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Motoring jargon explained

  • The ultimate guide to the most confusing car-related terminology
  • Unsure of the difference between AWD and 4WD? Read on...
  • Think we've missed something? Scroll to the bottom to contact us

Written by James Dennison Published: 21 February 2020 Updated: 21 February 2020

The car world can be a confusing place to navigate. Acronyms such as ESP, SUV and ACC litter car brochure pages despite many people not knowing exactly what they stand for.

Help is at hand though – as we’ve created the Parkers car glossary designed specifically to guide you through the brochures, price lists and sales patter that every motorist will encounter. We’ve written in-depth articles on all of the terms too, so why not click the blue headings to go into more detail.



























ABS (anti-lock braking system)

ABS allows the vehicle to maintain steering control when braking in slippery conditions by preventing the wheels from locking up. 

ACC (adaptive cruise control)

Adaptive cruise control (or radar guided cruise control) automatically adjusts the speed of the vehicle in order to maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front. The driver can pre-set their vehicle’s maximum speed and minimum distance to the car in front. 

Active lane-keeping technology

Active lane-keeping technology is designed to assist the driver by automatically guiding the vehicle within its lane on a motorway or dual-carriageway. Also referred to as Lane Assist (Volkswagen) and Active Lane Keeping Assist (Mercedes-Benz).

Adaptive headlights

Adaptive (or cornering) lights work to optimise your headlight beam for the road ahead – without dazzling drivers. There are several approaches, from active lighting to LED matrix headlights. 

Adaptive suspension

Adaptive suspension allows the driver to quickly switch between a soft, comfy ride or a firmer, sporty set-up depending on their mood.


A solution added to diesel cars in order to reduce the amount of harmful gases coming out of the exhaust. 

Android Auto

Android Auto allows drivers with Android smartphones to connect to the car’s infotainment system by mirroring their phone and its functions on the move.

Apple CarPlay

A system that displays functions from your iPhone on your car’s sat-nav screen. Apps such as phone, music, messages and maps can be accessed and controlled with your device safely stowed away.


APR – Annual Percentage Rate of charge – lets you compare interest and other charges across loans.

Audi Quattro all-wheel drive

Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system is designed to generate optimum grip levels by distributing the majority of engine power to whichever axle has the most traction.

Automatic gearbox

An automatic gearbox is a type of transmission that can change gear ratios without any input from the driver.

Automatic parking 

Park assist allows the vehicle to steer itself into a parking space using a number of cameras and sensors. 

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)

AEB is a safety system that detects a potential crash ahead and prepares the car by either audibly warning the driver or taking evasive action itself by applying the brakes.


Better known as a headphone socket, this 3.5mm plug is found on myriad devices, including many cars. These started appearing in the 1990s and are now starting to disappear thanks to the wide use of USB.

AWD (all-wheel drive)

AWD is a system that can automatically send power to all four of the vehicle’s wheels in challenging driving conditions. Similar to 4WD.  

Benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax

Benefit-in-kind is a tax levied on employees who receive perks (such as a company car) in addition to their salary as part of their remuneration package.

Black box telematics

A device fitted to your car which allows your insurance provider or fleet manager to collect and analyse data on how you drive in order to assess risk.

Blindspot monitor

Blindspot assist warns the driver if another vehicle is positioned in their blindspot, usually by a visual or audible alert. Active blindspot assist, will, in certain circumstances, enable the car to take evasive action in the event of danger. 


By far the most common way to connect your mobile phone to your car’s multimedia system, Bluetooth is fitted to almost all new vehicles these days.

BMW Connected and Connected+

The latest infotainment systems on all BMW cars explained: how they now use Skype, sync with your email and more

Car warranty

A car warranty is a type of insurance policy that protects the buyer from all or some of the costs incurred from a specified range of malfunctions with their vehicle.

City car

A city car is a compact, efficient vehicle, smaller than any other class of car. Examples include the Fiat 500, Volkswagen Up and Toyota Aygo

Climate control

Climate control automatically maintains a desired temperature within the car’s cabin by continuously adjusting the air-con and heater settings. 

CO2 emissions

Carbon dioxide is the gas emitted from the exhaust of a car as a result of an engine burning fuel.

Congestion Charge

The London Congestion Charge is a daily fee of £11.50 for driving a vehicle within the Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ) during the hours of 7am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

See also: Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, or ULEZ.


A crossover is a relatively large car often based on the platform of a hatchback. Larger than said family hatchback but smaller than an SUV, the crossover is usually capable of carrying five adults while being modestly capable off-road. Examples include the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga and Kia Sportage.

Cross-traffic alert

Cross-traffic alert uses sensors to monitor and alert drivers to any passing traffic in their blindspot when emerging out of a parking space.

Cruise control

Cruise control is a clever system that allows you to programme in a set speed, for example 70mph, for the car to maintain without any input needed from the driver. 

CVT (continuously variable transmission)

A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a simple alternative to an automatic gearbox. 

DAB (digital audio broadcasting)

DAB is a form of radio broadcasting whereby analogue audio is translated into a digital signal. Typically gives better quality sound than FM/AM and is not region dependent.  


