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Jamie Gibbs

Motoring jargon buster

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A handy glossary of motoring terms.

Car engine

Buying a new car involves a great deal of research. You’ll find yourself reading reviews, searching used car listings, and comparing features. Maybe even discussing options with someone who’s more clued up.

So, when you hear something that doesn’t quite make sense, just check out our jargon buster.


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A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


 

A

A-pillar

The two vertical struts holding either side of the windscreen in place.

A/T

Automatic transmission.

ABS

Anti-lock braking system - an autonomous feature which prevents the car from locking the wheels, improving steering control and reducing the chance of a skid.

ACC

Adaptive (or autonomous) cruise control is a system which automatically adjusts the speed based on the traffic around the car, keeping it at a safe distance.

Airbag

A safety bag which inflates automatically in the event of a collision, keeping vehicle passengers safe.

Alcantara

A suede-like, durable, long-lasting material which usually comes as an optional extra for a car’s interior.

Alternator

A device which converts mechanical energy from the engine into electricity. This charges the battery and powers the electrical system when the engine’s running.

Appreciation

Opposite of depreciation. When a car's value increases over time.

AUX

Auxiliary audio connection - an input jack which can connect different media players to the car's stereo.

AWD

All-wheel drive - engine power is fed to all four wheels, increasing handling, delivering better control when driving off-road.

AWW

Automatic windscreen wipers - rain-sensing sensor adjusts the speed of the wipers to deal with the amount of rain.

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B

BHP

Brake horsepower - a measure of the power an engine outputs before frictional losses caused by the gearbox, alternator, and other components. It reflects a car's top speed and maximum rate of acceleration. It is measured in a controlled environment.

B-pillar

The vertical struts located between the front and rear side windows.

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C

Chassis

The vehicle frame that holds all other components together.

Chipping

After-market chips are used to tune a car's performance.

CO2

Carbon dioxide - a car's exhaust emissions, measured in grams produced per kilometre (g/km).

C-pillar

The struts running from the roof to the bottom of the car. On smaller cars, the c-pillar is usually the final strut which supports either side of the rear.

Crankcase

This is the metal case that houses several engine parts, including the crankshaft.

Crossover

A vehicle which combines the characteristics of a sport utility vehicle (SUV) with the features of a smaller passenger car.

Cruise control

A feature which allows the driver to set a constant speed until they decide to intervene.

Cylinder

The central working part between the crankcase and the cylinder head in which a piston moves.

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D

DAB

Digital audio broadcasting - it's a digital alternative to FM/AM radio, which are both analogue.

Dampers

Also known as shock absorbers, these are devices designed to absorb and dampen the shock impulses when travelling.

DDI

Diesel direct injection - injects fuel directly into the combustion chamber to improve performance and fuel efficiency.

Depreciation

Opposite of appreciation - the rate at which a car loses its value.

Differential

It allows for a car's driven wheels to rotate at different speeds – for example, when turning.

DPF

Diesel particulate filter - it catches soot particles in the exhaust.

DRL

Daytime running lights (or lamps) - their purpose is to make the car more visible to other drivers during the daylight hours.

Dry weight

The weight of the car without any luggage, passengers, fuel, oil and water.

DSC

Dynamic stability control - same as ESC.

DSG

Direct-shift gearbox - Volkswagen Group's electronically-controlled dual clutch (automatic transmission) fitted to Volkswagen, SEAT, Audi and Skoda models.

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E

EBD

Electronic brakeforce distribution - an autonomous system which controls the amount of force applied to each brake based on road conditions.

EML

Engine management light - essentially this is the 'check engine' light on your dash.

E-REV

Extended-range electric vehicle - a vehicle which has an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

ESC

Electronic stability control - a combination of a car's traction control system and ABS (anti-lock braking system). It uses sensors to take an appropriate action depending on the road conditions.

ESP

Electronic stability program - same as ESC.

Euro NCAP

The European New Car Assessment Programme - an independent body which carries out safety test on almost all new cars sold in Europe.

EV

Electric vehicle.

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F

FSH

Full service history.

FFV

Flexible-fuel vehicle - vehicle with an internal combustion engine designed to run on more than one fuel.

FWD

Front-wheel drive

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G

GAP

Guaranteed asset protection - type of insurance which covers the difference between the original cost of the car and its value when written off or stolen. Basically, GAP insurance is cover against depreciation.

GT

Grand tourer - performance and high-end vehicles capable of high speed, designed for long-distance driving.

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H

HP

Horsepower - measured by connecting the engine to a dynometer, with all the components attached to it. It measures the maximum rate of acceleration and top speed of a car. See also BHP.

HP (finance)

Hire purchase - a form of finance. See our car finance guide.

HPI

British vehicle history check service founded in 1938.

Hybrid

A vehicle powered by both a petrol (or diesel) engine, and an electric motor or motors.

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I

ICE

Internal combustion engine - term coined to differentiate the petrol, or diesel, powered vehicles from electric vehicles.

Independent suspension

A suspension system that allows each wheel on the same axle to move vertically independently of each other.

Insurance group

Every car falls into an insurance group from 1 to 50. The lower the group, the cheaper the insurance is likely to be.

