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Car culture has a lot of lingo – technical and casual – that gets thrown around at meets and online. For the sake of creating a reference doc and a historical record, I want to catalog as much of it as possible. Hence: The Car Glossary.

I’m not looking to define every single word related to cars here – those of you who need to learn this stuff for your jobs (engineers, mechanics) will have textbooks for that anyway. The goals of this glossary are to catalog car phrases that come up in conversation with some regularity, contextualize inside jokes and slang, and explain things that may be adjacent to common vernacular but are not necessarily self-explanatory.

Think of this doc like a decoder ring for car culture’s slang.

If you’re looking for something specific, just hit control-F/command-F and use your browser’s search feature to get there on a desktop computer. On most phone browsers, look for a “share” icon near your URL bar and then something like “find in page.”

TermDefinitionSee Also
6-4Typically refers to a 1964 Chevy Impala, specifically one that’s been modified as a lowrider.
10-MilA 10mm socket. The common joke that this is the one “that always gets lost” is because it’s one of the most common bolt sizes.
ABG“Always Be Gambling” — a hashtag and tagline for Gambler 500 events.Gambler 500
ADASAdvanced Driver Assistance Systems – lane keeping assist, radar cruise control, rear-cross traffic alert, etc.
AlcantaraBrand of suede-like material used in higher-end interiors, considered both sporty and luxurious.
ApexThe point at which you close the corner, closest to the inside of the turn.
Because RacecarPeople mostly say this as a funny way to describe mods that sacrifice comfort for speed, or just non-explain why fast cars are cool. It’s a meme that originated with a Craigslist ad for a 1992 Mazda MX-3 that included the sentence: “Completely stripped inside because race car.” Know Your Meme has a screenshot.
BleedingTo purge air from various automotive systems like brake lines and cooling systems.
Blinker FluidOver-done joke among car enthusiasts; refilling blinker fluid often suggested to newbies asking for help with broken lights (blinkers don’t use fluid).
BoostThe compressed air produced by a turbocharger or supercharger that’s being fed into the engine to boost power.
Breaker BarA long pipe, ratchet, etc. to increase the torquing strength while loosening a bolt. The common jack handle is usually the most readily available method.Cheater Bar
Burp The Cooling SystemPurging air from a radiator and cooling lines, usually done by running the vehicle with its nose elevated and radiator cap removed.
CamberEssentially, how a car’s wheel is tilted. If the top of the wheel is tilted inward towards the centerline of the car, that’s negative camber. If it’s tilted outward from the centerline of the car, that’s positive camber. Positive camber is usually really lame.
CaningTo exert your wrath upon the road and car with your aggressively fast driving.
Car TalkPopular radio show on NPR that aired for many years. Reruns are still aired around the country.
CarburetorAntiquated method of delivering fuel with the magic of vacuum systems and small metered air passages.
CatShort for catalytic converter, a piece in a car’s exhaust system that filters* pollutants. These are sometimes stolen because they’re made with rare and valuable metals. *An astute reader pointed out that it doesn’t technically filter, it uses metals as catalysts to make exhaust gases less noxious through chemical reactions. In a practical sense, it is a filter. Let’s Talk Science has an in-depth article on this if you’d like to go deeper.
CCWShort for counter-clockwise, when a track is run counter-clockwise.
Chassis CodeThe alphanumeric shorthand used to describe a certain generation of a car. For example: E30 is a BMW chassis code.
Cheater BarA long pipe, ratchet, etc. to increase the torquing strength while loosening a bolt. The common jack handle is usually the most readily-available method.Breaker Bar
ChukiJapanese for “middle generation.” So if there’s a mid-life cycle for a car like a 1991-1994 S13 240SX, that’s a Chuki.Zenki, Kouki
CoiloversA suspension component (spring and damper) that is characterized by adjustable spring perches; basically a threaded damper with the ability to raise and lower the height of the car (and make corner-balancing adjustments) with some simple wrenches.Corner Balancing
Cold-Air IntakeAn intake system that replaces the stock engine air intake system with a cone filter and relocates it to the fenderwell or somewhere with clear air. Not to be confused with a short-ram intake. Makes hectic turbo noises. Doesn’t make power, usually.Short-Ram Intake
Combustion ChamberThe volume in between the top of the piston and bottom of the heads where the explosions that make internal combustion possible.
Concourse ConditionTop-tier minty.
