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ACC, SH-AWD, and other car tech terms that’ll get you up to speed

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Around here, we throw around car tech jargon faster than a Lamborghini Aventador can sprint from 0-60 mph (that’s 2.6 seconds in case you’re wondering). But we know not all of you out there are hardened gearheads and grease monkeys. So in order to get you up to speed, we’ve come up with this handy glossary of common and not so common car tech terms.

Grab your keys, slap on your riding gloves and goggles and get ready to leave all that confusion firmly in your rearview.


Abbreviation for Four-Wheel Drive.


Anti-locking braking system (ABS) is an automated safety system that helps a car’s wheels continue to rotate during heavy braking, thus preventing a driver from losing control of their vehicle because of uncontrollable wheel skidding.

ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control)

Adaptive Cruise Control is a form of cruise control that automatically (without any driver input) brakes and accelerates to match the flow of traffic. Some ACC systems can even come to a complete stop and accelerate from a standstill.

All-Wheel Steering

A car equipped with All-Wheel Steering means that the rear wheels can turn in the direction of the front wheels, which typically improves handling dynamics. Acura’s new RLX flagship sedan features a proprietary Precision All-Wheel Steering system that takes this concept further by allowing the wheels to point inward to help improve braking.


Type of transmission that automatically changes gears instead of making the driver shift through them manually.

Autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles refer to vehicles that can operate without any input from drivers whatsoever. This generally means that a car can turn, accelerate, and brake without the need of a driver at the wheel.


Abbreviation for All-Wheel-Drive, which differs from Four-Wheel Drive in that AWD is “on” all the time. Some 4WD systems can be shut off when not needed, putting the vehicle in two-wheel drive.


Shafts located underneath the car that support the wheels.


Bespoke is a term borrowed from the world of fashion that essentially denotes a vehicle (often luxury) with a great deal of customization and/or driver personalization.

Blind spot monitoring

Blind spot monitoring is a technology that scans a vehicles blind spot for objects (usually cars). If detected, a warning – typically in the form of a visual cue on the vehicle’s door pillar – lights up. Some vehicles even provide audible warnings if a turn signal is activated when another car is present in a blindspot.


Bluetooth is a radio system with the ability to transmit data over short distances, usually a maximum of 30 feet or so. In a car, a Bluetooth connection is typically in the form of wireless music streaming and hands-free phone usage.


Cabin refers to the interior space of a car.

CAFE (also known as the “CAFE standard”)

Abbreviation for Corporate Average Fuel Economy, an agreement between the United States government and automakers to increase fuel economy in their vehicles to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by the year 2025.


A device that disconnects the engine from the transmission, which allows the car to change gears and then reconnect again once the gear change has been made.

Cold air intake

An air pathway near the engine designed to allow more cool air into a car’s engine. More gas can mix with cool air than with warm air, thereby increasing engine performance.


A convertible is any car that can convert from an enclosed roof (covered top) to an open-air design. Convertibles come in two forms: soft and hard tops. See “ragtop.”


Crossovers vehicles are typically based on the underpinnings (platform) of a car but also incorporate features of an SUV.


Abbreviation for Continuously Variable Transmission. This type of transmission does not have “gears” like a manual or automatic. It functions in manner similar to a small motorscooter. Read more here.


The area located above and behind a steering wheel that typically houses the instrument cluster and other on-board electronics.

DFI (Direct Fuel Injection)

The process whereby fuel is “directly injected” into the combustion chamber of an engine instead of being allowed to mix with air before reaching an engine’s intake valve passage (see EFI).


A set of gears that allows a car’s wheels to rotate at different speeds, which is extremely important when turning as the outermost wheel needs to turn farther and faster than the innermost wheel.


Displacement refers to the volume of an engine’s cylinders and the total air displaced by the pistons inside those cylinders. Displacement is generally defines how powerful an engine is and is typically measured in cubic centimeters/liters, and cubic inches. Example: A “2.8 liter engine” displaces 2.8 cubic liters (or 2,800 cubic centimeters, or “2,800cc”) of air in one complete combustion cycle. Many American-made cars measure displacement in cubic inches.


A donut refers to the small spare tire typically found in the trunk of a car. (Not for eating).


Abbreviation for the United States Department of Transportation.


