We explain the most common automotive acronyms.

ABS, ACC, CVT… They sound like jargon from a TV police drama, but they actually describe vehicle functions.

Motoring reviews and advice articles are littered with acronyms that many scribblers think are well know. And new car dealers are no better, wheeling out a bag full of gobbledegook to wow tyre kickers.

So, we’ve sat down and written out a short list of some common acronyms used to help you cut through the jargon and talk the talk. 

Car safety acronyms

ACC – Active Cruise Control uses radar cameras to detect the distance to traffic ahead and maintains a gap by automatically braking and accelerating to a set speed. More detail here.

ADAS – Advanced Driver Assistance System describes many new driver assistance systems that use cameras and sensors to aid braking, accelerating and steering.

AEB – Automatic Emergency Braking uses cameras to detect obstacles infront of the car that are in imminent danger of collision, and applies brakes without human input.

ALC – Adaptive Light Control detects other traffic to automatically dip the high beam headlights.

BSM / BSW – Blind Spot Monitoring or Warning uses sensors to detect vehicles that are in the ‘blind-spot zone’ and uses light or audible alerts to let the driver know something is there.

CDW – Collision Detection Warning uses cameras and/or radars to alert the driver of an imminent collision with an obstacle. It does not apply the brakes like AEB.

FCW – Forward Collision Warning is much like CDW above, but exclusively for obstacles infront of the vehicle.

LCA – Lane Change Assist will alert the driver if a vehicle is in the merging lane.

LKA – Lane Keeping Assist uses servos in the steering rack to automatically steer the vehicle back into the lane. The degree of steering assist can be mild to strong and can be overridden.

LDW – Lane Departure Warning will alert the driver that the vehicle is leaving the lane, but will not automatically steer the car back into the lane like LKA above.

RCTA – Rear Cross-Traffic Alert alerts the driver if a vehicle is crossing the rear path of the vehicle when reversing, such as backing out of a carpark.

TSR – Traffic Sign Recognition uses cameras and/or navigation mapping data to display the current speed limit to the driver.

ABS – Antilock Braking System: Prevents the wheels of a car locking up and skidding under heavy braking so control and steering is maintained.

EBD – Electronic Brake Distribution: Electronically controls and distributes appropriate brake pressure to all brakes dependent on load and braking force, whereas ABS just stops wheels locking. Replaces traditional mechanical brake proportioning valve.

ELR – Emergency Locking Retractor: Seatbelts which are always unlocked except in emergency situations such as rapid deceleration, rapid acceleration or hard cornering vehicle manoeuvres.

ESP -Electronic Stability Program: Dramatically helps in correcting vehicle instability during uncontrollable under or over steer situations by measuring lateral acceleration at the car’s centre of gravity. Also Known as VSC, DSC, ESC

ETC – Electronic Traction Control. Two types; brake traction control brakes spinning wheels and diverts torque to other wheels to gain traction in slippery surfaces, and engine traction control cuts power when multiple wheels are spinning. More detail here.

PDC – Park Distance Control: An audible warning device that alerts the driver when their car is getting close to other cars or objects when parking

SRS – Supplementary Restraint System: Designed to be used in conjunction with seatbelts, SRS refers to a vehicle’s airbag system. A car’s airbags are designed to reduce occupant injury in the event of a car crash and are deployed when the SRS sensors detect a predetermined level of impact force.

TSC – Trailer Sway Control uses brakes to help keep the trailer, caravan or other towed goods from swaying.

Vehicle acronyms

A/C – Air-conditioning: Absorbs heat and blows refrigerated air into the cabin of the car, cooling it to below the ambient air temperature.

AWD – All-Wheel Drive: Popular terminology for permanent four-wheel drive systems. Vehicle can distribute power to all four wheels rather than just to the front or rear vehicle wheels only.

CVT – Constant Velocity Transmission: A continuously variable transmission is an automatic transmission that can vary drive ratios seamlessly using an internal belt and cone arrangement.  More detail here.

DSG – Direct Shift Gearbox: A computer-controlled manual gearbox that pre-selects additional gears to the current driven gear. No clutch pedal is required and the next gear can be engaged very rapidly. More efficient than normal automatics.

ECU – Electronic Control Unit: An ECU is an electronic “brain” which controls a system in a car, such as the engine management system, transmission or body electrics.

EDC – Electronic Damper Control: An ECU-controlled wheel suspension system that adjusts the shock absorbers and regulates damper forces electronically adapting to changing road, load or driving conditions.

FWD – Front-Wheel Drive: A car’s engine power is delivered through the front wheels. Is more common today than Rear Wheel Drive.