Corner BalancingThe process of shifting the weight carried by each wheel. This is done so that a car will handle evenly in left and right turns. Elephant Racing has an in-depth article about this if you’d like to go deeper.
CutoutsAn early exit added into an exhaust system, often electronically activated to make the exhaust louder.
CWShort for clockwise, when a track is run clockwise.
Direct InjectionA fuel delivery method that gets fuel directly into the combustion chamber where it is most efficient. Often referred to as “GDI” for Gasoline Direct Injection.Gasoline Direct Injection
DOHCDual Over-Head Camshafts
DonkA car, typically a domestic sedan, modified to fit absurdly large wheels.
Drift MissileA shitbox car used for drifting.
Dubs20-inch wheels
DumpedWhen a car is super slammed.Slammed, Shlammed
Endurance RaceRaces that last four-plus hours, with several famous races lasting for up to 24 and 25 hours.
Engine BayArea under the hood where the engine lives.
EPSElectronic Power Steering. Often maligned as less communicative or sensitive than hydraulic power steering. EPS has become the modern standard for various reasons including improved engine efficency.
Falls Readily To HandA lame and played-out way to describe good ergonomics.
FitmentHow a car looks when lowered. Typically, nice fitment is a decreased gap between the wheel and fender to the point of looking flush, which also looks sporty.
FlushThis when the outside of a wheel is perfectly lined up with the edge of the car’s fender.
Gambler 500A no-rules adventure rally that started with the premise of “driving a $500 car 500 miles.” Originated in Oregon, now a national phenomenon getting people and beater cars together at events all over the place.ABG
Gasoline Direct InjectionA fuel delivery method that gets fuel directly into the combustion chamber where it is most efficient.Direct Injection
GLWSGood Luck With Sale (It’s probably overpriced).
Granny Shiftin’Changing gears in your manual transmission well before redline.
GT ClassingThe smaller the number, the more power and aero the cars have. Example: the Porsche GT1 was a monster, today’s Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR is way-more street-car-like (but still very much a race car).
Heel-And-ToeTechnique by which one uses their toe to brake and their heel to blip the throttle for a seamless downshift.
Homologation SpecialCars that come into existence when racing rules require automakers to have a street-legal version of competition cars. Examples: Toyota Yaris GR, Ford Sierra RS 500 Cosworth, Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution.
HoonDoing stunts, donuts, ect. is hooning. A hoon is somebody who does things like that (Australian slang).
If You Can Find A Better Car, Buy ItA 1980s Chrylser catchphrase famously recited by Lee Iacocca.
Initial DAnime show and live-action movie about Japanese drifting and tofu delivery. Largely responsible for the popularity of the AE86 Toyota.
Jack It UpTo lift the car with hydraulic jack or scissor jack.
JalopnikThe OG irreverent car blog; the name is ostensibly a portmanteau of “jalopy” and “beatnik.”
KammbackIn car design, when you’ve got a sloping hatchback that abruptly falls off at the end like a second-gen Prius or Insight.
KnockingSound that the engine makes when something has failed internally, is very bad.
KoukiJapanese for “late iteration,” final facelift, and usually the most JDMTyte desirable hero cars from Japan, like the S13 180SX Type-X.Zenki, Chuki
Laughing GasSlang for nitrous oxide, a gas forced into an engine’s combustion to make it run faster.
Left-Foot BrakingThe technique of feathering the brake pedal with the left foot, while accelerating with the right; can be utilized to maximize revs through corners and keep a turbo car in boost. This can also refer to simply using your left foot to brake in general so as to lose less time swapping feet between pedals.
Limit Of AdhesionDriving at the very limit of the grip from your tires, only slightly sliding all four wheels.
Limited-Slip DifferentialA differential that is designed to control differences in rotational speed from side-to-side to keep both tires spinning at similar speeds; anti one-wheel peel device. Often abreviated as LSD.LSD
Little BastardA Porsche 550 Spyder that actor James Dean owned and fatally crashed in.
Load ResistorA little electronic component added into a car’s lighting wiring to make LEDs work properly where incandesent bulbs are normally used.
Loud PedalA lame cliché term for the gas pedal.
LowriderA car modified with ornate and flashy decorations, often fitted with wire wheels and hydraulic systems that make the car hop. Usually a large American sedan from the 1960s or early ’70s.
LSDA differential that is designed to control differences in rotational speed from side-to-side to keep both tires spinning at similar speeds; anti one-wheel peel device.
