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14 automotive acronyms

By Kellie Buckley, 01 Feb 2017 Car Advice

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Don’t get lost in the letters when buying your next car. Here are 14 of the most commonly used car-related acronyms and what they mean.

Don’t get lost in the letters when buying your next car. Here are 14 of the most commonly used car-related acronyms and what they mean


Anti-lock Braking Systems are commonplace on all new cars these days and, just as the name suggests, ensure your wheels won’t lock up regardless of how much pressure you put on the brake pedal. It means better control under heavy braking as well as much shorter stopping distances.


Active Cruise Control allows your car to maintain a safe distance between the vehicle in front of you while cruise control is activated. It’s also sometimes called Adaptive Cruise Control and it just means you don’t have to dab the brake and readjust your cruise control setting if you happen to approach a car travelling slightly slower than you on a freeway.


Australasian New Car Assessment Program is a mob in Canberra who acquire new cars and put them through a series of tests in order to achieve an independent safety rating for would-be owners. Right now, ANCAP has published reports and ratings for 233 current-model vehicles.


A Continuously Variable Transmission feels similar to an automatic transmission, but where an automatic changes the pre-determined gears (or ratios) automatically, a CVT will continuously vary the gear ratio to always make sure you’re in the perfect so-called gear. Think of it like the front and rear chain rings on your bicycle. Instead of having the different-sized sprockets at each end, you’d have a two-pulley system which was growing or reducing at either end so you require the least amount of pedal power.


A Double Overhead Camshaft means you have two separate shafts controlling the valve actuation in the cylinder head. One shaft will open and close the intake valves, which allow air and fuel into the combustion chamber, while the other shaft will open and close the exhaust valves, which allow the burnt fuel-air gases top escape.


Electronic Brake Distribution ensures an even brake force is applied to each wheel while braking. In a straight line this tends to happen anyway, but if you apply the brakes mid corner when there’s more load, or weight, on the outside wheels than there is on the inside two wheels, then EBD makes sure there’s more pressure where it’s needed on the outside, as well as reducing braking power to the inside wheels so they don’t lock.


The Electronic Control Unit is the brain, or the boss, of your car’s engine and its associated systems. All of your car’s systems talk to and are controlled by the single unit which, much like a leader of a team, ensures everything is performing its role at the right time and in conjunction with everything else. Umm, like a well-oiled machine.


The Electronic Damper Control system is picking up information from both the surface you’re driving on and, quite often, the gusto with which you’re driving the car (information it is getting from the ECU) and it’s electronically adjusting the shock absorbers to ensure you’ve got the best handling car for the situation you’re in at any given time.


Electronic Stability Control is designed to stop your car breaking traction as a result of a sudden swerve, a slippery surface or a misjudged corner. It’s sometimes called ESP (Electronic Suspension Program) and it continuously monitors your steering input so it knows the direction you want to be heading. Then, using both speed sensors and independent braking on each wheel, if the system detects a loss of traction or a rear-end slide, it will apply brakes and reduce engine speed in order to maintain control of the car.


Electronic Traction Control. There’s various ways that your car might actuate its electronic traction control system, but basically series of sensors are constantly monitoring the wheel speed and if it picks up an anomaly between one or more of your four wheels — which suggests wheel spin — then the system will talk to the ECU which will reduce the power to the offending wheels to stop them spinning which improves traction.


Original Equipment Manufacturer. Not everything on your brand-new car is produced by the factory. Toyota, for example, doesn’t produce its own brand of tyres. So when someone refers to a part being OEM, it means the same brand or type as was used at point of manufacture. The alternative to this might be referred to as after-market.


This is term you’re no doubt very familiar with and Revolutions Per Minute refers to the rotational speed of a mechanical component around a fixed axis. It’s used in all sorts of contexts, but in the case of your car, it’s measuring the speed of your engine or how many revs your car’s engine is doing and this information is sometimes portrayed to you on the car’s tachometer, or tacho, on your dash.


Vehicle Identification Number. Just like you’ve got fingerprints, each and every vehicle manufactured since 1954 has been issued with an individual VIN. Some people might refer to it as a chassis number and you can generally find the stamped number through a small transparent window at the base of the windscreen, as well as your registration papers and insurance documents. Before you purchase a second-hand car, it’s a good idea to run the VIN through the government’s Personal Properties Securities Register (www.PPSR.gov.au) to ensure there’s no money owing on it.


Variable Valve Timing allows your engine to use less fuel when you’re sitting in heavy traffic, or increase performance if you plant your foot to get out of trouble. What was once a pre-determined tempo of when the inlet valves open to let fuel and air into the combustion chamber and when the exhaust valves allow the gases to escape, with VVT it’s now more tailored to your specific needs which not only improves fuel economy, but it reduces emissions considerably, too.