Jargon Buster

Not sure of your DSC from your MPV? You'll find car jargon translated into plain English here

BuyaCar team
Nov 22, 2019

Shopping for a car can be a confusing business. Making the correct decision can often require painstaking research and hours of cross-examination of multiple makes and models that appear, at first glance, to be very similar offerings.

But, with a bit of extra knowledge, you'll find that actually there are a number of subtle differences between each and every option you look at. The trouble is, these will often come with confusingly unclear names that will mean very little to casual car buyers. 


So to make your life easier, we've compiled this glossary of all the difference car-related terms you're likely to come across on your search for your perfect car. It's all in alphabetical order so hopefully you'll be able to find exactly what you need.

Click a letter to get there quicker


Alcantara Soft plastic-based upholstery that looks and feels like suede.
Allroad Audi’s range of raised estate models with mild off-roading ability.
Artico Mercedes’s brand of artificial leather.
Avant Audi’s name for the estate models in its range.
ABS Anti-lock braking system: prevents the wheels skidding when braking on slippery surfaces, so you maintain steering control and stop in the shortest possible distance.
AEB Autonomous emergency braking: sensors in the car that detect cars and obstacles ahead, and automatically slam on the brakes to avoid a crash.
ACC Either:
(a) Adaptive cruise control: a sophisticated cruise control system that uses sensors in the car to detect vehicles ahead, and maintain a safe, pre-set distance between them by automatically controlling the accelerator and brake.
(b) Automatic climate control: a development of the air-conditioning system that allows you to set a specific temperature in the car, which the ventilation system maintains. Dual climate systems allow you to create two temperature zones, one for the driver's side and one for the passenger side, each controlled independently. More expensive cars may have zones for rear passengers, too.
Adaptive highbeam assist At night, an integrated camera and software identify cars ahead and dips the lights to avoid dazling their drivers, automatically switching between main beam and dipped lights depending whether there's oncoming traffic. More sophisticated systems can switch off part of the main beam, and leave other parts on for maximum driver vision without blinding oncoming motorists.
Android Auto Software that makes the car’s dashboard screen look and operate like your Android phone when it’s connected.
Apple CarPlay Apple’s version of Android Auto. When you connect an iPhone to a vehicle with CarPlay, the media system displays a version of the phone's homescreen with compatible apps that can be opened without touching your phone.
Automatic headlights Light sensors detect when it’s getting dark (or you’re going through a tunnel) and switch your headlights on automatically, turning them off again should it become light again.
A-pillar The metal uprights either side of the windscreen that help to support the roof. Sometimes also called the A-post.
Airbag A safety device that inflates in milliseconds in the event of a crash, helping to reduce the collision forces on the vehicle’s occupants, to reduce or avoid injuries. The first ones were fitted in the steering wheel and ahead of the front passenger, to cushion the head and chest. Today there are many more types including side, knee and seatbelt airbags.
Alternator The car’s electrical generator, powered by the engine, that keeps the battery topped up and supplies power for lights, windscreen wipers and interior equipment while the car is running.
ASL Automatic speed limiter. This prevents the car going over a set speed unless you push hard on the accelerator.
AWD All-wheel drive: another term for four-wheel drive where all four wheels are driven by the engine, either all the time or when conditions dictate.
Automatic windscreen wipers Also known as rain sensing wipers, these are linked to a sensor in the windscreen which turns the wipers on when it detects rain. Heavy rain will make the wipers move faster.


Blind spot assist A system that warns the driver when another car is in their blind spot, typically in an adjacent lane and almost alongside. At such times, a warning light in the side mirror will be activated. If the driver indicates to move in that direction, the system will typically sound an alert.
B-pillar The metal uprights in the middle of the car between the front and rear doors that help to support the roof, sometimes also called the B-post. 
Bhp Brake horsepower: the measure (typically British) of an engine’s power without taking into account of losses caused while transmitting the power to the wheels. Most car manufacturers now publish a car’s engine power using basic horsepower. This is known as pferdestärke and usually abbreviated to PS.
BIK Benefit-in-Kind tax is another name for company car tax, which is levied on business users who have a car that they can use privately as a perk of the job. The tax you pay is based on the car's price when new, its CO2 emissions and your personal tax rate.