Mid Night Racing Team (Mid Night Club)Infamous Japanese street racing club that existed from the ‘80s to its official disbandment in 1999 after an incident that injured civilians. Known for racing on the Shutoko or Shuto Expressway that includes the Wangan Bayshore Route where 200 kph was regularly broken. “Midnight Club” the video game series is also about street racing, but in a totally different context – the closest video game to the Japanese Mid Night Club experience would be something like “Tokyo Xtreme Racer.”
MinitruckTypically refers to compact trucks from the 1980s and ’90s modified in a lowrider-like style.
MobbingTo drive fast cross-country or in a canyon in a car suitable for multiple people or in a caravan of fellow cannonballers.
More than you can afford, pal.An often-parodied quote from 2001’s The Fast And The Furious. The context is that some dude a Ferrari says this to the heros driving their tuner Toyota Supra. Fun fact: the actor who says this was actually one of the movie’s producers.
Muffler BearingsFake car term used to tease people.Blinker Fluid, Turbo Encabulator
Negative CamberAdjusting the camber of the wheels so that the tops poke in; increases cornering grip on track, decreases acceleration and braking grip.
OBDOn-Board Diagnostic. Cars made after 1996 have a version known as OBD-II.
OffsetWhere the centerline of the wheel is in relation to the wheel hub’s mounting surface. Positive offset: the mounting surface is in front of, or, outboard from the centerline. Negative offset is the opposite, zero offset is right on the centerline.
On RailsAn old cliché to describe “good handling.”
OverdriveMost commonly, an overdrive gear is a really long, highway-friendly gear in conventional automatic transmissions. If it’s a five-speed automatic, it would be the fifth gear. Turning overdrive off limits gear selection to the rest of the gears, which is usually intended for passing slower moving vehicles on the highway. Otherwise, overdrive can simply mean a gear with a ratio of less than 1.0:1, which helps improve fuel economy.
PA DubbersVolkswagen owners from Pennsylvania, usually extremely shlammed and known automotive provocateurs.
Pinging/Detonating/Ignition KnockSound that the engine makes when it is running sub-optimally, usually very bad.
Port InjectionMethod by which a fuel injector is placed in the intake runner and it sprays fuel down onto the valve and into the combustion chamber.
PrototypeWild-looking, purpose-built, closed-wheel race cars. A common modern example is IMSA’s DPi class (Daytona Prototype International). This can also refer to pre-production road cars.
Pushrod EngineA car that has a valve train that’s actuated by a center, single camshaft, usually above the crankshaft and powered via belt or chain. The camshaft pushes on lifters (or tappets), which then push on pushrods, which then push on rockers under the valve cover that actuate the valves. This is typically an old engine design, but various GM V8s still use it to much success and reliability.
Q-ShipA car that doesn’t look fast, but is. Term borrowed from the military; Q-ships were armed vessels disguised as merchant ships. It does not have anything to do with James Bond.Sleeper
RadwoodAn ’80s and ’90s-themed car show and cosplay event.
Rifle-Bolt PreciseA phrase that for some reason hacks love to use to describe responsive controls. It’s especially common when talking about how a shifter feels.
Rolling CoalWhen diesel vehicles belch a whole bunch of black soot from their exhaust pipe. This is usually achieved by defeating emissions systems, ostensibly to increase engine power but it’s also an “aesthetic”
Rotary EngineAn engine without a valvetrain. This is essentially a series of triangle-shaped rotors inside a block or housing, which spin around an eccentric shaft to get power to the drivetrain. Usually associated with the Mazda RX-7.
RTVRoom Temperature Vulcanizing; a sealant that comes out of a tube and is commonly used between parts as a gasket (or to supplement a gasket).
SafariNewer usage: A car, especially a sports car, modified for off-road use. Classic usage: Going for a drive off-road to look for animals.
Send ItTo go hard in spite of (because of?) obvious dangers.Still Gonna Send It
ShlammedWhen a car is so unbelievably dumped that it can’t clear the painted lines on the road.Slammed, Dumped
Short-Ram IntakeAn intake system that replaces the stock intake with a cone filter in the engine bay. This is usually just a painted tube and an air filter. Makes even more hectic turbo noises or VTEC noises than a cold-air intake. Usually, you lose power from the fact that it sits in the hot engine bay air.Cold-Air Intake
SidepipesExhaust pipes that run down the sides of a car or exit ahead of the rear wheel.
SlammedWhen a car is lowered substantially.Dumped, Shlammed
SleeperA car that doesn’t look fast, but is.Q-Ship
SOHCSingle Over-Head Camshaft
SparesAustralian slang for parts.
Spring CompressorUsed to remove a spring from a spring/shock combo, ensures it doesn’t come loose and take an eye/entire face out