Intercooler

An intercooler is used to cool the air compressed by either a turbocharger or supercharger before entering the engine.

ISOFIX

International standards organisation fix - allows you to securely attach a child seat directly to the chassis of the car. The hard connection is made between two or three anchorage points, located within the backseat padding.

i-VTEC

Intelligent variable valve timing - a system developed by Honda that improves the internal combustion engine's performance and fuel efficiency.

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K

Kerb weight

The weight of the vehicle without passengers or luggage, but includes fuel, oil and water. See also dry weight.

KPH

Kilometres per hour - expresses the number of kilometres travelled in one hour.

kWh

kWh stands for kiloWatt-hour and in electric cars it measures battery capacity.

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L

LED

Light emitting diode - LEDs in modern cars are used for brake lights, indicators, daylight running lights and low-beam headlights. They’re more efficient than the conventional filament bulbs.

LPG

Liquefied petroleum gas - also known as autogas. It’s a mixture of propane and butane and can be used as a fuel in internal combustion engines in vehicles.

LWB

Long wheelbase refers to the length of a vehicle's chassis.

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M

Marque

Car manufacturer brand (eg Ford).

MPG

Miles per gallon - the distance a vehicle can travel using only one gallon of fuel.

MPH

Mile per hour - expresses the number of miles traveled in one hour.

MPV

Multi-purpose vehicle - van-sized cars, often referred to as people carriers. Citroën C4 Picasso is a famous example.

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N

Notchback

A car body style where the car has a shorter rear, or the rear window is more upright.

NVH

Measures cars' noise, vibration and harshness.

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O

Oversteer

An instance where the rear of the car loses grip and it carries on more than the driver intended.

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P

Part exchange

Trading in your old car and using it as a contribution towards a new one.

PCP

Personal contract purchase - see our car finance guide.

PHEV

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle - hybrid cars with high-capacity batteries. These can be charged by plugging them into an electrical outlet or charging station.

Power steering

A power-assisted hydraulic system which makes steering lighter and easier.

PS

PS stands for Pferdestärke - a German word for 'horse strength'. PS is predominantly used by German manufacturers with 1 PS being 0.985 HP. See also HP.

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Q

Q Plate

A vehicle with a Q plate was either not originally registered in the UK, or proof of age was unavailable at registration. These are cars built using a significant proportion of parts from different sources.

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R

Radiation construction (tyre)

A radial tyre (or radial-ply tyre) is a vehicle tyre design which has cord plies arranged at 90 degrees to the direction of travel. Or radially from the centre of the tyre. This results in a better road grip, better steering, a more flexible tyre wall and little heat generated at high speeds.

Regenerative braking

A system which recharges the battery of an electric vehicle while slowing down.

Road tax band

All cars fall into a tax band - from A to M, with A being the least expensive. The UK tax band system is currently based on exhaust CO2 emissions. See our guide on tax bands.

RPM

Revolutions per minute - this is a measure of the number of revolutions completed by the engine one minute.

RWD

Rear-wheel drive.

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S

Shock absorbers

See dampers.

Start/stop

Modern cars have the ability to automatically stop and start to reduce the amount of time the engine spends idling. This reduces fuel consumption and emissions.

Supercharger

Superchargers' purpose is to increase the power an engine produces. Superchargers increase the amount of air present in the combustion chamber, so more fuel can be burned, hence creating more power.

Suspension

The suspension is made of the tyres, springs, dampers, wishbones, and connects the car to its wheels.

SUV

Sports utility vehicle - essentially a big passenger car designed to provide a lot of interior space, large boot capacity, and have a much taller profile. A popular car from this class is the Nissan Qashqai.

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T

TCS

Traction control system - helps reduce the chance of tyre slip when accelerating on a slippery surface, hence improving road grip. See also ESC.

Torque

In simplest terms, torque measures how quickly engine power can be transferred to the wheels. So, it measures how quickly a car can accelerate.

Transmission

Transmission often refers to whether a car is a manual or automatic (or semi-automatic).

Trim level

Trim levels are different versions of the same car model with different variations of features, equipment and engines. Usually, there's a cheap trim which is very basic, and a high-end trim level which sports all optional extras.

Turbocharger

Similar to the supercharger, a turbocharger increases engine's efficiency and power output by forcing extra air in the combustion chamber. However, it draws power from exhaust gases that results from combustion.

Turning circle

The smallest circle in which a car can turn without reversing or extra manoeuvring.

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U

Understeer

An instance where the car starts to skid in a straight line without turning in the direction a driver intended. See also oversteer .

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V

Valves

Valves are part of the combustion engine . They open and close to allow the fuel mixture in and the exhaust gases out.

VED

Vehicle excise duty - often referred to as "car tax" or "road tax", this is the annual tax drivers pay for their vehicle. This includes cars, vans, lorries or motorcycles.

VIN

Vehicle identification number - every car is given this unique number. It helps identify the car when carrying out a history check. See also HPI check.

VRM

Vehicle registration mark - the official term for a vehicle's number plate.

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W

Wheelbase

The wheelbase refers to the distance between the centres of a car's front and rear wheels.

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X

Xenon lights

Xenon headlights offer crisp, intensive bright light.

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