C-pillar In most cars, these are the rearmost roof supports, either side of the rear screen.
Coupe Until recently, this referred to a car with two doors, a sloping roofline and a separate boot. It was usually a sporty model but recently, manufacturers have started to use the term to describe other types of cars with sloping roofs. They include four-door cars such as the Mercedes CLS and five-door large hatchbacks and SUVs such as the BMW X4. 
Convertible A car, often a sporty model, with a folding fabric or metal roof.
Cabriolet Another term for a convertible, although one that is generally less sporty and more comfort-oriented. 
CO2 Carbon dioxide: emissions of CO2 from the exhaust are currently linked to road tax, the cost determined by how much CO2 is emitted during a kilometre of driving and based on standard laboratory tests. Cars emitting less than 100 grams (100g/km) and registered between March 2001 and March 2017 pay no road tax. As emissions increase, so does the rate of tax. 
Company car tax The tax charged on the value of a car provided by your employer that you are able to use privately outside work. Officially termed Benefit in Kind (BIK) by HMRC, it is based on the official list price of the car including options, as well as the amount of CO2 it emits (the less, the better). You pay tax on a percentage of that figure according to your personal tax rate.
Cylinder A key part in the engine, the size and number of which typically affect the amount of power it produces and how much fuel it uses. The explosion of fuel and air that powers a car occurs in the engine’s cylinders. Modern cars often feature smaller engines with fewer cylinders in an attempt to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, with turbochargers to boost power levels.
Cruise control A system that keeps the car moving at a speed set by the driver without them having to touch the accelerator. More advanced systems, known as adaptive cruise control, ensure the car maintains a predetermined speed set by the driver, slowing if a vehicle ahead reduces its speed to maintain a safe distance and speeding up if they move over. 
CarPlay Apple’s version of Android Auto. When you connect an iPhone to a vehicle with CarPlay, the media system displays a version of the phone's homescreen with compatible apps that can be opened without touching your phone.
Car tax Also known as road tax but formally known as vehicle excise duty (VED), this is the amount of tax you must pay on your car according to its engine size or the amount of CO2 it produces. Not to be confused with company car tax or BIK. If you never use the car and it is parked off the road, you can apply for a SORN (statutory off-road notification) that exempts it from tax while it's not being driven. 
Cat C The official term used by insurers to describe a written-off vehicle where the cost of repairing it, including VAT, exceeds the vehicle’s pre-accident value. Someone selling a Cat C car is legally obliged to reveal its status to the buyer.
Cat D The official term used by insurers to describe a written-off vehicle where the cost of repairing it, including VAT, does not exceed the vehicle’s pre-accident value. Additional costs such as having it inspected or providing a courtesy car may be the reasons the insurer decides the car is uneconomical to repair. Someone selling a Cat D car is legally obliged to reveal its status to the buyer.
Crossover A car that usually features the high driving position typically associated with an SUV and often boxy off-roader-style looks, but a similar mechanical setup to an ordinary hatchback.
City car A small, economical, affordable car often at its best on short, urban journeys, with small dimensions and light controls making it easy to drive. 


