Glossary of Common Car Terms

If you haven’t been shopping for a new car lately, you may be in for a shock when you see the amount of technology and safety features packed into one big metal package. Buying a car these days is much like picking out a new computer. Your hardest decision used to be what color you wanted your car painted, but now you now get to choose which safety features, technology features, and interior luxuries your new car comes with. Manufacturers list these features using jargon and acronyms that most people outside of the car industry may not understand. Good thing you’re reading this page! We will go into more detail on what these new car features are called, how they operate, and what they do for you out on the road.

If you are looking for a tech-filled new vehicle, buy your next one at Landers! Click here to view our entire new car inventory.

Some manufacturers vary when it comes to what they name their features. While the root of the feature operates the same, the name may change. For example, almost every new car can be had with a blind spot monitoring system which lights up a corner of your side mirror any time a vehicle passes through your blind spot. This feature can range from blind spot monitoring, blind spot information system, blind spot detection, blind spot collision avoidance, etc. Other manufacturers include a bunch of safety features as standard when you purchase a new vehicle such as Toyota Safety Sense or Kia Drive Wise.

Acronyms and abbreviations are a popular way for car brands to list out full features without taking up a lot of space on the window sticker or in the documentation. Some of the more popular of these are listed below.

ABS: Anti-lock braking system
AC: Air conditioning
AFS: Adaptive front lighting system
AWD: All-wheel drive
CVT: Continuously variable transmission
DCT: Dual clutch transmission
DOHC: Dual overhead cam
DRL: Daytime running lights
DSC: Dynamic stability control
EGR: Exhaust gas recirculation
ESC: Electronic stability control
EV: Electric vehicle
FWD: Front-wheel drive
GDI: Gasoline direct injection
GVWR: Gross vehicle weight rating
HEV: Hybrid electric vehicle
HP: Horsepower
ICE: Internal combustion engine
LED: Light emitting diode
MPG: Miles per gallon
MPH: Miles per hour
PHEV: Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle
RPM: Revolutions per minute
RWD: Rear-wheel drive
SUV: Sport utility vehicle
TCS: Traction control system

Below is a comprehensive list of safety and technology features found on new vehicles:

