Not a gearhead? Join the club. For most people, cars aren’t all that different from home appliances. While they’re hard to live without, we just don’t have the time or bandwidth to get up close and personal with our rides. As long as they run, we’re happy.
But there’s a strong case to be made that drivers should at least be moderately well informed, especially when they’re in the market for new vehicles.
“An informed buyer is a happy buyer,” says Harry Kasparian, CMO of Miami-based auto marketplace HGreg.com. “We go out of our way to ensure that our customers have as much information as possible before choosing the car that’s best for them.”
Given the auto market’s relentless pace of change, buyers who’ve been out of the game for even a few years may have a lot of catching up to do. Take five minutes to refresh your memory (or learn something new) with these eight common — and commonly misunderstood — automotive terms.
1. Miles Per Gallon
Let’s start with an easy one. A car’s miles per gallon rating, or MPG, signifies how many miles it travels on a single gallon of gas. As the signature measure of fuel efficiency, it’s important to keep straight.
Horsepower has little to do with real horses. It’s simply a convenient measure of power, or the rate at which work is done. Horsepower varies by measurement system; in the U.S., a single unit of horsepower (1 Hp) is equivalent to 745.7 watts.
In layman’s terms, not your daddy’s hybrid. PHEV stands for “plug-in electric hybrid vehicle,” signifying a hybrid-electric vehicle that plugs into an external power source (e.g., a charging station) to replenish its battery.
4. Traction Control
Traction control (TC) systems ensure a modicum of stability and maneuverability on slick or unstable roads. It’s not singlehandedly going to plow you out of a ditch, but it can keep you out of the ditch in the first place.
5. Anti-lock Brakes
Before anti-lock brakes, overzealous braking caused countless accidents — many serious, far too many fatal. Like traction control, anti-lock braking systems aren’t foolproof, but they can stop uncontrolled spins or slides during hard braking.
6. All Wheel Drive
Instead of powering a single set of wheels, all wheel drive systems alternate power between the front and back of the vehicle, depending on which side is more stable. It’s a lifesaver in snowy, icy, or muddy conditions.
Torque is a cool-sounding word with a complicated backstory. In layman’s terms, it’s a measure of rotational force. Mathematically, there’s more to the tale, but unless you’re an engineer, all you really need to know is that more torque means faster pickup. Which is great if you like your cars peppy.
“Sticker price,” or thereabouts. MSRP stands for “manufacturer’s suggested retail price” — the price at which car dealers are supposed to price new vehicles. Of course, dealers are free to take or leave the suggestion, and buyers are free to negotiate or not negotiate as they see fit.
What’s your favorite little-known automotive term?