In the sec­ond in­stal­ment of our new series of en­light­en­ing mo­tor­ing def­i­ni­tions, we dis­sect a care­fully cu­rated col­lec­tion span­ning from C-pil­lar to dry sump


Our painstak­ingly cu­rated glos­sary of terms that ev­ery au­to­mo­tive nerd should know


The rear­most pil­lar on many cars, and the one on which car de­sign­ers can re­ally go to town with sculpt­ing and fancy win­dow shapes. Or, in the case of the new Aura, in­stalling an area of metal the size of a foot­ball pitch.

Compact sedan, SUV

How to bend the rules by tak­ing a hack­saw to a tra­di­tional sedan. Or slap­ping ground clear­ance and wheel arches to a hatch­back to cre­ate a pseudo-SUV. Ei­ther way the gov­ern­ment makes less money and the buyer gets less prac­ti­cal­ity.


How in­dus­try-peo­ple re­fer to City-sized cars. Or the seg­ment that is get­ting mur­dered by SUVs that are a few inches longer than compact.


Car de­sign phi­los­o­phy in which the pas­sen­ger cabin sits as far for­ward as pos­si­ble, giv­ing a short bon­net and greater in­te­rior room. Much seen on Hon­das like the Jazz un­til they re­alised it made it look like a van and the car it­self was canned.

Cadence brak­ing

Pre-ABS brak­ing tech­nique in which the pedal is pumped in rapid suc­ces­sion with the aim of achiev­ing high re­tar­da­tion with­out lock­ing the wheels. Not to be con­fused with peo­ple who jab the brakes ev­ery 20 sec­onds while driv­ing on a clear high­way. The tech­ni­cal term for th­ese drivers is ‘mo­rons’.

Cam­ber an­gle

The an­gle of a car’s wheels away from the ver­ti­cal. If the bot­tom of the wheel sticks out more than the top, that’s neg­a­tive cam­ber, as seen on the rear axle of BMW M-cars and madly mod­i­fied City VTECs. If the top of the wheel sticks out more than the bot­tom, that’s pos­i­tive cam­ber, as seen on the rear axle of a three-wheeled Ape shortly be­fore an ac­ci­dent hap­pens.


A shaft with mul­ti­ple lobes for the pur­pose of con­vert­ing ro­tat­ing mo­tion into re­cip­ro­cat­ing mo­tion in or­der to open in­let and/or ex­haust valves.


Re­in­forced plas­tic ma­te­rial of­fer­ing a high strength-to-weight ra­tio. First used to make a For­mula 1 car mono­coque in 1981 (McLaren MP4/1), it be­gan ap­pear­ing in road cars soon af­ter, fea­tur­ing in the con­struc­tion of the Fer­rari 288 GTO and F40 and, ob­scure Bri­tish sports car fans, the Pan­ther Solo. Full car­bon mono­co­ques fol­lowed in the early ’90s on the McLaren F1 and Bu­gatti EB110, al­though tech­ni­cally the first on a road car was on the Jaguar Sport XJR-15 (above).


De­vice for blend­ing fuel and air into nice raspy noises and crisp throt­tle re­sponse.

Car park

Ve­hic­u­lar repos­i­tory not to be con­fused with a large bib­li­cal boat full of large fresh­wa­ter fish.


De­funct Amer­i­can car rac­ing for­mula where you turned left four times.

Cas­tor an­gle

The an­gle of a car’s steer­ing axis away from the ver­ti­cal. Not to be con­fused with Cas­tor An­gel, who tested for Williams in the late ’70s. Prob­a­bly.


What Jaguar used to la­bel its ac­tive damp­ing sys­tem, sup­pos­edly stand­ing for Com­puter Ac­tive Tech­nol­ogy Sus­pen­sion, though that’s re­ally just a word salad to reach a fe­line-re­lated pun. Imag­ine be­ing the per­son in the meet­ing who came up with this one. They prob­a­bly got the rest of the af­ter­noon off.


Drag co­ef­fi­cient. A mea­sure of how much air re­sis­tance an ob­ject presents, much favoured by car mar­ket­ing de­part­ments in the ’80s.

Cen­tral reser­va­tion

Area be­tween two car­riage­ways where cows graze and de­cide when to jump in front of you.