Driver warning and assist, chassis control, and brake systems

1. Active Driving Assist: Hands-on-wheel and eyes-on-road automated driving on certain
roadways, using lane-centering with adaptive cruise control (Also labeled Highway Assist
System, depending on vehicle application)
2. Advance Brake Assist: Works with Full-speed Forward Collision Warning-Plus; increases
deceleration if the driver does not apply the brake with sufficient force to respond to a potential collision condition
3. Adaptive Cruise Control: helps maintain distance from the vehicle ahead;
under certain traffic conditions, the system can bring the vehicle to a full stop without driver intervention
4. All-speed traction control system: While driving, helps keep wheels from spinning during
acceleration from a stop or at speed by applying brakes alone or in combination with the engine
torque limitation
5. Anti-lock brake system (ABS): Senses and helps prevent wheel lockup, offering improved
steering control under extreme braking and/or slippery conditions
6. Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB): Radar and camera technology combine to determine if
frontal impact with another vehicle appears imminent; if so, the system pre-fills brakes, then
transmits audible and visual warnings for the driver to intervene; no driver response triggers brief brake application as tactile alert; if the driver remains unresponsive and frontal collision risk
remains, brakes are applied to slow the vehicle before impact; the system may bring the vehicle to a full stop if an imminent frontal collision is detected at certain speeds
7. Blind-spot Monitoring (BSM): Uses radar sensors to aid the driver when changing lanes, passing, or being passed; blind-spot vehicle presence noted via illuminated icons in side-view mirrors and driver-selectable audible chime
8. Brake Assist: The system applies maximum braking power in emergency braking situations,
minimizing stopping distance
9. Brake-lock differential system (BLDS): Allows the vehicle to maintain forward motion if one or
two wheels lose traction by selectively applying brakes to the spinning wheels
10. Brake-throttle override: It allows the driver to stop the vehicle more quickly when throttle and brake inputs occur simultaneously; electronic throttle control reduces engine-power output
11. Brake/park Interlock: Prevents transmission from being shifted out of “Park” unless the key is
engaged with the starting system and the brake pedal is pressed
12. Brake traction-control system (BTCS): Helps to keep wheels from spinning during
acceleration from a stop, or during slow speeds, by applying individual brakes to the slipping
13. Drowsy Driver Detection: The system tracks vehicle movement, such as lane deviation, and
driver-vehicle interaction, such as steering-wheel input over time, for behavior consistent with
that of a drowsy driver; when certain thresholds are reached, the system responds with audio
and/or visual cautions for the driver to pull over
14. Electronic brake-force distribution (EBD): Optimizes stopping distances and control under all
vehicle loading conditions by regulating braking pressure, front-to-rear
15. Electronic roll mitigation (ERM): Uses input from electronic stability control (ESC) sensors to
anticipate potential rollover conditions; applies brakes individually and modulate the throttle
position as needed to help reduce the potential of vehicle rollover
16. Electronic stability control (ESC): Enhances directional control and stability of the vehicle in
various driving conditions; activation occurs when the steering-wheel angle is inconsistent with
vehicle’s direction of travel; automatically reduces throttle input and/or selectively deploys
brakes to counteract oversteer or understeer
17. Forward Collision Warning: Radar determines if a frontal impact with another vehicle appears imminent; if so, the system pre-fills the brakes and then transmits audible and visual warnings for the driver to intervene
18. Hands-free Driving Assist: Offers hands-free driving and lane-centering at all speeds
on approved roadways; the system also will predictively slow down the vehicle in tight curves,
automatically resume control after the driver overrides and verifies they are paying attention to the road
19. Hill-start Assist: Assists drivers when starting from a stop on a hill; maintains brake pressure
for a short period of time after the driver’s foot is removed from the brake pedal; if the throttle is not applied within a short period of time thereafter, brake pressure will be released
20. Intersection Collision Assist: Helps detect vehicles approaching from the driver’s left and right when nearing a crossroad; if a collision appears imminent, the system delivers audible and visual alerts; if the driver does not respond, the system automatically activates the vehicle’s brakes
21. Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist: Alerts and assists driver; leverages electric
power steering (EPS) to deliver subtle steering-wheel input when the system detects the need for course correction.
22. Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist: Features ultrasonic sensors on the bumper to find and guide the driver into parking space; guidance system automatically controls the steering angle while driver controls gear position, brake, and accelerator; parallel parking possible on either side of the car; to accommodate perpendicular parking, the vehicle is backed into the space
23. Rear Park Assist System: ln reverse, at low speeds,
ultrasonic sensors detect stationary objects; if an imminent collision is detected, the system will provide a momentary, autonomous brake pulse; below a certain miles per hour (mph) threshold, the system will bring the vehicle to a stop before releasing
24. Backup camera: Provides a wide-angle view of the area immediately behind the vehicle; available features include dynamic grid lines to aid drivers when maneuvering into parking spaces or narrow areas; also assists when lining up a trailer to vehicle’s hitch, when so equipped; image displayed on the center-stack screen or in the rearview mirror when the transmission is shifted into reverse
25. Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking (PAEB): If the system detects pedestrians and
determines a frontal collision appears imminent, it will – if the driver does respond accordingly –
activate the vehicle’s brakes; in certain conditions, the system is capable of bringing the vehicle
to a stop
26. Pedestrian/Cyclist Automatic Emergency Braking: If the system detects a pedestrian or cyclist and determines a frontal collision appears imminent, it will – if the driver does respond accordingly – activate the vehicle’s brakes; in certain conditions, the system is capable of bringing the vehicle to a stop
27. Rain Brake Support: In rainy conditions, occasionally pushes brake pads lightly against the brake rotors to keep rotors dry
28. Ready Alert Braking (RAB): Anticipates situations when the driver may initiate an emergency brake stop and uses an ESC pump to set brake pads against rotors, decreasing the time required for full brake application
29. Rear Cross Path (RCP) detection: In parking-lot situations, warns drivers of lateral traffic when backing out of parking spaces; automatically activates any time a vehicle is in reverse gear; the driver is alerted of approaching vehicle(s) via illuminated icons on side-view mirrors and driver-selected audible chime
30. Trailer-sway Mitigation: Uses input from ESC sensors to anticipate potential trailer-induced
yaw conditions; applies brakes individually and modulates throttle to help the driver maintain control