Dash-cams record video footage of the road ahead while you’re driving, and are commonly fitted to give the driver peace of mind in the event of an incident, and to protect you against false claims.

Daytime running lights

Daytime running lights (or DRLs) automatically switch on with the vehicle’s engine and are designed to operate during daytime hours. 


A deposit is the upfront payment put down by a customer at the start of a car finance scheme.

Deposit contribution

Deposit contributions act like a discount on finance schemes, cutting the amount you pay.

Drive mode

Drive modes alter the vehicle’s handling characteristics by changing various settings around the car.

Driverless cars

Driverless cars are vehicles that are capable of driving for you. They might also be referred to as autonomous, depending on where you’re reading about them.

(DSG) direct shift gearbox

DSG is a form of automatic gearbox developed by the Volkswagen Group. Uses two clutches to change gears extremely quickly and often equipped with steering wheel paddles.

(DTE) distance to empty

DTE is the most common term for remaining range on a trip computer. Rather than needing to guess how far you’ll get on your remaining fuel, most modern cars will display the remaining range – whether diesel, petrol, electric or ‘other’ – in miles or kilometres..

Electric vehicle (EV)

An electric vehicle is one that’s powered exclusively by a battery-fed electric motor rather than it supplementing an internal combustion engine

Electronic parking brake

The electronic parking brake – or electronic handbrake – is operated via a switch in the cabin and works to hold the vehicle in place when stationary. It can also be automatically disengaged.

Engine sizes

What does the jargon surrounding engine size, power and torque mean? Why are modern, smaller capacity engines are so powerful? 

ESC (electronic stability control)

ESC is an electronic stability aid which automatically controls engine power and individually applies braking to a vehicle’s wheels if a loss of traction is detected. Very similar to dynamic stability control and electronic stability program.


The European New Car Assessment Programme is a series of tests carried out on almost all mainstream new cars to evaluate their safety and driver assistance features.  

Euro 6

Euro 6 is a vehicle emissions standard dictating that all new cars sold in Europe must meet. It became mandatory in September 2015. 

4WD (four-wheel drive)

4WD is a system that enables the vehicle’s power to be sent to all four wheels (permanently or part-time), increasing traction in challenging driving conditions. Similar to AWD. 

Ford Ecoboost system

Ford’s branding for its economy-tuned petrol engines – available in a variety of engine capacities and power outputs.

FSH (full service history)

A vehicle advertised with a FSH has a complete collection of repair and maintenance documents, with every service carried out as per the manufacturer’s requirements. 

Head-up display (HUD)

Designed to reduce the driver’s need to take their eyes off the road, a head-up display (HUD) is a driver aid which works by projecting vehicle information (such as speed and sat-nav instructions) onto the windscreen, just below the driver’s natural line of sight.

High-beam assist

High beam assist recognises oncoming vehicles at night, switching headlights between main and dipped beam automatically. 

Hill Descent Control

Hill Descent Control – or HDC – is a function that allows a set speed to be maintained when driving off the beaten track.

Hill-start assist

Hill-start assist is a system which removes the potential peril of rolling back into the vehicle behind when driving away from a standstill on an incline.

Hire Purchase

Hire Purchase splits the cost of a car into a deposit and monthly payments; pay these and the car is yours.

HP (horsepower)

HP (horsepower) is a unit used to measure a vehicle’s power output. Horsepower is the German translation of pferdestarke (PS) and is therefore the same unit. Not to be confused with brake horse power (bhp), which, although also used to measure a vehicle’s power output, is a slightly different unit.


Hybrids combine the power of a combustion engine with that from one or more electric motors in order to improve efficiency and performance. 

Hydrogen fuel cell car

A hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is one that uses compressed hydrogen to generate electricity, which is then used to power the car.


Infotainment is in-car digital screens and multimedia systems that deliver information (sat-nav, weather) and entertainment (radio, streaming services, music). 

Insurance write-off

A car insurance write-off refers to a vehicle that has sustained damage and is either deemed unsafe or uneconomical to repair.


Isofix allows a child’s car seat to be attached directly to the chassis of the vehicle, rather than securing it with a seatbelt. 

Keyless entry

Keyless entry automatically unlocks the car when the driver (or keyholder) attempts to open one of the doors.

Keyless ignition

Keyless ignition allows you to start your car without physically turning a key. The car detects the key inside the cabin and you push a button to start the engine. 

Lane-departure warning

Lane-departure warning is a safety system which alerts the driver if it detects the vehicle unintentionally straying out of lane. 

LED headlamps

LED headlamps are constructed using many small Light Emitting Diodes that consume a minimal amount of power and collectively produce a bright beam.

Limited-slip differential (LSD)

A limited slip differential allows greater cornering speed by using the vehicle’s power more efficiently. 


MirrorLink is a system that allows elements of your smartphone functionality to be broadcast and controlled via your infotainment screen. Can control apps such as phone, music, messages and maps. 

Monthly payments

Finance schemes typically split a car’s list price into a series of monthly payments, making them more affordable.

MoT test

A compulsory annual test carried out on most motorised vehicles in order to determine their roadworthiness. 

