Things Every Self-Respecting Car Buff Should Know

Published On 11/22/2016 Published On 11/22/2016
Luke Wilson and a Dodge Challenger
Luke Wilson and a Dodge Challenger | Courtesy of FCA

As you probably know, big-rig truck drivers talk to each other over their CB radios with their own bizarre, hilarious language. The same is absolutely true for car enthusiasts, who share a strange subculture complete with its own lexicon. If you're into cars and and want to sound like you know what you're talking about, there are a few key terms and concepts you must master -- in addition to these basic skills and techniques. If you think wheels and tires are the same thing, or that your brake rotors are warped, listen up: Here's the CliffsNotes of what every proper car buff should know.

Aaron Miller/Thrillist

The difference between "fast" and "quick"

"Quick" is a measure of time -- think lap times or acceleration. "Fast" refers to velocity. Does a car accelerate from zero to 60 in three seconds flat? That's not fast, that's quick. Can it hit 200mph? That is fast. A car can be both quick and fast, or either one. Unfortunately, most cars are neither.

Why lap times matter

In terms of performance, a racetrack is the ultimate expression of a performance car. It tests how well a car accelerates, brakes, and turns. A quick lap time represents a car that's an all-around performer, not a one-trick pony like a muscle car (or a Tesla, for that matter).

But also, why they're kind of bullshit

Just like comparing two cars' 0-60 times, comparing lap times is almost always complete bullshit. Lap times are dependent on the driver, the tires, the temperature... and even if all those are the same, the specific racetrack can give an advantage to one car over another. Then, there's a question of endurance: Can the car be just as fast lap after lap?

For the vast majority of cars, that answer is no.

Flickr/Ray T

"Stance" is not a performance mod

When people refer to a car as "stanced," what they mean is that it has a really aggressive wheel fitment, and that the car has been modified specifically to fit oversized wheels and tires. This does not mean it's in some way a better performer as a result. It's just a form of expression, and so long as you don't go so extreme as to be dangerous (which can definitely happen), it's not hurting anyone -- but under no circumstance is it going to help the performance of the car.

It's not the tires' size that counts, it's how you use them

It stands to reason that wider tires give you more grip. If you as a driver don't know how to take advantage of that grip, though, or if your car's suspension isn't prepared for it, you're wasting much of a great tire's potential. Think of the tires as one part of an overall system that needs to be in balance with itself. You wouldn't use a store-bought marinade packet on a prime NY strip any more than you'd pull out the fancy China for chili dogs.

But the same isn't true of wheel diameter

Wider wheels can enable wider tires, but larger-diameter wheels very rarely provide an actual performance benefit. And that's perfectly fine. So long as you buy larger-diameter wheels for show, not performance or ride comfort, do what you want.

Flickr/Andrew Davidoff

Brake rotors do not warp

At least, yours didn't. A lot of people believe that vibrations from the brakes are caused by rotors that warp from excessive heat. You might have a vibration for a few different reasons, but believe me, in order to put enough heat into your rotors to warp them, you'd incinerate several other components first. It's not gonna happen; end of story.

"Big brakes" should be a last resort

I fully agree that big brakes can be sexy as hell, but to a large extent their performance gains are mythical. Some cars need them -- that's definitely true -- but more don't. If you just change your brake pads and fluid, your current brake system can handle a lot more than you likely think. As long as your current brakes can lock up your wheels or activate your ABS, you won't see much benefit with big brakes, despite their pretty hefty cost.

Courtesy of Alcantara

A lot of "high-end" products are just fancy marketing

Alcantara is increasingly popular in tons of performance cars. There's good reason for that -- it's nice to the touch and can even help you grip a steering wheel better. Just don't think of Alcantara as some ridiculously special, space-age material, because it's basically Ultrasuede by another name. Your grandmother's couch is perfectly alright in the interior of your car; all I ask is that you're cognizant of what it is.

A square wheel setup is a good thing

No, I'm not talking about attaching angular blocks to your car. Many years ago, almost every single car came from the factory with four identical wheels and tires -- which is called a square setup. Today, though, a lot of cars, especially performance cars, come with rear wheels and tires that are wider than the ones in front. This is called a staggered setup, and while it tends to look great (one of the reasons manufacturers do it), drivers that are serious about performance often switch to a square setup. It affects the handling balance of your car and also allows you to rotate tires, which helps them to last longer, saving you money.

A "sway bar" isn't really a thing

Anyone with even the slightest affinity for how a car handles is at least vaguely familiar with the concept of a sway bar -- a bar that connects one side of the car's suspension to the other, to aid dramatically in cornering ability. Just one problem: That's the wrong bloody term! They're called anti-roll bars, because when a car leans in a corner, that's technically referred to as roll.

Want more of the world's best Cars content delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up for our daily email.

Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook. People who confuse fast and quick annoy him, more than they probably should.



Learn More