Lighting and visibility systems

1. Active turn signals: Turn signal flashes three times for a lane change when the stalk is depressed for one second
2. Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS): Points headlamps in the intended direction of the vehicle travel using steering-wheel and vehicle-speed inputs to provide improved illumination entering turns
3. Auto-adjust exterior mirrors: Side-view mirrors automatically adjust to enhance the field of
view for backing maneuvers
4. Auto-dimming rearview mirror: Auto-dimming mirror automatically reduces glare from bright
light of trailing vehicles, allowing drivers to have a clearer view of the road ahead
5. Automatic defog: Automatic temperature control system measures interior humidity and
activates defogging system without driver intervention
6. Automatic headlamps: Headlamps turn on and off automatically depending on the exterior light levels and if windshield wipers are operating
7. Automatic high-beam headlamps: The headlamp system adjusts to ambient light and oncoming traffic to deliver maximum lighting without driver intervention
8. Daytime Running Lamps (DRL): Low-intensity halogen or signature LED lights that illuminate
during daytime conditions, increasing the vehicle’s visibility to other drivers
9. Digital Rearview Mirror: Replaces conventional rearview mirror with a Liquid Crystal Display
(LCD) monitor to help improve driver rearward visibility; displays real-time video from rear-facing
camera; can be turned off to revert back to a reflective mirror
10. Enhanced Accident Response System (EARS): Makes it easier for emergency personnel to
see and reach occupants in the event of an accident by turning on the interior lighting and
unlocking doors after air bag deployment; also shuts off the flow of fuel to the engine
11. Heads-up Display (HUD): Provides driver with up to five different areas of interest, including
Lane Departure, Lane Keep Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, turn-by-turn navigation, current
speed, current gear, and speed limit; features full color
12. Heated windshield washer nozzles: Helps ensure nozzles stay free of ice and snow during
freezing conditions
13. High-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps: Provide approximately three times the light output than conventional reflector lamps
14. Halogen infrared reflecting bulbs (HIR): Unique component coating delivers greater light
output than conventional bulbs
15. LED fog lamps: Provide improved illumination during inclement weather
16. LED headlamps: Provide improved illumination
17. LED tail lamps: Provide improved illumination (brake, stop, turn, and running light functions)
18. Night Vision Camera: Augments headlamp reach; infrared sensors search for heat signatures of pedestrians and animals in the road ahead, at distances up to 219 yards (200 meters); if located, an alert with their positions relative to the vehicle is outlined in the instrument cluster directly in front of the driver
19. Rain-sensing Wipers: A driver convenience feature that automatically senses moisture on the windshield and activates wipers
20. Surround View Camera: Uses four cameras positioned around the vehicle to provide the bird’s-eye perspective of the vehicle and its immediate surroundings; the driver can also select other views, including front or rear cross path

Other features

1. SOS/Assist: Button on the rearview mirror or overhead console connects occupants with call center agent who can send emergency assistance to the vehicle’s location
2. Auto-reverse sunroof: Automatically reverses when it senses an obstruction while closing
3. Auto-reverse windows: Automatically reverses when it senses an obstruction while closing
4. Capless fuel-filler door: Enables fuel-filling simplicity
5. Child-protection Rear Door Locks: Disables rear doors’ inside-release handle by adjusting a
small lever opposite the doorjamb
6. Electronic Locking Fuel-filler Door: Prevents theft or tampering, which can lead to damage,
inefficiency and unwanted fuel vapor release
7. Express up/down windows: One-touch express up/down window function
8. Global Position Sensor (GPS): Used for navigation guidance and electronic vehicle tracking
9. Intelligent Battery Sensor (IBS): Continually measures the flow of current in and out of the battery; if the battery is running low, the system shuts off less-critical electrical systems to conserve power; the icon in the cluster denotes activation
10. Inside Emergency Trunk-lid Release: Glow-in-the-dark handle enables unlocking from inside
11. Keyless Entry: Electronic sensors detect if a unique vehicle key fob is present, which
enables passive cabin entry and trunk access; illuminates interior lamps and enables pushbutton ignition – no need to insert key
12. Remote keyless entry: Locks and unlocks doors and turns on interior lamps. If vehicle is
equipped with a security alarm, the remote also arms and disarms the system
13. Remote start: Fob-activated convenience; starts the engine and activates interior climate settings while maintaining vehicle security
14. Sentry Key Engine Immobilizer: Utilizes engine key with embedded transponder and
preprogrammed security code to discourage vehicle theft; when the key is inserted into the ignition, the controller sends a random number to the transponder, and the engine is allowed to start; the engine will shut off after a few seconds if an incorrect key is used
15. Speed-sensitive door locks: The system automatically locks doors when the vehicle reaches a designated speed
16. Tilt-and-telescoping steering column: Allows the steering column to tilt and move toward or away from the driver to achieve a safe and comfortable distance from the advanced multistage front driver airbag, if deployed
17. Tire-fill Alert: When filling tires with air, the system provides an audible “chirp” when a
the recommended pressure is achieved
18. Tire-pressure Monitoring System (TPMS): Informs driver when tire pressure
is too low; pressure-sensor modules within the valve stems on all four wheels send continuously
radio-frequency signals to a receiver; available systems use the graphic display to indicate tire-specific pressure
19. Traffic Sign Recognition: Uses a forward-facing camera to identify speed limit and related
traffic signs, such as those denoting school and construction zones.

Car and Driver created a similar list of terms that they published over 10 years ago! It is interesting to go back and see common and terms and features from 2009, Read through their list here!

If you’re having trouble deciding what you should choose for your next vehicle, contact us at Landers! We would be happy to help you pick out the right vehicle for your needs. At Landers, we are driven to serve!