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Car Speak 101: We break it down


Car Speak 101: We break it down

The automotive sphere has no shortage of mystifying terms, jargons, and abbreviations; so much so, it can seem a bit overwhelming to some, and downright alien to others. However, once you know the basics, it’s not that mind-boggling since these terms apply to pretty much every car.

Hence, we thought we would shortlist a bunch of terms to get pretty much anyone up to speed – from the novice enthusiast right up to that person that knows a car has four wheels and that spinning buzzing thingy up front that makes it go vroom…

Here all you need to know to start sounding like you know your way around a car.


How we measure a car. It’s normally measured in mm (millimetres)

  • Length (A): From the front to the back of the car.
  • Width (B): How wide a car is.
  • Height (C): How tall a car is.
  • Wheelbase (D): The distance between the centres of the front and rear wheels.
  • Track (E): The distance between the centreline of the front or rear axle. One can be wider than the other.
  • Overhang (F): What’s left of the body (front and rear), after the wheel's centrepoint.


How we classify a car, mostly based on its size. This can get pretty confusing when you take into account premium European cars, but for this, we’ll just focus on popular local, Korean, and Japanese cars – which pretty much covers 60 percent of the market.

A-Segment – Small city cars.

B-Segment – Slightly bigger cars and SUVs.

C-Segment – Even bigger cars and SUVs.

D-Segment – Pretty much the largest mainstream local and Japanese cars.


Basically, the guts of the car. In the picture below we can see the “platform” made up of the structural frame, drivetrain, safety, electrical, and suspension systems.

Now imagine putting an SUV body on top of that, voila, an SUV, put another type of body – say a hatchback, and it becomes an entirely different car. This is called platform sharing. It helps lower the costs of developing new models and means that carmakers can introduce new models much faster.

The Volvo CMA platform featured above underpins the Volvo XC40 and will soon feature on the upcoming hatchback/coupe SUV V40. Two different models, same platform.


Refers to how the power is delivered to the wheels. The powertrain includes the engine, transmission, and drive axles.

  • Four main ways of sending power to the wheels:
  • Rear-wheel drive: Using the two rear wheels.
  • Front-wheel drive: you guessed it.
  • All-Wheel Drive: All four wheels.
  • 4-Wheel Drive: Like AWD but the driver has a greater degree of manual control over where and how the power is delivered.

Types of powertrain

ICE: Stands for Internal Combustion Engine – what we’ve been used to for over a century. Uses either petrol or diesel fuel.

Hybrid: One engine (mostly petrol-powered), but aided by one or more electric motors to drive the car.

Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV): Same as the above but PHEVs have larger batteries, which can be “plugged-in” to be charged. Therefore, they can cover a certain distance on battery power alone. Referred to as electric range.

Nissan Leaf BEV

BEV: Stands for Battery Electric Vehicle – no engine, just a huge battery and a motor(s) to drive the car. Zero fuel bills but the vehicle needs to be plugged in to be recharged.

Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV): Uses other forms of fuel to power the car; hydrogen fuel cell, biofuel, compressed air, or solar. Hydrogen is the most promising but extremely expensive.

How “powerful" is a car?

Horsepower and torque are commonly used to describe how powerful a car is. More is almost always better.

For example:

  • Horsepower (hp): 2020 Perodua Myvi 1.5L - 102 hp, 2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo: 710 hp
  • Torque (Nm): 2020 Perodua Myvi 1.5L – 136 Nm, 2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo: 770 Nm


Modern safety systems consist of a variety of smaller systems that all play a part in mitigating a collision or reducing the amount of damage once a collision has taken place.

Prevention is better than cure: Active Safety Systems

ABS: Anti-lock Braking Systems – prevents tyres from locking up and skidding on the road. If tyres don’t skid you can retain some form of steering to try and evade the obstacle.

EBD: Electronic Brakeforce Distribution – automatically varies the amount of braking force applied to each of a vehicle's wheels, depending on road conditions and vehicle speed.

TCS: Traction-Control System – modulates the braking action of all four wheels to keep the car pointing the where you want it, and not sideways into a tree.

FCW: Forward Collision Warning – the car sees something you could hit, and knows you’re not reacting vigilantly enough, so it screams at you.

AEB: Autonomous Emergency Braking – You have failed to brake in time, so the car does it for you. Only works at a certain speed ranges. Check your car manual if equipped.

LDW: Lane Departure Warning – sometimes call Lane Keep Assist (LKA); it tells you when you wandering of your lane.

LDW with Steering Assist: Now that you’ve wandered out of the lane, steering assist will automatically try and steer the car back into the lane. This is a driver aid, it does not mean the car can drive by itself, and will know if you take your hands of the wheel for too long.

ACC: Active/Adaptive Cruise Control – Cruise control ensures the car travels at a preset speed for long periods. However, the moment you step on the brake, the cruise control system shuts down. ACC, on the other hand, can slow your car if the car ahead is slowing down and speeds up again when safe. Some ACC systems work all the way down to 0 km/h.

RCTA: Rear Cross-Traffic Alert: Imagine reversing out of a parking lot, while boxed inbetween two tall SUVs at either side. You wouldn’t know if another car is going to passing behind your car, RCTA will warn you.

Blind-Spot Warning System: The system detects vehicles that are nearby or almost parallel to your rear doors. You won’t see them in your side view mirrors because chances are they’re in your blind spot.

AHB: Active High Beam – The car automatically turns off the high beam if it spots another car on the road, to not blind other drivers at night.

A collision has taken place: Passive Safety Systems

Reinforced body sections and crumple zones: Reinforced sections and crumple zones of the car’s body are designed to “crumple” to absorb and dissipate the impact of the crash. The car sacrifices itself to save the occupants. Reinforced zoned are not just at the front, rather an entire network of reinforcements all around the car.

Seatbelt Pre-Tensioner: Pre-tensioners automatically tighten the belt across the body to reduce the seat occupant's movement in a collision.

Airbags: These are not fluffy balloons. Airbags deploy at you at between speeds of 160 km/h and 350 km/h depending on vehicle and severity of the crash. The video above shows how much better passive safety in a car has improved over the past two decades.

On the inside

Interior features vary depending on the vehicle, but here are the important bits:

Meter cluster: Relays all important information regarding your driving, like speed, engine RPM, driving range and fuel levels. More advanced cars relay more information such as your tyre pressure and GPS navigation. It will also tell you if something is wrong with the car via Warning Lights.

Infotainment System: Controls all your in-car entertainment functions. In most cars, it additionally offers GPS Navigation, reverse camera function and trip information.

Climate control: Your car’s air-conditioning controls. Just set the temperature and relax.

Start/Stop Button: Starts and shuts off the car.

Now go impress your friends or that potential hot date with your car knowledge prowess, be sure to let us know how it went! 

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