Vehicle / Car Technical Terms Explained

With new and improved technology, vehicle manufacturers strive to make their cars safer, more economical and ultimately more attractive to potential purchasers.

Some of these technical advances can be rather confusing as to what they actually do and what benefits they provide. Listed below are some of the vehicle technical terms used by many car manufacturers, some of which are detailed on this website. Including car technical terms, certain car components are covered.

Why Do I need to Know about Vehicle Technical Terms

Advances in vehicle technology are often relevant to safety and fuel economy. Having a basic understanding on some of these technical terms may aid in purchasing your ideal car. Occasionally, you may see a dashboard warning light illuminated. This may be relative to a specific feature on your vehicle that could be detailed here. Covered also are certain road and driving terms used.


The 2 second rule is a term often used by driving instructors to enable a learner driver to establish a safe following distance between themselves and the vehicle in front.

The A-pillars provide support for the roof of a vehicle and are located either side of the windscreen. A-pillars vary in size and can cause blind spots, that are particularly hazardous for cyclists and motorcyclists at junctions.

Adaptive front lighting essentially allows a vehicles front headlights to turn independently of each other. This allows for a significant improvement for illumination around bends.

ABS or Anti-lock Braking Systems prevent the vehicle wheels from locking up during heavy braking. By preventing the wheels from locking, a skid which could otherwise render the vehicle out-of-control is prevented.


To aquaplane or ‘hydroplane’ as it is also referred to, is where your vehicle loses traction with the road surface due to the vehicle tyres and road surface having a layer of water between the two.

Bar is a term used for pressure and is used for pumping air into your vehicle tyres. Atmospheric air pressure is often given in millibars – hence the term ‘bar’.

This term refers to the biting point of a clutch in a manual transmission car. In simple terms, the clutch allows a ‘break’ in the link between the engine, transmission and wheels to allow for a gear change.

Black box car insurance, also known as telematics insurance requires that the insurer fit a GPS box to the vehicle in order to track the vehicle location, speed, brake force and corner force. This information is relayed back to the insurer.

Block gear changing involves the driver of a manual vehicle changing gear out of sequential order. For example, a driver will change from 5th gear directly down into 1st gear rather than changing through the gears.

A box junction is a road junction where a yellow box with criss-cross lines is inserted in the centre of the junction. This indicates that it’s illegal for drivers to enter this box unless their exit is clear.

A car alternator is an integral component of the engine which produces electricity. The electricity produced by the alternator charges the car battery and powers the many vehicle utilities.

A blind spot in a car is an area that cannot be seen in any mirrors and requires the driver to physically move to check that the area is clear of other vehicle.

All cars have a clutch, though a car with manual transmission requires the driver to physically engage and disengage the clutch via a pedal in order to change gears.

Car detailing involves two categories; the professional cleaning and restoration of exterior paintwork and external vehicle components to their original state, or if possible, a condition that exceeds this, and the internal cleaning and restoration of the various surfaces inside the vehicle, including carpets and other materials.


A catalytic converter is a canister fitted to a vehicle exhaust system. A catalytic converter uses catalyst substances to convert harmful gases produced by the engine burning petrol or diesel, into less harmful gases before being emitted into the air.

The cockpit drill is a system initially taught by driving instructors for learner drivers involving a process to undertake before driving a car. Typically this involves checking the seating position, mirrors, steering and other vehicle adjustments.

Engine braking is what occurs when a driver removes their foot from the accelerator to allow the vehicle to slow down due to the compression and friction from moving parts of the engine slowing the vehicle.

Engine coolant, otherwise known as antifreeze is usually based on glycol and circulates around the engine to not only prevent the engine from freezing, but also raises the boiling temperature to help in preventing the engine from overheating.

Insurance excess is that amount the the policy holder agrees to pay out in the event of a claim.

Nearside and offside is a term used to describe either the left or right side of a vehicle.

If the low oil pressure dashboard warning light comes on, immediate action is required to prevent potential engine damage.

As with Bar (above), PSI is another term used to gauge air pressure, typically when pressurising tyres. PSI stands for ‘pounds per square inch’.

  • Transmission

Transmission refers to a cars gearing system. There are two main types of car transmission; manual and automatic. See differences between manual and automatic for further information.

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