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5 Car Words for First-Time Buyers

Have you ever read car reviews and wondered what the heck they were talking about? People who love cars and write about them for a living can get pretty technical, and if you aren’t a car enthusiast, we know it can be pretty intimidating not to know what on earth certain terms mean or why they’re even relevant when buying a car.

Well, this post is for you. Here, we’ll outline and explain a few terms you might encounter when reading car reviews or talking to your dealer. And, if there’s a word you’d like us to write about in a future post, leave us a comment on our Facebook or Instagram pages!

TVR S Chassis with 2792 V6 by John Lloyd


Deriving from the French word for ‘frame’, ‘chassis’ is technically pronounced ‘SHA-see’, but in Singapore, you’ll often hear it pronounced ‘CHASS-is’. As its origins suggest, a chassis refers to the base frame of a car, or the main supporting structure on which the body of the car sits. In the same way your bones support your muscles, think of the chassis as the skeleton of the car! It helps to prevent your car from crumpling when impacted.

The chassis does more than just support the car, though. It also has a unique number inscribed on it, known as the body number or vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN tells you everything you need to know about the car––where it was manufactured, the exact model, what type of drive it is, when it was made, and so on. It’s useful for identifying stolen vehicles, and can also help mechanics and operators identify the specific model, which may help when doing repairs and maintenance.


No, this isn’t about that time someone was kicked out of school for a week! The suspension of your car is a system of parts that connect the vehicle to the wheel, comprising the tyres, air in the tyres, shock absorbers, and some connecting linkages. (Incidentally, definitions vary, and some people consider the chassis to be part of the suspension system.)

Why is the suspension important? Well, this is what’s responsible for all those desirable qualities in a car: stable steering, good handling, and comfortable rides. An effective suspension system helps absorb bumps and shocks from the wheel rolling across the road.

There are a few kinds of suspension systems. A common one these days is the fancy-sounding ‘double-wishbone suspension,’ often found in sports cars, racing cars, and even recent Toyota models. Without getting too technical, this refers to the shape of the arms connecting the wheel to the chassis, which allows for careful control of the wheel while driving. Cars with this kind of suspension system offer excellent control for the driver. (They’re also a wee bit more expensive.)

Most suspension systems involve springs and shock absorbers. However, the fanciest of them all––and previously the most expensive, though this has changed in the last few years––involves a system of air bags. Air is great at cushioning all the impact from bumps and potholes, and it makes the ride super smooth, as though you’re driving on clouds. Unsurprisingly, high-end luxury cars––brands like Mercedes, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Lexus, etc––all have air suspension systems.


If you’ve ever watched the classic film Matilda based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, you’ll recognise what that instrument in your car’s dashboard is. The odometer is a counter that measures how far your car (or any wheeled vehicle) has travelled across its lifespan, since starting from 0.

Why is this important? Basically, the further your car goes, the more worn it’ll become. Like most devices or instruments, a car will become less effective after extensive use. So if you’re investigating a secondhand car, for example, the mileage on the odometer will tell you if it’s worth buying it at the given price. If your car needs regular maintenance every few thousand kilometers, your odometer can also act as a reminder to send your car for servicing.

(Note: unlike Danny DeVito’s character, we never tamper with the odometer at ST Auto, ever! That’s known as odometer fraud and it is awful for customers.)


The engine is what powers your car and makes it move. To simplify matters greatly, you feed it petrol, and it converts heat from burning gas into energy that moves the wheels of your car. In most fuel-only cars, this is known as an ‘internal combustion engine,’ as the burning takes place inside a sealed cylinder or combustion chamber.

So what the heck do dealers and car reviewers mean when they talk about engines and ‘cc’ numbers? ‘Cc,’ as you might remember from maths class, stands for ‘cubic centimetre (cm3).’ In this context, it refers to the size of an engine, and the total volume of air and fuel being pushed through the engine.

Ergo, all other factors being equal, the higher the cc number, the bigger the engine, and the more powerful the car.

But bigger isn’t always better. Larger engines consume more fuel, which isn’t particularly eco-friendly and will cost you more in petrol over the long run. It might also impact how much you pay for insurance. So, you want to balance out engine considerations with other factors.


This is a tricky one. In British English, the term ‘transmission’ refers to the whole ‘drivetrain’ (the group of components delivering power to the driving wheels, including the clutch, gearbox, drive shafts, and so on), while American English uses it to refer to the gearbox alone.

So what are all of those things?

The gearbox is essentially a box containing gears. Like any gear system, it adjusts torque (rotational force, or what makes a wheel turn) and speed between a motor and a load. The clutch is the device that transfers power from engine to wheels in a manual device. If you’ve ever driven a manual car, you’ve encountered the clutch––in practical terms, it’s the left-most pedal you press while you change gears, and release while applying power to make your car move.

Without getting too technical about the whole thing, transmissions are important because they determine how you drive. If you choose a car with manual transmission or a stick shift, that means you have to operate the clutch and manually select the gear you’re driving in using a gear stick. In other words, that’s the ‘difficult’ way of driving, although some people relish the challenge and appreciate having greater control over their car!

A car with automatic transmission, on the other hand, does away with driver input when it comes to changing gears. No clutch, no thinking about shifting between gears 1–2–3. All you need to do is turn on the ignition, shift into ‘Drive’ mode, and off you go––the car does the rest for you.

(To find out exactly how that works, why not read this link, or watch this video?)

An increasing number of car models these days have a kind of automatic transmission system known as CVT, or Continuously Variable Transmissions. In practical terms, you drive in the same way you would a conventional automatic car, but how it works internally is pretty different.

CVTs do away with gears altogether. Instead, the majority of CVTs use a pulley system controlled by the car’s computer, continuously changing the gear ratio to suit your driving speed. This means maximum efficiency, and as a result, cars equipped with CVT are typically more fuel-efficient. They’re also lighter, and offer a smoother ride than conventional automatic cars. On the downside, CVTs are also more expensive to service and replace, and they can sometimes be a little noisier when accelerating.

Still have more burning questions about car-related words? We're always happy to answer your queries! Head on over to ST Auto for a test drive with our friendly sales staff. Call +65 6464 9098 or email us at

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