Damper Another word for the shock absorber, a part of a car’s suspension system that controls the vertical movement of the vehicle as its travels along a road. Without the damper, the car would bounce dangerously on its suspension springs, which is why worn shock absorbers can lead to poor roadholding.
Depreciation The fall in the value of a vehicle as it ages and its mileage grows. Lots of factors including age, mileage, condition, colour, fuel type and image can affect a vehicle’s rate of depreciation. Generally speaking, it is the single biggest motoring expense, accounting for a majority of the amount paid on PCP finance schemes and the difference in value between how much cash buyers pay and what they get back when they sell or trade in the car at a later stage.
DAB Digital audio broadcasting - digital radio. Digital radios offer clearer reception than older analogue systems that receive FM, MW and LW, though when reception is lost the radio cuts out completely, rather than become fuzzy in sound like an FM radio. They can also tune into many more stations and display useful programme information. They are rapidly becoming standard on new cars, and can receive analogue stations, too, when the digital signal isn’t strong enough - a regular annoyance in some parts of the country.
Dual clutch gearbox An automatic transmission that features two clutches, which makes gearchanges faster and smoother. While one clutch is engages the curent gear, the other pre-selects the gear that the car's software predicts will be needed next, reducing the time needed to change from one gear to another. On many cars, gears can be changed manually using levers or paddles beind the steering wheel. There's usually an option to use the gearstick to manually shift as well.
DPF Diesel particulate filter: an emissions control device intended to trap the microscopic, carcinogenic particles in a diesel’s exhaust and, effectively, a legal requirement in diesel models since 2009. 
DRL Daytime running lights: Required by law on new cars since 2011, DRLs are small, bright lights that automatically turn on to make the vehicle more visible. 
Dual Fuel Also known as bi-fuel, the terms describe vehicles that can run on petrol or diesel, and compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquified petroleum gas (LPG – marketed under the brand name, Autogas). The two fuels are stored in separate tanks and when one runs dry, the other takes over. For years, CNG and LPG attracted lower tax than petrol and diesel and were considerably cheaper, although about as economical. Volvo and Vauxhall were big advocates but changes in taxation in the UK led to the technology’s demise.
DSC Dynamic stability control: Also known as electronic stability control (ESC), this safety technology detects an imminent loss of steering control and applies the brakes to those wheels that are, or are about to, lose traction and skid, thereby helping steer the car in the direction the driver wishes to go. Some systems also reduce engine power.
DSG The name used for a dual-clutch gearbox made by Volkswagen and some of the brands that it owns. 


Eco Some cars offer different driving modes. Eco is usually the most efficient, timing automatic gear changes for maximum fuel economy and sometimes reducing engine power. 
Electric parking brake A replacement for the traditional cable-operated handbrake which uses electric motors to apply the brake. You hear a discreet electronic whirring sound as they do their job. Some can also be applied automatically to aid hill starts.
eCall An in-car emergency system that automatically dials 112 to summon emergency assistance after an accident. It also relays location details and direction of travel, and has been mandatory on new cars from April 2018. 
ESC Electronic stability control: see DSC 
ESP Electronic stability programme: see DSC
Estate car A passenger vehicle with an extended loadspace that is not separated from the cabin. The rear seats can fold flat, making the space larger still. These feature a glazed tailgate to ensure greater visibility and easier loading. 
EV Electric vehicle. This usually refers to a car that can be plugged in to charge. It could be one that runs on electric power alone, or a plug-in hybrid: a car with an engine that takes over when the battery runs out of charge.
Ex-demo A car, generally new or not very old, that is used by a car dealership to demonstrate a new model to customers before it's sold.


Facelift A styling and technical update to a model part way through its life.
Factory Order A brand new car that's built to the customer's desired specification, including a set colour and often optional equipment. These are different from cars that are in stock at a dealership, which have already been built and can't be altered.
FSH Full service history: a vehicle that has had all of its scheduled services. Typically used cars with a full service history are worth more than those without.
Flex-fuel see Dual Fuel
FWD Front-wheel drive: a car where only the front wheels are driven by the engine. 
Franchise Dealer - A car dealer affiliated to a specific car manufacturer and entitled to sell its new cars (also see Main Dealer).


GPS Global positioning system: a satellite system that enables a car’s sat-nav system to determine its location and on that basis, provide route guidance. 
GT Grand tourer: a car combining the qualities of a sportscar with one that's comfortable over long distances.


Hatchback A three or five-door car whose boot is not separated from the cabin. The rear seats can fold to accommodate larger loads.
HP Hire purchase: a type of car finance that splits the cost of a car into a series of monthly instalments. A fixed interest rate is usually applied. Once all instalments are paid off, then the car is owned by the customer.
Heated windscreen A windscreen with very fine and virtually invisible heating elements that help to rapidly clear a windscreen of ice or mist. Ford calls its heated windscreen technology, Quickclear. 
Head-up display Also known as a HUD, this gadget projects vital information such as speed onto the car’s windscreen in the driver’s line of sight, but without interrupting their forward view. 
Horsepower A measure of an engine’s power and originally calculated on the basis of the weight a horse could pull over a fixed period of time.
Hot hatch A high-performance hatchback
Hybrid A car that combines a diesel or petrol engine with an electric motor to provide increased fuel economy.
Hydrogen fuel cell A type of power source that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity that can power an EV. The only by-products of the process are heat and water. 


