25 Car Terms You Need To Know

April 10, 2022

Cars seem to have a language of their own, making them just about as confusing as a foreign language to those who have not been taught the proper slang. The average driver does not need to be a car expert to know the following terms, but they sure can enhance just about anyone’s coolness factor. They even come with a few fun moves to learn while approaching a corner or experimenting with downshifting. Just make sure no one else is around.


Some car slang just sounds better when spoken in a particular language. A “drophead” is the British word for a convertible. The term is commonly used by Rolls-Royce and is used to describe a sports car with four seats and two doors, a sloping rear, and a folding, soft cover top. An example of a popular drophead is the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe, which is a handmade British car that debuted in Detroit, Michigan at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in 2007.


No, a beltline does not refer to a person’s waistline and it is not used to hold up one’s pants. Beltline relates to the line along the side of a car just below all the glass windows. All cars have a beltline, regardless of their body style. Each beltline is unique to the type of vehicle. Some cars are designed with an emphasis on the beltline while others display the body panel right up the lower half of the windows, making it harder to locate.

A, B, And C Pillars

Each car has a set of pillars that are responsible for different things. The A-pillars are needed to hold either side of the windshield in place. If looking backward along the side of the car, B-pillars are located where the driver and passenger windows end. C-pillars are needed to hold up the side of the car’s back window. Pillars are designed to reduce the amount of blind spots a vehicle has so the driver can see around them. Some longer style cars also have a D pillar.


Lockup is what happens when a squirrel or a deer suddenly jumps in front of a vehicle and the driver slams on the brakes, causing the tires to skid. Lockup occurs when the front and rear of the vehicle experience different states of braking at the same time. A car may swerve off the road into oncoming traffic, or a driver may lose control for a short amount of time. Drivers usually regain control of their vehicle when they take the foot off the brake, and the vehicle has time to recover.

Torque Steer

Torque steer refers to a vehicle’s tendency to pull on one side while in drive. It is most common while a driver is accelerating and occurs due to an imbalance of force to the wheels. Torque steer is most common in cars with front wheel drive; however, it can occur when there is an unequal length between the drive shafts. Vehicles with all wheel drive rarely experience torque steer as there is an equal amount of power being distributed to all wheels.


Pound-foot, or pound-feet, refers to how torque is measured. It is often abbreviated as lb.-ft. The term is used in the Engineering and Gravitational Systems in the United States imperial and customary measurable units. While knowing a vehicle’s horsepower is important, a driver will also need to know what kind of torque numbers they are getting to fully understand the car’s power. A car has one lb.-ft when one pound of force is applied to a one foot level.

Brake Bias

Brake bias is how a car distributes its braking power from the front of the vehicle to the back, or the ratio between a car's braking force from the front wheels to the rear. While most people think that an even ratio of fifty to fifty is ideal, this is not always the case. There is no single right answer for all vehicles. Proper brake bias is established when the value of the front wheel balance matches the rear wheels during deceleration.


Knock is also referred to as detonation, knocking, spark knock, engine knocking, or "pinging and pinking." It occurs when the engine’s combustion has a leftover mixture of fuel and air that explodes randomly after the firing of a spark plug. It is caused when one or more pockets of the mixture explode outside of the normal combustion front’s envelope. This creates the characteristic “pinking” sound as the cylinder pressure significantly increases. Knocking can pose no threat to the vehicle at all or it can be utterly destructive.

Limited-Slip Differential

Limited-slip differential refers to a mechanical device that allows two output shafts to rotate at different speeds while limiting the maximum difference between the two. In car terms, limit-slip differentials can be used in place of other standard mechanical devices because they have some advantages. Limited-slip differential is what distributes torque between two different directions, which is needed on slippery surfaces. It ensures that no part of the car is every completely without at least some type of power.

Bedding-In Brake Pads

Bedding in brake pads refers to a friction material that is held onto the back metal plate of a brake with adhesive. These adhesives are designed to make the friction material less efficient with the installment of new brake pads. Bedding is needed to burn off the adhesive remnants, which improves the vehicle’s ability to brake better than before the brake pads were put on. Be sure to check the brake pads and bedding directions before installing.

On-Board Diagnostics (OBD)

On-board diagnostics, or OBD, is a term used to describe a vehicle’s ability self-diagnosis or report its capability. In other words, it tells the driver or mechanic when the car needs services. It also provides information about the vehicle’s overall health. Most modern cars have some sort of engine computer to “speak up” when things go wrong. Most programs speak in code, but some newer models are being created to communicate in words.

Naturally Aspirated Versus Super Or Turbocharged

People use the terms naturally aspirated or turbocharged to describe a vehicle’s engine. Naturally aspirated engines use a mix of air and fuel to create combustion. Supercharged engines use a compressor of some sort to squeeze more air into the engine. Turbochargers are a type of supercharger that forces more air into the engine by using an exhaust driven turbine. Most of the time, a supercharger refers to a mechanically-driver compressor. Using one on a smaller engine gives the vehicle more power and better performance.


Apex is a racing term used to describe the clipping point located on the inner side of a corner that a vehicle passes close to. In other words, it is the slowest speed in a corner or the point of minimum radius. Race car drivers use the apex to efficiency “corner” their car, or reduce the amount of braking they have to do so they can win a race or speed up in the fastest amount of time possible when coming out of the corner.