Cen­tral steer­ing wheel

Car lay­out of­fer­ing an en­hanced sense of con­trol and a lack of re­quire­ment to tool for right- and left-hand drive, but also disad­van­tages such as com­pro­mised ingress/egress and an in­abil­ity to talk about it with­out ref­er­enc­ing the McLaren F1. None of which ap­plies to the rick­shaw.


A scooter you waited 20 years to get de­liv­ery of. Now a scooter that uses only elec­tric­ity.


Short S-shaped fea­ture on a road or track, of­ten in­tro­duced to re­duce speeds. From the French verb ‘to spoil the Mul­sanne’.


Word for car in­stru­ments used by peo­ple try­ing to sound like pi­lots. See also ‘Cock­pit’.

Close ra­tio

A gear­box boast­ing short ra­tios and small gaps be­tween them. Some­thing Porsche seems to have for­got­ten about re­cently.


The oper­at­ing com­part­ment of an air­craft, some­times ap­plied to the driv­ing seat of a car by peo­ple who want to sound more im­pres­sive/like a bit of a berk.


A car pas­sen­ger who has a job to do, part of which is not be­ing sick. In ral­ly­ing a co­driver typ­i­cally has lit­tle ap­par­ent re­gard for their own mor­tal­ity and is usu­ally found sleep­ing on the floor if the crew doesn't get a twin bed ho­tel room.


Sus­pen­sion com­po­nent com­pris­ing a coil spring en­cir­cling a damper and the thing Amer­i­can peo­ple on the in­ter­net im­me­di­ately tell oth­ers to fit in or­der to im­prove their car’s han­dling.


What tyres are made of, typ­i­cally a blend of ac­tual rub­ber and other in­gre­di­ents such as car­bon, acid, zinc ox­ide and oil. Also a kind of large yard where Amer­i­can lu­natics in cults al­ways seem to live.

Com­pres­sion ra­tio

The ra­tio be­tween the vol­ume of a com­bus­tion cham­ber when the pis­ton is at the bot­tom of its travel ver­sus the top. Re­leased a cou­ple of de­cent al­bums in the early ’80s.

Con­nected Car

A weird term as your car won't get very far if it re­ally is con­nected to any­thing. In­te­grates an e-SIM that will never have any range, ex­cept when your kid gets hold of your phone and un­locks the car so passers-by can help them­selves to your iPad. Also see 'In­ter­net In­side'.

Con­cours d’élé­gance

Event where ex­tremely rich peo­ple gather to look at each other’s ex­tremely valu­able cars and ad­mire how lit­tle they have been driven.

Con rod

Con­nect­ing rod. The part of an en­gine that con­nects a pis­ton to the crankshaft. Will cause a fail­ure to pro­ceed if thrown.


The ver­sion that’s not as good un­less it was de­signed to be one in the first place.


A sporty two-door car and not, de­spite the best ef­forts of many car mak­ers to con­vince us oth­er­wise, a lum­ber­ing and pig-ugly SUV with a slightly more slanted tail­gate.

Cour­tesy car

The strange-smelling car with rat­tling sus­pen­sion that you have to drive while your ac­tual car is be­ing mended.


A hump in the road, ideal for the get­ting of air and the break­ing of sump. Also a brand of tooth­paste pop­u­lar amongst rally drivers.

Cross spokes

Style of al­loy wheel very pop­u­lar in the 1980s, and with good rea­son, be­cause they look ex­cel­lent and take a mere nine hours each to clean.

Cruise con­trol

Sys­tem ca­pa­ble of main­tain­ing a given speed, which you can main­tian for pre­cisely three sec­onds be­fore a truck turns into the fast lane with­out warn­ing.


Road user for whom traf­fic lights are just a sug­ges­tion.


A car in fre­quent use for mun­dane tasks

such as com­mut­ing. Ex­tra points if it is some­thing con­ven­tion­ally con­sid­ered un­suit­able for this, such as a turbo-charged Honda City VTEC, or Thar.


Place that Parisians with rally cars needed to get to quite ur­gently, ap­par­ently.


Tube of oil (and some­times also gas) mounted be­tween car body and wheel as part of the sus­pen­sion with the pur­pose of con­trol­ling the move­ment of that sus­pen­sion, thereby steady­ing the body and help­ing to main­tain the tyre’s con­tact with the road. Also called a shock ab­sorber, al­though ab­sorb­ing shocks is re­ally the spring’s job.