ICE Typically used to refer to Internal Combustion Engine - those normally powered by petrol or diesel - where power is provided by burning fuel inside the engine. Also can refer to In-Car Entertainment: an old-fashioned entertainment system, such as a combined radio and CD player.
Independent dealer a car dealer not affiliated to a particular vehicle manufacturer. 
Insurance group A vehicle risk rating calculated by Thatcham Research, an organisation owned by the insurance industry. There are 50 insurance groups with cars in group 1 being the cheapest to insure. 
Isofix The international standard for child safety seat attachment points in a vehicle. Rather than being secured to the car with a seatbelt, the child seat is physically attached to the car body using hard attachment points. 
i-Size - A child seat safety system that provides rearward-facing travel for children up to 15 months and which uses the Isofix system, rather than a seatbelt, to attach the seat directly to the vehicle. 


Keyless - A system that recognises the presence of the car key and unlocks the driver’s door without the driver having to press the key fob. It also enables the engine to be started by pressing a button without requiring the key to be inserted into the ignition. 
Kph - Kilometres per hour - the measure of speed used in many parts of mainland Europe and other parts of the world.


LED headlights - Headlights using bright light-emitting diodes (LED) in place of halogen or xenon bulbs. 
LPG Liquid petroleum gas, an alternative to petrol that is used in dual-fuel cars. 
List Price The price including VAT of a new car but excluding delivery charges and road tax.
LWB Long wheelbase: the wheelbase of a car is the distance between its front and rear wheels. Many prestige cars have long wheelbase versions that offer more interior space. 
Lane departure warning A system that uses sensors and cameras to monitor the vehicle’s position in the road and alert the driver by an audible signal or vibration of they drift from their lane
Lane keep assist An advanced form of lane departure warning that can make small steering corrections to keep the car in its lane. On motorways and in slow-moving traffic jams, cars with this function and adaptive cruise control can effectively drive themselves, although the driver must still keep their hands on the wheel.
Live traffic A service that transmits real-time traffic reports to your car’s radio and interrupts broadcasts with updates. 
Large family car A category of car capable of carrying four adults and more comfortably, plus their luggage.
Luxury car A category of car that is extremely comfortable and well equipped, often packed with all the latest in-car technologies.


Main dealer A car dealer affiliated to a specific car manufacturer and entitled to sell its new cars. 
MPG Miles per gallon: a measure of fuel consumption standard in the UK.
MPH Miles per hour - the measure of speed used in the UK.
MPV Multi-purpose vehicle: also known as a people carrier, this type of car typically has seven seats, though others have five, six or even eight. These are usually focused on comfort, practicality and versatility.


Naturally Aspirated: An engine that has no power-boosting turbocharger or supercharger. These generally offer less power at low engine speeds, but often build in power at higher engine speeds. 
Nearly new - A car that, typically, is no older than six months.
New (in stock) - An unsold car that is ready for delivery at a dealership. 


Pre-reg - A car registered by a car maker or dealer, but which has not been owned by any customer, making it effectively new. Often these are available with substantial discounts on the list price.
PHEV - Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle: a hybrid vehicle with an electric motor and a petrol or diesel engine where the battery can be charged by the engine or plugged into an external power source. 
Pillars - The parts of a car’s structure that connect the roof to the body. 
Paddle shift - Two levers, one mounted on each side of the steering wheel or column, that can be used to change the gears of an automatic gearbox 'manually'.
Power Steering - A system that uses an electric motor or hydraulic pump to reduce the effort required to turn the steering wheel.
PS Pferdestärke - horsepower - a measure of an engine's power.
Privacy Glass - Heavily tinted glass increasingly fitted to rear and rear side windows in new cars. Not used elsewhere since the law says that on cars registered after April 1985, a windscreen must let at least 75% of light through and the front side windows, 70%.


