exhaust system which reacts chemically with the harmful exhaust gases (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons) and helps reduce harmful emissions. 


This main structure is the backbone of the vehicle and supports major components including the steering system, suspension system, engine, wheels, gearbox, and radiator. 

City fuel economy

Using standardised tests, car manufacturers provide a fuel economy figure for new cars in litres per 100km for urban, open-roads, and a combination of the two. Note that the supplied figures are not meant to be used for calculating your own expected fuel costs, but rather as a comparison between the different models. 

Climate control

A sophisticated computer-controlled type of air-conditioning system that allows the driver or passenger in a car to set the specified temperature required, in order for the climate control system to adjust the temperature in the car’s interior accordingly. 

Compression ratio

Every engine has a specific compression ratio (CR). The higher the compression ratio, the more efficient the combustion process, the more power generated, and with less fuel and therefore fewer exhaust gases. 


This is part of the interior of a car and its location is typically between seats or in the front centre behind the gearstick. It can come with a range of various features, including a power outlet for charging devices, cup holders, and other additional storage. 


A sporty two-door vehicle that has a fixed roof and characterised by its low height, sloping rear.


This is a type of SUV (sport utility vehicle) built on a structure where the frame and body is in one piece (a ‘unibody’ construction). Its platform is based on a standard passenger car, giving them better comfort and fuel efficiency than SUVs, but with less off-road capability. 

Cruise control 

This automatic vehicle cruise system helps to keep the car’s travelling speed constant. You can choose when to engage the cruise control feature. 

Fuel injection

This is a computerised system that that mixes the fuel and air and delivers a high-pressure fuel stream directly to the combustion chamber of each cylinder in a car’s engine. Fuel injection systems began replacing carburettors in petrol engines in the late 1980s.


This describes how responsive and accurate your car’s steering is, or how it responds on the turns and bends. Good handling is important to remain in control at high speeds. 


This unit of measurement is used to describe the power of your car’s engine. The higher the horsepower, the more power and ability there is to push a car to faster speeds.


This type of car uses more than one type of power for propulsion, such as a car that combines a petrol engine with an electric motor. Hybrids are more energy-efficient and emit less C02 than conventional petrol or diesel-driven vehicles. 


This electronic security device is fitted into most newer car models. It decreases the risk of your car from being stolen by preventing the engine from starting up without the correct key or token. 


This alternative to securing child car seats with a seatbelt. It is an international standard attachment that provides a quick and easy but safe way to install a child seat into a car. The system permits the use of a compliant car seat to be fitted into a vehicle and fixed to anchor points without the use of a seatbelt. 


Equal to one thousand watts, the kilowatt (kW) is a metric used to measure power. In the case of a car, this unit of measurement expresses an engine’s energy output – the higher the kW, the faster the car will be able to accelerate. 

Kerb weight 

This is the weight of your vehicle in running condition that includes all fluids such as engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, water, and fuel, but does not include passengers or cargo. 

Keyless entry

Most modern cars are fitted with this system which allows you to unlock your car doors without the need to insert a key into the lock with the use of a remote-controlled transmitter. 

Keyless ignition

Much like keyless entry, this system allows you to start your car without the need to insert a key into the ignition. Instead, once you’re inside, the car can be started at the push of a button, or a small key fob transmits a computer code as an instruction.

List price

A.k.a. the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), this is the cost you would pay for a new car of a particular model before any depreciation takes place. 


This is the brand name of a range of cars, which may not necessarily be the same as the manufacturer. For example, BMW manufactures and owns MINI, but MINI’s marque remains MINI.


Modifications are changes made to a car to improve its performance, aesthetics, or functional aspects such as bodywork, engine, wheels, or any other part so that it differs from the manufacturer’s original factory state. 

Power steering

A power-assisted steering system uses an engine’s power to help a driver to more easily steer the car. 


Vehicle segments are a categorisation of groupings of car models ranging from hatchbacks, super-minis, SUVs, and luxury cars. 

Technical specifications

Specifications are an at-a-glance list of facts and figures about aspects of a vehicle, such as the engine, cylinders, displacement, transmission, horsepower, torque, drivetrain, suspension, fuel tank capacity, etc. 


This method of vehicle monitoring uses wireless devices to transmit data in real time back to an organisation – this data is used to record and map the location of a vehicle and its travelling speed.

Traction Control

This safety system optimises your car’s grip and stability on the road, minimising wheel spin during acceleration even on slippery surfaces. 


Not to be confused with horsepower, which measures an engine’s power output, torque measures an engine’s turning power, which is indicated in Newton metres (Nm) and is a good measure of how quickly a car will accelerate. 


Trim levels refer to different versions of a vehicle model that come equipped with a standard combination of features. For example, take a 2019 Honda Jazz – in 2019 Honda produces five trim levels in the form of S, SE, SE Navi, EX and EX Navi, with the entry-level trim ‘S’ having the least amount of features and equipment. 


Think of variant as variety within the same vehicle.  One model of the same car may give you different options to choose from, such as engine size or number of doors. For example, Ford Fiesta 1.25 Zetec comes in hatchback and Audi A3 1.0 TFSI offers a three-cylinder engine