MPG (miles per gallon)

MPG is a measure of how efficient a vehicle is, calculated by the number of miles it can do on a single gallon of fuel.

MPP (miles per pound)

A way of measing how far a car will go on a pound’s worth of fuel using official fuel data. This can be used for electric cars, petrols or diesels, and thefore makes a great way of comparing the relative cost effectiveness.

MPV (multi-purpose vehicle)

An MPV is a type of car generally favoured by families due to a more practical interior than a regular hatchback’s, often coming in five- and seven-seat forms. They are falling out of favour as buyers increasingly turn to SUVs.

Naturally aspirated engine

Naturally aspirated engines are those that do without turbochargers or superchargers, which means they breathe air at atmospheric pressure instead of using ‘forced induction’ to increase performance.

Optional final payment

This is the amount you pay at the end of a PCP finance scheme if you want to buy the car outright.

Oustanding finance

Outstanding finance refers to the amount of money which is still owed on a vehicle – the current registered keeper remaining liable for it until the balance is cleared. 

Parking sensors

Parking sensors are located on the bumpers of a car and assist the driver in parking next to or against other vehicles or objects by sounding an audible beep inside the car. 

PCH (Personal Contract Hire)

PCH (Personal Contract Hire) is a form of car finance whereby the vehicle is effectively hired from the finance company for a set period of time. 

PCP (Personal Contract Purchase)

PCP (Personal Contract Purchase) is a form of car finance whereby the cost of a new car is spread across a deposit, monthly payments and an optional final payment.

Platform sharing

Platform sharing occurs when manufacturers base a number of different models on the same framework.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a vehicle that plugs into the mains and uses electricity as a power source, usually alongside a conventional engine.

Residual values

Residual values reflect how much a car is worth after several years – high residuals values mean the car is worth more used, low residual values mean the car is worth less used. 

Run-flat tyre

Run-flat tyres are designed to continue working for a short while even after suffering a puncture –  in theory allowing the driver to make it to their destination or the nearest garage. 


Sat-nav uses a combination of satellities and mapping software to determine the car’s position and plan the most effective route to a chosen destination.


A car service is a maintenance check-up for your vehicle to keep it in tip-top condition.

Service history

A service history is a record of what repair or maintenance work has been carried out on a vehicle and when. 

Service plan

A service plan deal allows you to prepay for a set number of services when you buy the car. 

Smart motorway

Smart motorways (also known as actively managed motorways) vary the speed limit and amount of lanes open according to prevailing traffic levels and incidents. 

Snow chains

Snow chains are a mesh of metal chains fitted around a car’s tyres to provide extra grip in snowy road conditions.


Stop-start saves fuel by temporarily shutting down when in stationary traffic and quickly starting up again when the driver wishes to move off. 


A supermini is a relatively small, cheap, car. Larger than a city car but smaller than a family hatchback. Examples include the Ford FiestaRenault Clio and Peugeot 208.

SUV (sports utility vehicle) 

An SUV is a large, often four-wheel drive vehicle, capable of carrying plenty of people and their luggage. Examples include the Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and BMW X5


The T-Charge is an emissions tax on older vehicles entering the central London Congestion Charge Zone. It came into effect on 23 October 2017.

The UK driving test

In December 2017, the UK driving test was updated to include direction by sat-nav and a simplified set of parking manoeuvres. See how it works when we took the test.


Torque is a measure of twisting force, usually expressed in (lb ft) pound feet or newton metres (Nm), effectively telling you how much pulling power an engine generates.

Total amount payable

Total amount payable is the overall amount paid to purchase a car through a finance scheme – excluding discounts.

Traffic sign recognition

Traffic sign recognition automatically reads upcoming road signs and displays them on the vehicle’s dashboard.


A turbo uses recirculated exhaust gases from the vehicle’s engine in order to generate extra power and improve efficiency.

Tyre sizes

Tyre sizes concern the width and height of the rubber your car wears, as well as the maximum speed you’re allowed to travel in them. 

USB connectivity

A USB connection allows you to plug your phone or other media device to your car’s infotainment system.

Virtual Cockpit

A 12.3-inch screen fitted into some Audi cars that replaces the analogue dials with digital ones, plus can display sat-nav or media info.

Voice control

Voice control allows the driver to operate a car’s functions through speaking instructions instead of using the physical buttons on the dashboard.


A car warranty is a type of insurance policy that protects the buyer from all or some of the costs incurred from a specified range of malfunctions with their vehicle.

Winter tyres

Winter tyres are optimised to provide greater grip and traction in cold and wet conditions. 

Wireless charging

Wireless charging allows an electrical device to be charged without the need for a cable.

Xenon headlights

Xenon headlights (otherwise known as High Intensity Discharge or HIDs) are brighter than standard halogen bulbs, and feature a clearer, whiter beam.


The yardstick for measuring how quickly a car accelerates, 0-62mph is a timed run from which the vehicle goes from a standstill to 62mph (100km/h).

Have we missed something? Head over to our Facebook or Twitter page and send us a message letting us know what other terms you’d like to see in the Parkers car glossary. Alternatively, email us at