Car jargon buster: key automotive abbreviations and acronyms explained

What on earth is ESC, or PASM? How many ICE’s do you need? Let us help you out with our handy guide to motoring abbreviations and acronyms

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer diesel 2016 - badge

As car manufacturers continue to upgrade their cars with more and more technology, gadgets and gizmos, the spec sheets and options lists are becoming loaded with an endless stream of apparently meaningless letters and numbers. 

What do they all mean? Sometimes the maze of motoring abbreviations and acronyms can baffle even seasoned car experts so we’ve compiled this handy alphabetical guide to the car jargon you’re likely to come across when shopping for a new car.

Ultimate guide to car finance

Some will be make or model-specific, while others are blanket terms or industry standards that you'll find on nearly every new car sold today.


Anti-lock Braking System. A safety aid that prevents the wheels from locking up and skidding under hard braking.


Air Conditioning. Can be manual or automatic.


Adaptive Cruise Control. Keeps your car automatically at a predetermined distance from the car in front. Also stands for Accessory – the first position of your ignition key which powers up non-essentials like the radio. Also, automatic climate control.


Autonomous emergency braking. A system which uses sensors to detect objects in front of the car and will apply the brakes if it suspects an imminent crash.


Automatic transmission. A gearbox that shifts automatically. Types include torque converter, CVT, dual-clutch and automated manual.


Auxiliary. Normally refers to an auxiliary audio connection – an input jack that allows you to connect phones and music players directly to the car’s audio system.


All-wheel-drive. Power is fed to all four wheels of the car. Can be permanent AWD (power is always fed to all four wheels) or switchable (power is fed to two wheels unless it detects slip, then it pushes drive to the other two). Also known as 4x4 or 4WD. Manufacturers have various names for their AWD systems:

Audi - quattro

BMW - xDrive

Kia - KX

Mercedes - 4MATIC


SEAT - 4Drive

Suzuki - Allgrip

Volkswagen - 4MOTION


Brake horsepower. The standard measure of the power an engine puts out. Generally speaking, it affects top speed and acceleration.


Benefit-in-Kind. Another name for company car tax, paid by business users who use a company car for private affairs. 


Cruise control or climate control. Also cubic capacity – the size of the engine, measured in cubic centimetres or litres in the UK e.g. 999cc or 1.0-litres. 


Used Mazda 6 - engine light

Check engine light. A warning light on the dash that signifies an issue with the engine which should be checked at your earliest convenience.


Compressed natural gas. An alternative fuel to petrol or diesel that requires an engine conversion to use.


Carbon monoxide. A harmful engine exhaust emission.


Carbon dioxide. One of the main gasses emitted from a car’s exhaust and one of the principal causes of global warming. Usually given in grams per kilometre (e.g. 120g/km).


Continuously Variable Transmission. A form of automatic gearbox characterised by having one automatically varying gear ratio, rather than a number of fixed ones. 


Digital Audio Broadcasting. Also called Digital Radio, it’s a modern alternative to analogue AM and FM transmissions for car radio. 


Different manufacturers use a baffling array of codes to signify engine types. Various diesel acronyms are:

Alfa Romeo – JTDM, Multijet

Alpina – D (as in Alpina D5, Alpina XD3)

Audi – TDI

BMW – d (as in BMW 520d, BMW X6 xDrive30d)

Chrysler – CRD

Citroen – BlueHDi, e-HDi

Dacia – dCi

DS – BlueHDi

Fiat – JTD, Multijet

Ford – TDCi

Honda – i-DTEC, CDTi

Hyundai – CRDi

Infiniti – d (as in Infiniti Q30 2.2d)

Jaguar – d (as in Jaguar XF 2.0d)

Jeep – Multijet, CRD

Kia – CRDi

Land Rover – TD, SD (as in Range Rover Sport TDV8, Land Rover Discovery SDV6), eD4, Ingenium


Mercedes – d (as in Mercedes A 180 d, Mercedes E 220 d)

MG – DTi

MINI – D (as in MINI Cooper D)

MINI Cooper D Clubman 2015 badge

Mitsubishi – DI-D, TD

Nissan – dCi

Peugeot – BlueHDI, e-HDi

Renault – dCi


Skoda – TDI, SDI

SsangYong – e-XDi, XDi

Subaru – D (as in Subaru Forester 2.0D)

Suzuki – DDiS

Toyota – D4-D

Vauxhall – CDTi

Volkswagen – TDI, SDI

Volvo – D (as in Volvo V60 D5)


Direct fuel injection/direct gasoline injection.