To re­move in­di­ca­tors of model and/or power out­put from the rear of a car. As a gen­eral rule, the higher the horse­power, the cooler the act of de-badg­ing, e.g. BMW 520d: not cool; BMW M5: very cool. Not to be con­fused with mis­cre­ants with a screw­driver who re­lieve your car of badges and of­fer them to rick­shaws.


Thing you have never heard of, and will never use in In­dia. See also ‘Scrap­ers’.


Dou­ble Four Valve rac­ing V8 by Cos­worth and the most suc­cess­ful F1 en­gine in his­tory, with 12 drivers’ ti­tles and ten con­struc­tors’ tro­phies (plus two wins at Le Mans, ten at

the Indy 500 and count­less oth­ers).


A po­lite way of say­ing a car’s styling is ugly, e.g. ‘the new BMW M4 is ex­pected to be ex­tremely dis­tinc­tive, build­ing on BMW’s lat­est de­sign lan­guage, which has made most of its cars look so ter­ri­bly, ter­ri­bly dis­tinc­tive’.


A fre­quently noisy type of en­gine that's at the whip­ping end of gree­nies, politi­cos and even the courts. Also aban­doned al­to­gether by Maruti, Volk­swa­gen and many more.

Dog leg

A gear­box in which first gear is lo­cated down and to the left, so named be­cause this pat­tern looks a bit like the shape of a dog’s hind leg.

Dou­ble clutch

In­creas­ingly pop­u­lar trans­mis­sion sys­tem, the idea of which dates back to the 1930s, though it took un­til the ’80s for Porsche to make the idea work on its 962 en­durance racer. The Porsche tech was also fit­ted to Audi’s Sport Quattro S1 with less suc­cess since drivers com­plained it threw off their nat­u­ral driv­ing rhythm. Com­mon­place in fast cars to­day, though many com­pa­nies still of­fer a man­ual al­ter­na­tive that no one or­ders.

Dou­ble wish­bone

Sus­pen­sion de­sign us­ing two wish­bone­shaped arms, an up­per and a lower, the chief pluses of which are an in­crease in neg­a­tive cam­ber as the sus­pen­sion com­presses, to the ben­e­fit of tyre con­tact patch and grip, greater flex­i­bil­ity on damper place­ment, and lower height than a strut for po­ten­tial sleek­ness of styling. Also, it sounds quite cool.


Air re­sis­tance press­ing down on a mov­ing car. In a race car it has the ben­e­fit of in­creas­ing grip dur­ing corner­ing. In a road car it has the ben­e­fit of giv­ing the mar­ket­ing de­part­ment some­thing to talk about.


The col­lec­tive parts of a car that de­liver the out­put of the en­gine to the wheels. Also what a train driver does.


Day­time run­ning lights. Once the pre­serve of Volvos and Saabs, now some­thing es­sen­tial to dis­tin­guish a C- from an Efrom an S-Class. Also ev­ery Audi. Re­search sug­gests DRLs are likely to re­duce day­time multi-ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents and fa­tal­i­ties by six per cent, once all ve­hi­cles are so equipped. There hasn’t been any re­search into the ef­fects of those who, as a re­sult of DRLs, for­get to put their head­lights on af­ter sun­down.

Dry sump

En­gine lu­bri­ca­tion sys­tem in which oil lives in a sep­a­rate reser­voir rather than in the sump un­der the en­gine. Dry sump is crisp and oaky, and goes well with fish and chicken, un­like a sweet sump, which is bet­ter with pud­ding. ⌧

Clock­wise from left: A sedan with an ex­cuse for a boot, a camshaft, two Chetaks span­ning three decades (one does not need to be tilted), and the first road-go­ing re­cip­i­ent of a car­bon­fi­bre mono­coque

From left to right: Some ‘clocks’, a con rod, and a cen­tral steer­ing wheel lay­out, per­fectly (and pre­dictably) il­lus­trated by the McLaren F1

Clock­wise from right: The Dakar Rally (which hasn’t vis­ited Dakar since 2008), a driv­e­train, a Con­cours d’Elé­gance (the thrill of not driv­ing), chi­canery, and proof that con­vert­ibles are not al­ways bad

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