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Buying a car? All the terminology you need to know [updated]

Megan MacDonald
By
June 18, 2018

car terminology

There’s nothing more frustrating than buying a new car when the salesman speaks an alien language.

When you are ready to take the plunge and buy your first car – an exciting moment indeed – there is nothing more frustrating and confusing than a salesman speaking what seems like an alien language. Here, at Suzuki, we don’t believe in boggling your brains with phrases and terms that sound like they are meant to rip you off. Instead, we speak in plain and simple language, designed to make your experience as easy and pleasurable as possible.

Tired of reading car reviews that don’t make any sense? We break down some key car jargon to help you make the best decision.  Here are a few key terms that you will need to know when you start shopping around, checking adverts and other postings,:

Term

Meaning

Kilowatts (kW)

Kilowatt is the metric unit used to measure power. Generally the more kW and engine has, the faster it will accelerate. Put another way, it’s the ability of the engine to convert the potential energy of fuel to motion. So if we compare it to riding a bike, it's about how fast the cyclist can pedal.

Torque (Nm)

Torque is best described as the twisting power the engine has. The higher the torque, the better ability the engine has to pull over a broad spectrum.  So if we compare it to riding a bike, it’s about how hard the cyclist can press down on the pedals.

ABS brakes (anti-lock braking system)

ABS brakes lock and release the brakes up to 20 times per second to allow the driver to change direction during extreme braking.  This allows the driver to steer around possible dangers.

Traction control

This system prevents excessive wheel spin during harsh acceleration or on slippery surfaces.

Airbags

An SRS (Supplementary Restraint System) airbag automatically inflates upon impact to prevent contact with hard surfaces inside a car. All airbags are only effective when used in conjunction with seatbelts, the Primary Restraint System.

Climate control

This is like aircon, but much, much better. Simply set the temperature and the car does the rest. It’s best practice to set the temperature to around 22.5C to prevent driver fatigue and to get the ideal, temperate feel inside your vehicle. It's a great function to keep everyone in the car comfortable.

Power steering

Power steering makes turning easy. Essentially, in a car with power steering, there’s a small hydraulic or electric engine that assists with steering.

Remote keyless entry

You don’t need to insert your key into the doors to open it, just push the button.

Keyless entry and start

With proximity sensors, you don’t need to get your keys out your pocket or handbag to get in and drive your car. A simple starter button completes the experience.

Air conditioning

A simple system that cools and treats air through a refrigeration cycle, using a fan to blast the air into the cabin.

Xenon headlamp

Xenon is a natural gas that’s both colourless and odourless, and emits a clean, white light when used in car headlamps. It’s more efficient than its popular counterpart, halogen, uses less power and has a long lifespan.

Halogen headlamp

This affordable lighting system emits a bright white light, is very popular and has a low replacement cost.

LED headlamp

LEDs don’t need much power to work and have a very efficient energy consumption. They’re smaller and longer lasting than their counterparts.

ISOFIX

This is the international standard for attaching children’s seats, and consists of metal fitting points built into the car at manufacturing. It makes for easy and more secure fastening of child seats without using the seatbelt. When purchasing your car seat, ensure it is built for ISOFIX.  

Service plan

This plan will take care of all the maintenance on your car for a specified period, such as 5 years or 100 000km. It means you don’t pay for services, but will have to pay for tyres, for example. You also need to make sure that you follow the terms and conditions and service your car by the book, otherwise you will void the warranty. 

Warranty plan

A warranty is the manufacturer’s guarantee that the product won’t break under normal usage conditions.

Service intervals

Most car manufacturers expect you to have your car serviced every 15 000 km or one year, whichever comes first. So if you only drive 10 000 km in your first year, best you make an appointment with your dealer, or risk losing your warranty.

Emergency brake assist or brake assist (BAS)

Even in emergencies, studies prove that drivers don’t brake hard enough. The BAS helps with this by judging, based on the speed and force with which the brake pedal is pushed, if the driver is trying to execute an emergency stop. If the brake isn’t fully applied, the system overrides the driver until the ABS system takes over.

Electronic stability programme

The electronic stability programme (ESP), also known as the electronic stability control (ESC), or dynamic stability control (DSC), improves a vehicle’s stability. When it detects skidding, the computerised system applies to brakes to “steer” the vehicle by selectively braking individual wheels to prevent under and oversteering.

On-the-road fees

Many dealers still charge a fee for what seems to be effectively handing the car over to you. However, this fee – which you can negotiate – also includes quite a bit of admin, including licensing, a full tank of petrol, and even number plates.

Warranty

This is the period for which your car is covered if it breaks down due to a manufacturing fault, or if the paint starts peeling without any external reason. It doesn’t cover any damage you may cause to the vehicle.

Extended warranty

An extended warranty gives a consumer additional warranty protection after a vehicle's original factory warranty expires. Car dealers typically attempt to sell customers an extended warranty at the time a new vehicle is purchased, but consumers often have up to one year after the purchase to decide if they want to take advantage of an extended warranty plan. This, too, is a negotiable price.

Offer to purchase

This is usually a huge amount of paperwork, and generally provides all the details about the vehicle, and yourself, and any financing arrangements. It’s a contract, and you cannot just cancel it without a good reason.

Financing

This is how you will pay for the car and generally requires a deposit, and will show how long your car will take to pay off in months (usually 48 or 72 months as an example). It will also show how much you will pay in interest over the full period, and whether or not you will pay a penalty if you pay the car off earlier.

Residual payment or balloon payment

Also known as a balloon payment, this is a financing option that means there is still a lump sum to be paid in at the end of the finance period. It can sometimes be 20% or 30% of the purchase price. It’s usually a bad idea to take this option because it’s hard to come up with that type of cash, and often difficult to refinance this payment. In addition, by the time you get around to this payment, the car may well be out of warranty.

Pre-qualify

Speaking of finance, you can often get your bank to tell you whether or not you are able to afford the vehicle. Sometimes, this may not be worth the paper it is printed on, and sometimes it will make the process of getting finance easier. Also bear in mind that most dealers will have arrangements with certain car financers.

NaTis Document

This is the piece of paper that shows that the car belongs to you. It will change to from the dealer’s name to your name when registration happens, but you won’t get the physical papers until after you pay the car off.

 There's a lot to know and choosing the right car is a big decision so take your time when buying a new car, ensure you understand the terms, and don’t be scared to ask. It’s quite a hefty financial decision, and you need to make it carefully.

 

At Suzuki, we are here to help you! And, if you’re a parent, here is another way we can help you when your child hits the road.
Download the guide 

 


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