Double (or dual) overhead cam. An engine type with a separate camshaft each for the intake and exhaust valves.


Alfa Romeo Giulietta vs SEAT Leon vs Kia Cee'd - Giulietta DNA switch

Specific to Alfa Romeo cars, this stands for Dynamic, Normal and All-Weather and refers to adjustable driving modes.


Diesel particulate filter. A device in a diesel-engined car’s exhaust which traps polluting particulates and burns them off at high temperatures. Can get clogged without regular high-speed driving.


Daytime running lights. Also called driving lights, these front lights operate whenever the engine is on. Manufacturers often use them to create a stylish front to the car.


Direct-shift gearbox. The Volkswagen Group’s (Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda, SEAT) dual-clutch gearbox. It allows automatic operation or manual override.


Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. The Government body responsible for driving tests, licenses, MoT tests and suchlike.


Electronic brake control.


Electronic brake force distribution. Varies the amount of braking force applied to each of a vehicle’s wheels to maximise stopping power. Always coupled with ABS.


Electronic Control Unit or Engine Control Unit. Takes readings from a variety of sensors within the engine and adjusts the likes of air-fuel mixture, ignition timing and idle speed to ensure optimum running.


Exhaust Gas Recirculation. This re-uses gases from the car’s exhaust system to dilute the air coming into the engine, reducing harmful emissions.


Engine management system.


Electric power steering. A more modern and more efficient power-assist system than the hydraulic systems used in older cars.


Electronic stability control. Automatically applies the brakes when it detects a loss of traction to prevent a skid. Also called ESP (electronic stability program).


Electric vehicle. A vehicle which is powered primarily by an electric motor.


Toyota Mirai - front action

Fuel cell vehicle. A car that uses a fuel cell to run off hydrogen such as the Toyota Mirai.


Full service history. When buying a used car, this refers to the record of completed services, which must have been performed at manufacturer-specified periods. 


Front-wheel drive.


Global positioning system. The standard used for most in-car navigation systems.


Grand Tourer. Usually a high-performance or luxury vehicle that has been designed for long-distance driving in comfort, the term is more recently being applied to high-spec standard models e.g. Peugeot 2008 GT-Line.


Denotes a high-performance car, used across the Volkswagen and Peugeot ranges.


Gross vehicle weight. Usually given in kilograms (kg) in the UK and refers to the weight of the entire vehicle, including passengers and luggage. 


Hybrid Synergy Drive. The name Toyota gives to its hybrid technology used in the likes of the Prius.


Hire Purchase. A way of financing a new or used car, usually with an initial deposit and then fixed monthly payments covering the rest of the balance. 


Hire Purchase Inspection. An organisation which looks into the history of a used car and provide information such as write-off status, mileage, and any issues with the registration or VIN number. 


Heater-Vent-Air Conditioning. Refers to the heating and ventilation controls in the car, whether they be manual or automatic.

I4 (or I3, I6, etc.)

In-line four-cylinder engine. A common type of engine used in most mid-sized modern cars. Modern inline engines can have as few as two cylinders and as many as six. Also called L4, for longitudinal.


Internal combustion engine. A petrol or diesel engine. See also In-car entertainment – referring to any radio or music player fitted to the car. 


Integrated motor assist. Honda’s hybrid vehicle technology used in the Insight.


Isofix is a standard anchoring system for child seats in cars. It usually takes the form of clips in the car's seatback and a tether behind the seat and enables child restraints to be fitted more easily than with a seatbelt. 


John Cooper Works. MINI’s tuning arm, which creates the fastest MINIs on the road. 


Kilometres per hour.


Liquid Crystal Diode. A technology used in the manufacturing of most automotive display screens.


Light commercial vehicle. Refers to vans and trucks with a weight of under 3,500kg.


Lane departure avoidance system. A safety measure which prevents the driver from drifting out of lane, either by means of a warning light and buzzer or by taking control of the steering.


Light emitting diode. A lighting technology which is steadily phasing out halogen and filament bulbs due to a superior lifespan and improved light.


Low emissions vehicle.


Large goods vehicle. A vehicle with a weight of over 3,500kg.


Autogas LPG filling up

Liquefied petroleum gas. Often referred to as autogas, it’s an alternative fuel which requires an engine conversion to use. 


Limited slip differential. Prevents excessive power from going to one of the driven wheels to avoid pointless wheelspin.


Long wheelbase. A version of a car with a stretched wheelbase, normally reserved for luxury models.