Abbreviation for the United States government’s Environmental Protection Agency.


Short for Electronic Stability Control, ESC monitors a car’s traction and provides various counter-measures – like braking and even reducing engine power – to help regain vehicle stability during strenuous driving conditions.


Abbreviation for Electric Vehicle.


Modern use of the term fascia denotes the look and detail of a car’s front-end, however, use of the term to also describe a car’s read-end is becoming more widespread.


Abbreviation for Front-Wheel Drive.


An abbreviation for Global Positioning System, which is based on a network of satellites in orbit around the earth. The signals from the satellites can be used to pinpoint a location on Earth with very high accuracy . GPS is commonly used in a car’s navigation system and in cell phones mapping apps.


Abbreviation for horsepower, HP refers to the amount of power needed to lift 550 pounds one foot in one second. Horsepower is often used when calculating how fast or powerful a vehicle is but other factors like vehicle weight and aerodynamics also play a role.


A hybrid is any vehicle that employs more than one source of power to move the vehicle. An overwhelming amount of hybrids on the road today employ a gasoline engine and an electric motor.


ICE serves as an abbreviation for internal combustion engine, which is the basis for the vast majority of automobiles on the road today.


Portmanteau of information and entertainment, in the automotive world, infotainment typically refers to a car’s navigation and stereo interface. They often employ touchscreens and have limited smartphone app integration as well as social media content such as Twitter and Facebook.

Instrument Cluster

The area behind the steering wheel, often featuring a tachometer and speedometer.

Key Fob

In the automotive world, a key fob is a small decorative item, often sporting an automaker’s logo, that can lock, unlock, open the trunk and sometimes start a vehicles engine.

Keyless entry

Keyless entry denotes a car that can be unlocked without physically inserting a key to unlock the doors. Typically, you must have the key fob on your person for the system to work.


Short for kinetic energy recovery system, KERS gathers (recovers) energy created during braking and stores it for use during acceleration. The technology has yet to make it into production vehicles but can be found in Formula One cars.

Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS)

Lane departure systems are a form of onboard safety tech and warn the driver through cameras and onboard sensors whether or not it’s drifting out of marked lanes. Typically, LDWS involve some type of audio-visual warning for the driver.


Abbreviation for pound-foot, which is a measurement of torque, or the twisting force an engine can create. 

LCD Display

A liquid crystal display (LCD display) is a flat panel screen often used to display a car’s navigation and entertainment system. Generally, LCD displays contain tiny liquid crystal material between two pieces of polarized glass.


Short for light emitting diode, LEDs have slowly begun replacing incandescent bulbs largely because of their aesthetic value, long life and high energy efficiency.

Level 1

Level 1 refers to electric vehicle charging stations and standard household outlets that deliver 120 volts of AC to an EV’s on-board battery.

Level 2

Level 2 chargers refer to public and private charging stations that deliver 240 volts worth of AC to an electric vehicle’s on-board battery.

Li-ion battery

An abbreviation for lithium-ion battery, a type of rechargeable battery used to power electric cars and hybrids.

Limited Slip Differential

Cars with limited slip differentials can send rotational power to both wheels when one is raised off the ground or experiencing slippage. Standard or “open” differentials cannot perform this task, so if one wheel is raised off the ground it will spin while the wheel in contact with the ground will remain stationary.


A type of transmission that requires drivers to shift manually from gear to gear. Can also refer to the owners guide that comes with a new car.


The amount (in miles) a vehicle can travel per gallon of gasoline used while an engine is running.


Short for miles per gallon equivalent, MPGe describes the energy efficiency of an EV and plug-in hybrid. The standard conversion used by the EPA is 115,000 British thermal units (BTU) per U.S. gallon of gas, which is equal to 33.7 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Essentially, it refers to how far the car could go on a gallon of gas if that was the fuel being used.

Nav System

Abbreviation for navigation systems (also referred to as a GPS systems).


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the NHTSA is tasked with writing and enforcing federal motor vehicle safety standards.


Short for on-board diagnostics, OBD II is an industry-standard port found in modern vehicles that once used to connect diagnostic equipment, vehicle data and diagnostic trouble codes through a car’s on-board computer. When you take your vehicle to the DEQ, they plug their computer into the ODB II port. App makers are also making use of this port to inform drivers about what their car is doing.