GVM – Gross Vehicle Mass: The maximum weight a vehicle can weigh, including the weight of the vehicle itself, fuel and other fluids, passengers, and all cargo.

HDC – Hill Descent Control: A feature intended for off-road use. The vehicle’s ABS and throttle control systems to maintain a gradual, more controlled descent on steep or slippery off-road surfaces. Also known as DAC.

HID – High-Intensity Discharge: High-Intensity Discharge lighting technology uses electric inducers to provide an arc inside a gas-filled bulb, enhancing night driving. Also known as bi-xenon.

HSA – Hill Start Assist. It helps prevent the vehicle from rolling backward when performing hill starts.

LED – Light Emitting Diode: LEDs are semiconductors that emit light when an electric current is applied. Increasingly popular in vehicle lighting as they have a much quicker response time, use less power and last longer.

LHD – Left Hand Drive: The steering wheel and controls on the left-hand side of cars driven on the right-hand side of the road in countries such as the USA.

LWB – Long Wheel Base: Front and rear axles are further apart, therefore, the body or cargo deck of a commercial vehicle will be longer than other model variations.

OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturer: Manufacturer/supplier of components fitted to a new car at the time of manufacture.

PAS – Power Assisted Steering: A system designed to reduce the effort required to steer the vehicle, particularly at low parking speeds. It can be Hydraulic, Electric or a combination of both.

RHD – Right Hand Drive: The steering wheel and controls on the right-hand side of cars driven on the left-hand side of the road in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

RWD – Rear Wheel Drive: A car’s engine power is delivered through the rear wheels. Less common today than FWD.

SAT-NAV – Satellite Navigation System: Uses as GPS (Global Positioning System) as the location detection system. GPS technology interfaces with mapping software either built to provide spoken, turn by turn instructions to drivers.

SWB – Short Wheel Base: Front and rear axles are closer together, therefore, the body or cargo deck of a commercial vehicle will be shorter

VIN – Vehicle Identification Number: A Unique 17 digit number, for each individual car, that can identify date of manufacture, manufacturing plant and standards etc.

Engine acronyms

CRD – Common Rail Diesel: A single, highly pressurised fuel line supplies diesel to all cylinders allowing for finer control over fuel use. Vastly reduces diesel engine’s noise and improves fuel economy.

DOHC – Double Overhead Camshaft: A now very common vehicle engine design that places two camshafts (one to operate inlet valves, one to operate exhaust valves) mounted above the cylinder head.

EFI – Electronic Fuel Injection: EFI systems replace carburettors as fitted to older vehicles. The electronically controlled fuel injectors deliver fuel more efficiently, improving the economy, emissions and drivability.

EGR – Exhaust Gas Recirculation: A proportion of car exhaust gasses are redirected back into the car’s engine to help burn fuel more efficiently and significantly reduce harmful emissions.

FSi – Fuel Stratified Injection: Also known as DI (Direct Injection) or GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection). Petrol is injected at high pressure directly into the car’s combustion chamber; the air-fuel mixture can run far leaner than conventional EFI systems so it is more efficient.

kW – Kilowatt: Unit of measurement of the power output of a vehicle’s engine.

LPG – Liquid Petroleum Gas: LPG is a popular alternative fuel to petrol or diesel. The cost per litre is less than petrol but it is less fuel-efficient.

Nm – Newtonmetre: Measurement of a vehicle’s engine torque. Torque is the turning force of the car’s engine.

RPM – Revolutions Per Minute: How fast the car’s engine is turning i.e. how many times the crankshaft rotates in one minute

TDi – Turbo Diesel Injection: Most modern diesel engines are now fitted with turbochargers to maximize performance. All diesels are fuel-injected, so the “i” is redundant but manufacturers like it anyway.

VGT – Variable Geometry Turbo: This system varies airflow angle across a car engine’s turbo blades providing optimum power delivery across a broader rev range. Now commonplace in modern diesel vehicle engines.

VVT – Variable Valve Timing: VVT systems advance or retard camshaft timing to optimising vehicle engine efficiency, performance, and exhaust emissions.

And more acronyms…

The list is almost never-ending as new technology and systems are released, and we’ll continue to update over time. If there’s a term you think we’ve missed, let us know in the comments below or join our growing Facebook community.


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Practical Motoring

The team of journalists at Practical Motoring bring decades of automotive and machinery industry experience. From car and motorbike journalists to mechanical expertise, we like to use tools of the trade both behind the computer and in the workshop.

1 comment

  1. How about TSC – trailer sway control as vehicle detects and corrects using brakes to cancel out the sway. Sort of abs in reverse as it operates without the driver applying the brakes…

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