Sprint RaceRaces that typically last no more than an hour.
StancedA car that’s stanced sits ultra-low, largely due to a huge amount of negative camber. The wheels poke out from the bottom so aggressively that stanced cars often look like cartoon cars taking a nap.
StaticThis means a car’s ride height is not quickly altered with air suspension. Instead, conventional suspension equipment such as coilovers are manually adjusted, or lowering springs have been installed.
StealershipCommon slang for car dealerships, which are notoriously expensive places to buy cars or parts.
Still Gonna Send ItAs famously recited by “amateur stuntman” Larry Enticer, this basically translates to: “I don’t care if this car/truck/snowmobile is broken/unsafe/junk, I’m going to speed/hit a jump/go crazy anyway.”Send It
Stop BoxBox outlined in cones that you must come to a complete stop in exiting an autocross course.
Sunday DriverSomeone who drives slowly/cluelessly on track.
TCRA touring car racing class that consists of fast, front-wheel drive, turbocharged compacts with around 300 horsepower. It’s where you can watch Honda Civic Type Rs and Hyundai Veloster Ns duke it out in professional racing.
The ‘RingShort for the Nürburgring, the longest (and one of the oldest) racetracks in the world, in Nürburg, Germany. It’s known for its blind curves, high speed, tight track width, and brutal crashes on YouTube.
Throttle-Body InjectionInjection system with injector(s) mounted in the throttle body. Mounts on top of the intake manifold in essentially the same way as a carburetor. Sometimes written in shorthand as TBI, this was one of the early iterations of electronic fuel injection on mass-produced cars.
TougeJapanese word for “mountain pass” said too much by the nerds who drive the Southern California canyons quickly.
Touring Car RacingA racing classes where the cars are largely based on normal, road-legal cars. Often, touring cars have fewer aerodynamic improvements and power mods than GT race cars, but there are notable exceptions like modern-day DTM. BTCC, DTM, and IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge are popular serieses for touring cars.
Trail BrakingBraking and steering at the same time to transfer weight and aid rotation. Generally, it’s a technique used to hold as much momentum as possible through corners in lower-powered, FWD cars. But it’s applicable with many different types of platforms, including mid-engine supercars.
Turbo EncabulatorFake car term used to tease people.Blinker Fluid, Muffler Bearings
Turbo LagA delay in turbo boost delivery caused by the turbo not spinning up fast enough. Historically, big turbos suffer from this, as it takes the engines they’re strapped to a lot of exhaust gas pressure to spin them up. However, once they’re spun up they produce massive power, which in turn keeps the turbo spinning, creating one heck of a ride.
VANOSVariable Nockenwellen Steuerung – BMW’s version of variable valve timing.
VTEC“Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control,” which means that camshaft timing and camshaft lift. Honda proprietary.
VTEC BlippingDeliberately revving your Honda up to the VTEC crossover point, letting it “hit” VTEC, then immediately shifting without fully revving the car out. A real OG Hondaboiz technique.
VTEC crossoverThe point in the rpm range where VTEC activates, characterized by a change in engine tone and power.
VVT-iVariable Valve Timing with Intelligence. Toyota’s variable timing system.
Walnut BlastingA method of cleaning car parts, typically intake manifolds, that involves rapidly shooting chopped walnuts at it. This is done to avoid damaging sensitive parts.
Wangan MidnightAnime show and live-action movie about Japanese highway street racers and a certain S30 Z that may or may not be possessed by the devil.
Well-BoughtA buyer found a good deal.
WheelingOften associated with driving fast and competently on track; on the limit, but in control. Also can refer to off-roading, depending on the context.
ZenkiJapanese for “first iteration,” basically pre-facelift.Chuki, Kouki

Contributors (last-name alphabetical): Andrew P. Collins, Peter Nelson, Chris Rosales, Stef Schrader, Kevin Williams.

First update: June 4, 2021. We’re introducing The Car Glossary here with about 100 terms to start off. As we see new words and phrases in use and get suggestions for things we missed, we’ll add to the list and re-sort alphabetically so things remain relatively easy to find.

Second update: June 16, 2021. Shoutout to reader Michael Febbo with some good suggestions for tweaks and clarifications. We also added some more slang terms and a few links to deeper scientific explanations for those who are interested. We’re up to 120 terms.

If you think of something this list needs, don’t be shy about letting us know in the comment section here or on social media!

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