Blip The Throttle

Blipping the throttle is a phrase used to describe a rev technique in which the driver increases engine power to better match their road speed when downshifting. It is usually done to perform a smoother downshift of gears. Releasing the clutch too quickly can lead to the engine jerking. Most drivers do it before coming up to a stoplight to match their road speed with the engine speed, which can help save wear and tear on the engine. To blip the throttle, slowly ease out the clutch after applying the brakes.

Pushrod Or Pullrod Suspensions

Pushrod and pullrod suspensions are not something most people see on every day cars. Formula One race car drivers use these terms to describe an action that the suspension rods take against a car’s rocker panel. Pushrods describe the work of the rise of the wheel up toward the rocker and pullrod represents a lower placed rocker and a downward sloping rod. Pullrods are responsible for pulling the rocker up, which allows the car to be lower to the ground to make quicker transitions.


A camber is a term used to describe a vehicle’s front wheel back and forth tilt. When the wheels tilt inward, it is known as a negative camber, and when they tilt outward, it is a positive camber. Tire wear issues occur when the vehicle does not have a proper camber setting. Caster is an imaginary line through the center of a suspension that helps the car driver in a straight line. Toe is needed for a car’s tires to wear evenly. Toe, caster and camber settings must be correctly set to improve the vehicle’s handling.

Polar Moment Of Inertia

A car’s polar moment of inertia refers to how resistant a car is to turning. A car’s polar moment depends on the separate weight of a car’s components along with their distance from the vehicle’s center of gravity. It can be calculated by multiplying the weight of each element with the square of the distance from the center of gravity. Heavier cars have a polar moment of inertia that is further away from its center of gravity. Cars with a mid-engine will have a low polar moment, which helps it handle better on the street.

Drag Coefficient

Drag coefficient is a term used to describe how much air resistance a car experience while driving forward. Less air resistance means that a car has a lower drag coefficient number. The lower the number, the better fuel efficiency a car will have. A low drag coefficient number also means less money spent at the pump and less fumes being pumped into the environment. Some of the most aerodynamic cars include the Audi A6, Mazda 3 Sedan, Mercedes-Benz B-Class, and the Nissan GT-R.


Downforce refers to a car’s aerodynamic features that contribute to its downward thrust. Its purpose is to allow the car to travel faster in a corner by increasing the tire’s grip by increasing the vertical force. Downforce is what helps push a car downward, allowing it to travel more firmly on the road. It helps the car have better traction between the road surface and tire rubber by temporarily decreasing the weight of the vehicle. Professional race car drivers use downforce to combat any lift generated by the vehicle.

Slip Angle

A vehicle’s slip angle is otherwise known as slip side. It refers to the angle between a moving wheel’s direction of travel and the direction it is actually pointed in. In other words, slip angle is the difference between what direction the car is being steered in and which direction the tires are actually going. It often occurs when a vehicle’s tires lose control, such as on ice or a slippery surface. Learning how to control a car’s slip angle may help the driver avoid an accident.


Oversteer occurs when the rear tires of a vehicle lose control or traction before the front tires do when taking a corner or a sharp turn. Oversteer causes the back end of the car to slide out and the entire car will drive at a sideways angle. Just like slip angle, this can occurs on an icy surface. Learning how to control it is a great way to prevent an accident, especially in the colder weather. Drifters will purposely oversteer to take corners at a sideways angle.


Understeer is the opposite of oversteer. It occurs when the front tires lose control or traction before the back tires do when taking a corner. Understeer causes the back end of the car to grip the road while the front end loses control. It is easy to panic when a car does this, but it is important to keep calm because the vehicle will eventually regain control of the front wheel and jerking the wheel around will cause an accident.

Opposite Lock

Opposite lock is also known as counter-steering. It refers to when a driver deliberately over steers to turn their vehicle rapidly without slowing down or losing momentum. It is a term that many drifters or performance drivers use to travel around a corner quickly. Opposite lock means that the position of the steering wheel during the maneuver is turned in the opposite direction of the bend in the road. It is best done on surfaces where the friction between the tires and the road is not too high.

Double Clutching

Double clutching or double clutch downshifting is a technique that can be used to allow a driver to downshift in a way that prevents wear and tear on the gearbox synchros, which are needed to prevent over grinding of the gears. Double clutching makes the modern car drive smoother. To double clutch, follow these steps: clutch in and put the car in neutral, clutch out, blip throttle, clutch in again, downshift and then clutch out. A driver who has mastered this maneuver will not feel a thing when they shift because it will be a smooth process.

Heel And Toe

Heel and toe, or heel and toe downshift is used to downshift a manual transmission to make it go faster, reduce damage to the gearbox, and to become a safer driver. Heel and toe makes the car driver smoother and allows the car to accelerate quicker out of corners. It occurs when a driver downshifts while they slow down as they are entering a corner. To perform, brake with the right foot while keeping it close to the left side of the pedal. Roll the foot onto the heel over to the throttle while clutching in with the left foot and keeping part of the foot on the brake, blip throttle and downshift.