Demystify your car manual: Terminology

Demystify your car manual: Terminology

Posted by David Anders on 21 May 2020

Demystify your car manual: TerminologyThe automotive industry, like any other industry, often seems to have its own language. Your owner’s manual is likely scattered with lingo and abbreviations that make you feel like you’ve been sent back to your high school maths class. But don’t worry, with a few basics under your belt and Google by your side, you’ll quickly be speaking ‘car’ like a pro.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 48 seconds.


The reason so many abbreviations are used is very simple: space. If you were to type out the full names of all vehicle functions, such as ‘Electronic Brake Force Distribution’ every time instead of just using the abbreviated ‘EBD’, the owner’s manual would likely end up weighing the same as your car. So the automotive industry has abbreviated and adapted words to make communication simpler and once you know the basics, it’s really easy to understand.

1. Warranty and service plan

These two always seem to come up in the same sentence, to the point where most of us have lost track of the difference. This article gives an excellent in-depth explanation in how the two work. In a nutshell, your vehicle warranty is the same as a product guarantee - it gives you peace-of-mind that your product (your car) is guaranteed to last for a specific period of time. Naturally, there are some exclusions such as tyres and accident damage, but the overarching premise is that the core mechanical structure is guaranteed to last for the period specified in the warranty.

The service plan (often referred to as periodic maintenance by factory), on the other hand, outlines when your vehicle needs to go in for a service. This will be specified in mileage as well as time, which often gets confusing. The only thing you need to remember is the rule of firsts. Let’s say your car has a three-year / 70 000km service plan, it means that your service plan will expire either at 70 000 km or after three years, whichever comes first. So if you only do 20 000 km in three years, your service plan still expires on the three-year mark. If you do 70 000 km in one year, your service plan will expire after only one year, because you have reached the 70 000 km mark. This is why it is crucial to make this part of your research when looking for a new vehicle - if you tend to do high mileage, you’ll want to ensure you can get a decent extended service plan.

2. Wear and tear

Many owner’s manuals will advise you how to prevent ‘wear and tear’ on certain parts of the vehicle, and the above-mentioned warranty may also exclude items that are subject to ‘wear and tear’. This is, admittedly, a very generalised term but it mostly refers to materials that tend to wear down such as tyres and even seat fabrics. Your owner’s manual will give you good advice on how to take the best care of materials that are more susceptible to wear and tear. And, if in doubt, your dealer will be able to give you the best car care advice as well.

3. Fluids

Some owner’s manuals will have a section dedicated to fluids, and this refers to all fluids required to keep various aspects of your car functioning from brake fluid to air-conditioning fluid to the correct fuel to use. It’s worth reading this section as many people forget that they need to top up things such as window washer fluid, which can leave you in a bit of a mess should it run out.

In addition to the above basics, there are myriad vehicle terminologies that are helpful to understand as a vehicle owner, especially if you want to take the best possible care of your car. That said, owner’s manuals have become much more user-friendly and there are many online resources that will give you a quick explanation.

At the end of the day, you want to know a bit more about your car and it’s worth tackling the owner’s manual to get yourself up to speed. It is divided into clear sections, gives precise instructions, and remains the best resource when you need to know something specific about your car. Our best advice is to, at the very least, familiarise yourself with how your owner’s manual is organised, so that you at least know where to find the information should you need it.

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