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Car Jargon Buster

As of 2018, it was estimated that there were around 1.4 billion cars on the road around the world, with that number only set to increase. Despite the huge number of drivers on the planet, car terminology is baffling to lots of people, which is why Tyres Northampton have created this car jargon buster. Read through the list and get to know your BHP from your torque. 


  • Airbags – a safety device stored in the steering wheel or dashboard which releases on impact, protecting people from hitting their heads if they lurch forward.
  • ABS/Anti-Lock Braking System – this stops the front wheels from skidding, increasing traction and decreasing stopping time in the event of an emergency stop.
  • Alternator – A device that converts mechanical energy into electricity for the 12 volt battery, which in turn powers the car’s electrical systems.
  • AWDAll-wheel drive; this is where the engine sends power to all wheels of a vehicle. Is also known as 4WD, or 4-Wheel Drive.


  • BHP/Brake Horse Power – How a car’s power is measured. The higher the BHP, the more powerful (and usually faster) the car is. 
  • Brake Calipers – Calipers house the brake pads, which rub against the brake discs when the brake pedal is used, slowing the car down. 
  • Brake Discs – Metal discs in the wheels that work in conjunction with the pads to slow the car down.
  • Brake Pads – Small pads that create friction on the brake discs. Will need to be replaced over time


  • Cambelt – Also known as the timing belt, it is a large rubber band that connects major parts of your engine. 
  • Catalytic Converter – An engine component which changes harmful gases into less harmful ones. These have been required in all new cars built since 1993.


  • Dampers – A part of a vehicle’s suspension, dampers act as shock absorbers to reduce impact of bumps in the road, making for a more comfortable ride. 
  • Diagnostics – A diagnostic check is where a mechanic will inspect your vehicle’s Engine Management System, connecting it to a computer so its data can be read. 
  • DVLAThe Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency, responsible for registering drivers and their vehicle registrations, as well as issuing driving licenses.


  • Electronic Stability Control – This helps to keep steering steady, minimising oversteer and understeer which can often lead to collisions. It can automatically apply the brake to a certain wheel if the steering is imbalanced on one side. 
  • EMS/Engine Management System – This controls around 30 components in the car, from the air/fuel ratio to the anti-lock braking system, making it a very important piece of equipment.
  • Engine Coolant – Coolant is a liquid in your vehicle’s radiator that takes heat from the engine.
  • Engine Oil – Oil used to lubricate the various components of an engine. Running an engine without oil in it will cause the engine to overheat and be destroyed.
  • EVAn electric vehicle. Becoming more popular and widely produced, EVs are classed as cars that are mainly powered by an electric motor. 
  • Exhaust – Usually at the rear of the car, your exhaust expels gases from your engine into the air.


  • Fan Belt – A big rubber belt used to power the car’s fan. If there’s an issue with the fan belt, you’ll often hear a squealing noise when your engine is running.
  • FSH/Full Service History – A complete log of each service your car has received, with stamps from approved providers certifying said service. 
  • Fuel Injection System – An electronic process whereby fuel and air is mixed before being passed into the engine for combustion. 
  • FWD/Front Wheel Drive – Vehicles where the engine provides power to the front two wheels only.


  • Gearbox – Contains the gears, which control the speed of the engine relative to the speed of the car. The higher the gear, the quicker the engine is.


  • Hazard Lights – Orange lights that flash simultaneously when turned on. Activated by a red button with a white triangle on it, usually situated in the middle of the dashboard. 
  • HPI CheckA system used to check the history of a used car, to see if it has been stolen, damaged, or written off in the past.
  • Hybrid – A car that is powered by both an electric motor and petrol engine.


  • Immobiliser – A theft-prevention device fitted on most new cars. It prevents the car from being started unless the right key is used. 


  • Load Capacity – The maximum weight a vehicle can carry. 


  • MPG/Miles Per Gallon – The number of miles your car can travel per every gallon of fuel it uses.


  • Oversteer – This is where the rear wheels lose traction, causing the vehicle to skid and potentially spin round.


  • Power Steering – Steering that is assisted by electric or hydraulic motors.
  • Puncture – This is where your tyre is cut open by something sharp on the road, such as glass or debris. This will cause the tyre to deflate rapidly.


  • Range – The maximum distance an electric vehicle can travel on a full battery charge.
  • RPM/Revolutions Per Minute – The amount of times the engine’s crankshaft can turn 360 degrees in a minute.
  • RWD/Rear-Wheel DriveWhere the engine provides power to the rear two wheels only.


  • Spoiler – A lip or wing on the rear of a car. Spoilers are aesthetic additions to a car to make it look more ‘sporty’.
  • Suspension – The system that helps your car absorb bumps and dips in the road. Set up as a complex spring in at each corner of the vehicle.
  • SUV/Sports Utility Vehicle – A car that has similar design features to off-road cars, and some off-road ability, but is mainly designed for use on roads. 


  • Torque – The twisting force of the motor. Torque determines how quickly power can get to the wheels, which in turn determines how fast the car can accelerate.
  • Transmission – The type of gearbox a vehicle uses; this is usually either an automatic or manual transmission.
  • Turbocharger – Brings more air into the engine’s cylinders through compression, which increases engine power.

  • TPMS/Tyre Pressure Monitoring System – An electronic system designed to monitor the air pressure inside your tyres and report it in real-time tire-via your dashboard/trip computer.


  • Understeer – Where the front wheels lose grip, leading to the car not turning as it should and instead continuing forwards.


  • Wheel Balance – If your wheels are unbalanced, you may feel vibrations when driving at speed. 
  • Wheel Tracking – This means your wheels being in line. If your wheels are not tracking, your car may pull to one side, which will affect handling and can lead to uneven tyre wear. 
  • Write-Off – A vehicle that is damaged beyond repair. 

Hopefully, this glossary will help you make sense of some of the technical terms used around vehicles, particularly when concerning an MOT. Knowing what these terms mean can help you understand any issues your vehicle has, which can save you trouble and money in the future. If your vehicle needs an MOT, trust Tyres Northampton to provide it. With years of experience as qualified, accredited MOT providers, we’ll carry out a comprehensive inspection of your vehicle, ensuring each and every element is checked. For more information, please contact us today. 


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