Open XC

Open XC is the architecture Ford uses to let apps “talk” to a car’s onboard systems.


Driving characteristic where a car turns more sharply than intended, possibly causing the car to spin out of control. Oversteer is commonly associated with rear-wheel drive cars.

Push button Ignition

Push button ignition (also referred to as push button start) is any system that allows you to start a car by pressing a button instead of physically inserting and turning a key in the ignition.


Ragtop refers to convertibles that use a soft top instead of a hard top for its roof. See convertible.

Regenerative braking

Braking system typically employed in hybrids and battery electric vehicles that captures energy created during braking and transfers it to the onboard battery.

Remote Start

Remote start refers to any car that can be started without physically being inside the car and using a key to turn the ignition.


Abbreviation for rear-wheel-drive.

Semi-autonomous vehicles

Semi–autonomous typically refers to vehicles that largely operate on their own and without normal levels of driver input, they include automated features like adaptive cruise control or lane keeping technology.


Abbreviation for Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive, a proprietary system developed by Honda and used in various Acura vehicles like the TL, MDX, and upcoming Acura NSX.


A smart key is any car key that can lock, unlock, and sometimes start a car’s engine remotely.

Spark Plug

Like its name suggest, a spark plug is a small device used to deliver an electrical spark to the combustion chamber of an engine.


Short for speedometer which is a meter or gauge used to measure how fast your vehicle is traveling. Most speedometers are measured in miles per hour and kilometers per hour.


Any car equipped with a start-stop system has the ability to automatically shut down its engine when idling and start back up again when the driver takes their foot off the brake. It is often a feature in hybrids and is designed to help increase fuel economy.


Short for Sport Utility Vehicle.


An air compressor designed to further increase pressure, temperature, and density of air supplied to a car’s engine. Higher air pressure in an engine, along with matching increased fuel flow can greatly increase engine performance.


Tachometers are typically placed in a car’s instrument cluster and measure RPMs (revolutions per minute), which is the number of times an engine’s central crankshaft rotates.


Similar to what you’d find on a smartphone, a touchscreen is any interactive screen that provides some sort of tactile feedback when pressed. Touchscreens in automobiles are typically used for in-car entertainment and navigation systems.


Torque is the pulling power of a vehicle, which is often crucial for trucks hauling heavy loads. It’s the twisting force created inside an engine by all those rotating parts. Generally, cars with higher levels of torque also accelerate faster, which is why sports cars typically have greater torque levels. Torque is measured in pound-feet (lb-ft).

Transfer Case

Often found in both four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles, a transfer case receives power from the transmission and sends it to both the front and rear axles.


A car’s transmission ‘transfers’ power from the engine or motor to a drive mechanism, often a live axle, through a series of gears and clutch.


Method of increasing air pressure, temperature, and density of air delivered to an engine (also known as “forced induction”). A turbocharger is powered by a car’s exhaust or sometimes by electricity.


Driving characteristic where a car doesn’t turn enough (understeers) while driving, typically at high speeds. Understeer is commonly associated with front-wheel drive cars


A V-type engine consisting of two banks of three cylinders.


A V-type engine consisting of two banks of four cylinders, often found in trucks, luxury, and sports cars.


A V10 is an engine with 10 cylinders arranged in two rows of five; some examples include the Audi R8, Lamborghini Sesto Elemento, and the Dodge Viper.


A V12 is any engine consisting of 12 cylinders arranged in two rows of six cylinders. V12s are largely uncommon and typically found in flagship sedans (BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S Class) and outlandish exotics like the Enzo, Pagani Zonga, and McLaren (you know, back when McLaren wasn’t getting carried away with letters and numbers).


A V16 engine is any engine with 16 cylinders arranged in the shape of a ‘V’ with two banks consisting of eight cylinders each. Modern V16s are rare and have typically been restricted to concept cars and limited run vehicles from smaller boutique manufacturers.


Wheelbase is simply the distance between the centers of both the front and rear wheels.


Cars with built-in Wi-Fi allow a specific number of devices to be connected to the network and for data to be transmitted and received wirelessly to those devices.

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Amir Iliaifar
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Associate Automotive Section Editor for Digital Trends, Amir Iliaifar covers the ever increasing cross-section between tech…
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