A 4WD (four-wheel drive) vehicle provides power directly to all four wheels and is usually designed for off-road driving. Some types of these vehicles allow you to choose a two-wheel-drive setting, while others are 4WD full time.
An AWD (all-wheel drive) is basically the same thing as a 4WD, except it doesn’t have the option of switching to a two-wheel drive option. All wheels, all the time.
The beltline is the horizontal line right below the side windows that spans the length of the car. Elements of the beltline (like the position) are important factors in the style of the car (for example, a low beltline may appear more elegant than a high one, which might give off an impression of aggressiveness.)
Blue Book Value
This is a reference to Kelley Blue Book, which is a company that collects the market values of different vehicles (both new and used). It’s especially helpful for figuring the estimated cost of a used vehicle when buying or selling, taking into account factors such as wear and tear, special features, and more.
Unlike unibody platform, this construction uses multiple frames for the car and is the ideal construction for pick-ups, heavy-duty SUVs, or other vehicles that need off-roading or towing ability.
The space between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat. This usually contains some storage space and perhaps cupholders.
The center of the dashboard, where the audio system and climate controls are usually located.
Consumer Reports Ratings
Consumer Reports has the largest automobile testing center in the world. They anonymously buy cars to perform extensive tests on everything from braking and acceleration to ride comfort and cargo space. They also send out surveys to ask consumers about the overall performance of their vehicles and check these answers against their own findings. Consumer Reports requires a minimum sample size of 100 vehicles, but most are much larger than that. Although you need to be a paying subscriber to get a full model report, you can get a free indication of a car’s performance based on a checklist system on their site. The first-tier models (performed average or above-average on tests and surveys) are marked with a red check and second-tier (performed well and also have very good crash protection) are marked with a check inside a circle.
Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
A type of automatic transmission with an infinite amount of gears so the car is always running at its smoothest.
Dual seatback video entertainment system
TVs located on the back of the driver and passenger seats.
The most commonly used type of credit score when it comes to car buying (named after the Fair Isaac Corporation). Applicants with higher FICO scores may be offered better interest rates on car loans.
Crosshatching found in the front of the car, usually for the purpose of letting air or water in.
Though this term is often used interchangeably with “headlights,” this is the technical term for the actual lamps at the front of the car, while headlights refer to the beams of light that shine from the head lamps onto the road.
The ceiling of the inside of a car; it’s usually carpeted.
Originally a term used to compare how fast a car can go to how fast a horse can gallop, it’s now used to measure (in watts) how powerful an engine is.
This is an acronym for the system that controls heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.
These ratings come from the Insurance institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the country’s roads as safe as possible. It carries out research and conducts front-crash, side-impact, and rear-crash tests to determine the integrity of the structure of various vehicles as well as car seats for children. The vehicles are then rated on a 5-star scale – 1 star being the worst and 5 the best.
The IIHS is a non-profit organization funded by the main insurance associations. Part of its objective is to independently crash-test vehicles using more stringent protocols and under more real-world accident scenarios to give consumers another measure of a vehicle’s safety other than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 5-star crash test rating system. To be a IIHS Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must be rated “Good” performance in front, side, rollover, and rear crash tests, and be equipped with standard electronic stability control. For more information on the vehicle crash test ratings, visit the IIHS Web site.
Refers to the number of liters of air an engine displaces. The higher the number of liters, the more powerful the engine.
Anchors in the vehicle seats that hold the car seat in place without the use of the vehicle’s seat belts.
These connect to the latch anchors for safe and secure car seat installation.
The door or window at the rear of a vehicle that provides access to the trunk. Also called the tailgate (British term).
MPG stands for miles per gallon – or, simply, how far your car can go on a certain amount of fuel. MPG rates are higher while driving on the highway rather than the city because the stop-and-go motion of driving through a city or town will use up more fuel. Often a car’s MPG is presented for both MPG/highway and MPG/city.
Paddle shifters are a form of semi-automatic transmission (a way to manually shift transmission instead of simply putting your car into “drive”). Wheel-mounted paddle shifters are little levers attached to your steering wheel, while column-mounted paddle shifters are attached to the steering column (the shaft that connects your steering wheel to the parts of the car that move the wheels). They are more often found in high-performance cars.
This feature allows you to access the trunk of your vehicle through a compartment in the rear seat that can open and close.
The powertrain refers to the system that provides power to the car and makes the car move – after power is made by the engine, it’s transferred to the driveshaft through the transmission, which turns the gears, the axles, and, finally, the wheels. When buying a car, you may have the option to purchase a powertrain warranty, which covers all or part of the car’s powertrain.
This is a tire that can run even when there is no air in it (usually for only up to 50-55 mph). These are also sometimes called “zero-pressure tires.”
A super console is exactly what you’d expect it to be: a regular console with an upgrade. Super consoles are often bigger, shinier, and have more compartments (great news for parents!) than your average center console. They’re more likely to be found in larger vehicles, such as minivans, SUVs, or trucks.
Red lights located in the back of the car. They keep cars behind you from running into you at night or during other poor-visibility situations.
A trim level refers to the added features that a car comes with, including air conditioning, satellite radio, automatic windows, GPS, etc. The higher the trim level, the more features you get.
The size of the smallest circle (or U-Turn) that the car is capable of making.
Most modern vehicles have this construction, where all the parts (floor, roof, panels etc.) are welded together into one unit instead of having different frames. Unless you’re buying a truck, motorhome, or off-roading vehicle, a unibody platform is typically considered ideal for its cheaper and lighter build.
A V6 is a type of engine made up of 6 cylinders in a V shape. A V6 engine is more powerful but less fuel-efficient than a 4-cylinder engine.
Short for vehicle identification number, this is a unique serial number used to identify individual vehicles. It’s often a good idea to check vehicle history reports on a used car’s VIN before purchasing.
The distance between the center of the front wheels of a vehicle and the center of the back wheels. Although longer wheelbases tend to create a slightly smoother ride, they make it a little more difficult to swerve sharply.