Quickclear windscreen - See Heated windscreen


Range The distance a car can travel on its remaining fuel (or energy in batteries). 
Road Tax Officially known as Vehicle Excise Duty, this is the tax the registered keeper of a vehicle is required to pay in order to use their car on the road.
Road tax band A car’s CO2 per kilometre (expressed as g/km) emissions-based road tax rating. As of 2016 there are 13 bands ranging from ‘up to’ 100g/km to over 255g/km. From April 2017 there have been 13 bands but the CO2 limits will range from 0g/km to over 256g/km, with different costs compared with the previous system.
RPM Revolutions per minute, or revs. The measure of an engine’s rotational speed, eg. how hard the engine is being worked.
RWD Rear-wheel drive: a car where power is sent solely to the rear wheels.
Rain-sensing wipers Windscreen wipers that operate automatically based upon a sensor in the windscreen that detects water droplets.


Saloon A car with four doors and a boot that is physically separated from the interior. Some saloons have folding rear seats for loading large or long items, but what differentiates these from hatchbacks, is that while the metal goes up when you open the boot, the rear windscreen remains in place. 
Sat-Nav The abbreviation for satellite navigation (see GPS)
SORN Statutory off-road notification: An official exemption from road tax possible while the car is not being used on public roads (see Road Tax).
Specialist dealer - An independent dealership that focuses on selling and servicing a particular make or type of car.
Stop-start A system that switches the engine off when the car stops - at traffic lights, for example. The engine automatically starts again when you want to move off.
SUV Sport utility vehicle: A category of car that has the high driving position and rugged looks of an off-roader, but may or may not have four-wheel drive or the ability to go far off road.
Supercharger A device that forces more air into a car's engine to boost its power and acceleration. 
Suspension The system of springs, shock absorbers and associated linkages that connects a car to its wheels and which is key to the quality of its ride comfort and grip.
Spacesaver A spare tyre for temporary use that is narrower and lighter than the car’s regular tyres, and doesn't require as much storage space when not in use. A spacesaver typically cannot be used above 50mph and is only for short journeys, as it's not as sturdy as a normal tyre. It’s softer, too, so wears faster with use. 
Supermini A Ford Fiesta-type car that often feels small and nippy but has enough space in the back for two adults - and often even three, at a squeeze, in larger new models. While second-hand superminis may be small and relatively basic, new models are stuffed with the same safety kit, sophisticated technology and powerful engines as much bigger cars.
Small family car Designed to take everything that family life can throw at it, small family cars are usually hatchbacks, with a boot big enough for a buggy and shopping, as well as sufficient space in the back for adults to sit comfortably.


TPMS This stands for tyre pressure monitoring system, a technology that detects pressure loss in the tyres and warns the driver. This helps to spot slow punctures before they become dangerous and alerts the driver if any of the tyres are low on air, which can potentially dramatically limit the car's braking ability and cornering grip.
TFT A type of flat screen known as thin film transistor, which is often used for media systems in car dashboards
Transmission - Used as another word for a gearbox.
Trim This can have two meanings. Trim levels (eg SE, Zetec, Sport) indicate the amount of standard equipment that a car has. A car’s trim can also refer to the material used inside.
Turbocharger / Turbo A device used to boost engine power, while also providing reasonable fuel economy. Most modern petrol and diesel cars use turbochargers to provide the best balance between speed and low fuel bills.


Valves Parts of an engine that control the amount of air and fuel that is mixed together and then ignited, as well as the release of exhaust gases.
VIN A unique number assigned to every vehicle on the road, so that these can be identified whether or not the number plate has been changed. This is an international system where parts of the car are stamped, with a plate often visible in one of the bottom corners of the windscreen to ensure traceability. Unlike a registration plate, the number can’t be changed. It helps to track and identify vehicles.


Xenon headlamps Xenon bulbs are brighter, with a whiter light than standard halogen headlamps.

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