Understanding The Most Basic Car Specifications

The history of cars go a long way back and different terminologies followed its wake. In fact, as long as companies produce new car innovations, these terms and acronyms related to the vehicle will also continue to grow. If you’re only beginning to understand cars, then it’s better if you study these terms first. After all, it is not good for your image if your pretend to know something you don’t. Join in the next conversation about cars without wondering what they’re talking about.

Here are the most common car-related terminologies that every person should know:

1. Safety ratings

safety rating

Photo source: http://www.autoevolution.com/news/porsche-macan-gets-5-star-safety-rating-from-euro-ncap-video-89592.html

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a non-profit organization that’s funded by auto insurance companies, can issue a safety rating. This rating will determine an automobile’s crashworthiness and crash avoidance and mitigation.

Crashworthiness means that the vehicle can protect its occupants during a car crash. Rating for crashworthiness ranges from being poor, marginal, acceptable, or good. This depends on the car’s performance during a 5-step test: head restraints, roof strength, side strength, small overlap front, and moderate overlap front. On the other hand, crash avoidance and mitigation refer to the technology that is used to prevent or lessen a crash’s severity. It is rated by basic to superior based on the vehicle’s performance on track tests.

Aside from IIHS, there’s also the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which is a government body that performs the same work as the former.


Manufacturer’s suggested retail price or MSRP is the price a car dealer likes you to pay for the car you want to purchase. This can also be called the retail price. However, since it’s only a suggested price, the dealer has the freedom to raise or lower the figure. The adjustment will mainly depend on his own judgment. For example, if the demand for the car is high, then the dealer will most probably raise the price. But if the demand is low, then he can lower the price so that someone will buy it. Therefore, before you buy a car, be sure to search for its MSRP first.

3. Engine

A car engine may look like a jumble of metal works, however, each part of it has a function. Generally, it is considered as the heart of a car. It produces force that makes the vehicle go into motion. An engine can diesel, petrol, electric or hybrid. The type of engine your car has will determine what energy source you will feed it.

An engine is surrounded by “cooking pots” which are called cylinders. Cylinders are made of strong metal that is sealed shut. They have plungers or tight-fitting pistons that slide up and down inside. At the top of a cylinder are two valves and a sparkling plug. One valve allows air and fuel to enter the cylinder while the other removes exhaust gas. The sparkling plug is used to set fire to the fuel. Below the cylinder is the piston called crankshaft. This powers the car’s gearbox.

4. Horsepower

The power produced by the engine is called horsepower. In simple word, 1 horsepower is the power you would need to lift up a thing that is 550 pounds heavy at one foot per one second. You can measure an engine’s horsepower by dynamometer. A dynamometer uses a load (usually a car brake that stops wheels from spinning) which is placed on the engine. It measures the twisting force of the engine’s crankshaft.

5. Torque

When we say torque, it usually refers to the power generated without moving the object. Its basic concept is the longer you don’t move, the greater power it will release later on. Sometimes, when a car encounters a problem, it’s blamed on the horsepower, when it just might be about torque, too.

6. MPG

MPG or miles per gallon is the measurement of how much fuel the can car consume. Each of the car’s mileage varies. It is estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency and is measured through several tests. If you don’t want to be always filling up your car, it’s better if you find one with 40 mpg. Since innovations are creating more and more fuel-efficient cars, it’s easy to find them. However, when you see an MPG rating sticker on the vehicle, then it most likely has high MPG rating, which is something you would like to be aware of. So do your research before buying a car.

7. 0-60

0-60 is the term used to refer to the length of time a car needs to accelerated up to 60 miles an hour from being standstill. A car’s 0-60 is usually measured with sports car because acceleration is one of the factors that could aid a driver to win. As expected, race cars can sport a four-second run compared to a typical car which would usually fall about 9 seconds behind.

8. Displacement

Engine displacement is the measurement of the engine’s cylinder’s chambers. It is an indicator of power and size as the displacement figure will represent the total displaced air by the engine cylinder’s pistons. It’s usually measured in cubic centimetres or litre. For example, if you see a car specification that states 1250cc, it means that all the cylinders volume amounts to 1250 cubic centimetres.

The size of the cylinders usually determines the size of explosion that happens within. Factors like the ratio of compression, number of cylinders, and induction system are taken into account to measure the engine’s output. So, even if two cars have the same displace value, it does not necessarily mean that they can produce the same power.

9. Drivetrain


Photo source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powertrain

A drivetrain is a group of car components that deliver power to the wheels; excluding the engine and motor. It connects the drive axles to the transmission so achieve its purpose. It has three categories which include:

  • four wheel drive (AWD)- this means that the power is given to all four wheels of the car
  • rear wheel drive (RWD)-this means that power is only given to the car’s rear wheels
  • front wheel drive (FWD)- this means that power is only given to the car’s front wheels

10. Suspension

A car suspension refers to the system of shock absorbers and springs that connect the wheels to the vehicle. The concept of the suspension is from Newton’s law of motion which states that all forces have direction and magnitude. So, when a tire comes in contact with a bump, it’s expected to move up and down. The suspension’s job then is to maximize friction between the road surface and the tire so as to reduce shock from potholes and bumps. This gives the driver a better handling of the car and to ensure that passengers are comfortable during a ride.

If you are on a flat road, then it will not be necessary for you to use suspensions. However, that’s not usually the case. You’ll always encounter bumps during a ride.

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