Cars

9 Common Car Terms You're Using Wrong

Published On 02/22/2016 Published On 02/22/2016
Ford(Edited)

Cars have evolved, and as a result, so has the terminology used to describe them. Over the years, words were misinterpreted, redefined, and then passed on from one generation to another before cementing their place in the lexicon of automobiles. Even more frequently, car manufacturers pushed the boundaries of definitions to make their products sound more appealing. But for the love of God, it's time to quit calling crossovers SUVs, people! Here are just nine of the car terms that get thrown around haphazardly -- you've probably been using them wrong your entire life.

Courtesy of Ford and Toyota

1. "SUV"

In order to qualify as an SUV, a vehicle has to be constructed by a specific method called "body-on-frame" -- which basically means it's built the way a truck is built. Many of today’s vehicles that people call "SUVs" are constructed in the same manner as a car, and are therefore technically called crossovers.

This might seem trivial, but think about the difference between an SUV and a crossover in terms of EPA regulations and you'll see why it's important to call a spade a spade.

Flickr/Jim Champion and Flickr/John Serrao

2. "Moonroof"

Most people seem to think "moonroof" and "sunroof" are interchangeable, or that it's simply a matter of sunroofs being metal and moonroofs being glass. Both are wrong. If it's a glass panel that slides back inside your roof, your sunroof is also a moonroof. If it's made of any other material or it retracts in any other way, it's still a sunroof, but absolutely not a moonroof.

Aaron Miller/Thrillist and Courtesy of Mazda

3. "Sports car"

This one's easily the most controversial, because everyone wants to drive a sports car and all the manufacturers want you to think that's what you paid for. But here's a little test: did your car come with a backseat that can fit a fully grown human being? Congrats! You don't own a sports car. That means a Camaro or an M3 can never truly be a sports car. Is your car as lightweight as realistically possible, with its first, second, and third emphasis on driving feel and very little thought given to luxury or even power? OK, you have a sports car.

Does a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Of course, but that doesn't stop people from being offended at the thought of owning a non-sports car.

Flickr/Foshie and Aaron Miller/Thrillist

4. "Coupe"

Contrary to popular belief, the etymology of the word "coupe" cannot be traced to "couple," and the number of doors a car has is of no significance in determining whether it's a coupe. It's actually from a French word, couper, which means "to cut," and refers to a certain style of horse-drawn carriage wherein the rearward-facing front seats were cut out. Traditionally, "coupe" meant that a car had no B-pillar right behind the front seats -- Mercedes and Rolls-Royce like to stick with that definition today. More modern definitions, however, including those of the SAE, define a coupe as any fixed-roof car with less than 33 cubic feet of rear interior space.

Aaron Miller/Thrillist

5. "Muscle car"

Historically speaking, a muscle car is a family car that happens to have enough power to alter the Earth's rotation. Think about cars like the Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger; as pony cars (read: not muscle cars), they're three excellent examples of exactly why everyone gets this one wrong. Now, an old school GTO, or a modern Chevy SS or Charger Hellcat? Hell, even a Tesla Model SThose are muscle cars.

Aaron Miller/Thrillist

6. "GT," or "Grand Touring"

Take the general idea and style of a sports car, and then make it so luxurious you'd be fine spending a week in it on a cross-country trip. Then, add enough power that no one will ever pass you on the autobahn. That's what a GT car is, even if many cars’ badges say otherwise.

Aaron Miller/Thrillist

7. "Racing"

Are you referring to a competition that involves organized wheel-to-wheel battles? No? Then you're talking about any number of things, like a track day, or a time trial, maybe even a rally. Those can all be fantastic forms of motorsport, but they're not racing, which adds an element of high-speed chess.

Aaron Miller/Thrillist and Flickr/Bill Abbott

8. "Hubcaps"

Some people still mistake an entire wheel for a hubcap. The truth is that a hubcap is a metal or plastic cover over the, er, hub... and it served a few relatively minor functions back in the day in the name of longevity and beautification. Now, everyone seems to think they're those cheap plastic wheel covers you can buy at Walmart.

Flickr/Jason Lawrence and Flickr/Roadside Pictures

9. "Semi truck"

First off, that "truck" is really a tractor. Think about it: it's a very powerful industrial tool designed to pull something behind it, just like a farm tractor. The trailer it tows is technically called a semi-trailer because it only has wheels in back. The proper term here is tractor-trailer. You wouldn't be entirely wrong if you truncated the whole thing to "semi," so long as there's a semi trailer involved like the photo on the right. Calling it a semi truck? That's always wrong.

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Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter. He still believes that none of these are quite as bad as calling a Tesla a "supercar."

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