Miles per gallon. The standard measure of fuel consumption in the UK.


Miles per hour.


Multi-purpose-vehicle. It’s usually used to refer to a vehicle on a passenger car chassis with a one-box design intended to provide maximum space and versatility. Also called people-carriers. 


Model year. Describes when a car was produced.


Naturally aspirated. A engine which does not employ turbocharging or supercharging.


New European Driving Cycle. The official EU testing procedure for fuel economy and emissions.


Nitrogen oxide. A harmful gas emitted from vehicle exhausts.


Noise, vibration and harshness.


On board diagnostics. Now in its second generation, named OBD II, it’s a means of connecting to the car’s built-in computer to see data about the car.


Overdrive. Often found on old four and three-speed gearboxes, rare now.


Ford Mondeo Vignale road trip - mileage

Odometer. The device which measures your car’s overall mileage.


Original equipment manufacturer. OEM kit comes directly from the car’s manufacturer, rather than the aftermarket.


On The Road. This refers to the price of a new or used car with all additional fees factored in – delivery, road tax, and registration 


Power-assisted steering. Fitted to nearly every new car on sale today in either electric or hydraulic forms.


Porsche Active Suspension Management. The name Porsche gives to its electronically adjustable dampers.


Personal Contract Purchase. A way of financing a new or used car, with an initial deposit, fixed payments and then an optional final payment if you want to buy the car.


Porsche Doppelkupplung. Porsche's own dual-clutch gearbox.


An alternative to BHP, also called European horsepower. To convert PS to BHP, use an online converter or multiply the PS figure by 0.986.


Just like diesel, various manufacturers have lots of codes for petrol engines…

Abarth – T-Jet

Alfa Romeo – MultiAir, TwinAir

Alpina – B (as in Alpina B3, Alpina B5)

Audi – TFSI, FSI

BMW – i (as in BMW 320i, BMW 540i)

Citroen – VTi, PureTech

Dacia – TCe, SCe

DS - PureTech

Fiat – MultiAir, TwinAir

Ford – EcoBoost

Ford Mondeo Estate 1.5 EcoBoost 2014 taillight

Honda – i-VTEC

Hyundai – GDi

Infiniti – T (as in Infiniti Q30 1.6T)

Lexus – t (as in Lexus IS200t)


Nissan – DIG-S, DIG-T

Peugeot – e-VTi, PureTech

Renault – TCe, SCe


Skoda – MPI, TSI, TFSI

Toyota – VVT-i

Vauxhall – VVT

Volkswagen – MPI, TSI, TFSI, FSI


Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. 


Radio data system. Used to embed small amounts of information in FM radio broadcasts to be displayed on your car’s infotainment screen. 


Revolutions per minute. A measure of how quickly the engine is rotating.


Audi's high-performance sub-brand. Also Renault Sport, Renault's high-performance brand. Also stands for Rally Sport (or Rallye Sport) on some other models.


Rear-wheel drive.


Statutory off-road notification. A no-cost alternative to road tax or VED for cars which don't venture onto public roads e.g. track cars or project cars.


Supplemental restraint system. The correct name for the airbag in your car.  


Ford's high-performance sub-brand.


Sports utility vehicle. A car with a high driving position and the looks of an off-roader, though in recent years the burgeoning crossover sector means an SUV isn't automatically good off-road.


Special Vehicle Operations. Jaguar and Land Rover’s speciality department, which tunes up and customises the brand’s products.


Traction control system. Aids control and grip by cutting engine power or applying the brakes when it detects a wheel slipping. 


Alfa Romeo Giulia - tyre pressures

Tyre pressure monitoring system. Checks the inflation levels of your tyres – a legal requirement if you’re using run-flat tyres.


Ultra-low emissions vehicle. Usually an electric or hybrid car with emissions of under 75g/km of CO2.


Vehicle excise duty. Also called road tax. A yearly fee which must be paid before you're entitled to use your car on the road. Prices are based on carbon dioxide emissions or, for older cars, engine size.


Vehicle Identification Number. Also called the chassis number, this is an identifying number used when checking a car’s history. Can be found on a plate on the chassis and at the base of the windscreen.


Variable Valve Timing Electronic Control. A system developed by Honda which uses two camshaft profiles to give the car distinct modes for performance and economy.


Skoda's high-performance sub-brand.


Vauxhall's high-performance sub-brand.


A German manufacturer of car parts, known particularly for its torque converter automatic gearboxes.

Are we missing anything? Let us know in the comments below and we'll add them in...

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