I've Got An American Car Terms Dictionary So I Can Finally Fit In Here

Americans and Brits all speak English, but why are all your words so different over here?

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A photo of a vintage Ford Mustang
What’s the difference between a grille and a grill?
Graphic: Ford / Owen Bellwood

America’s a fun place and, on the whole, things are fairly similar to the UK. But dig deeper and it’s a world full strange quirks and bizarre words like “rutabaga” and “sidewalk. Americans and Brits may both speak the same language, so why is there a host of different phrases that all mean the same thing?

It’s a hill I’ve had to overcome in recent months, and along the way I’ve learned that where you say “lug nut, I say “wheel nut. And, when you tell me you own a Scion FR-S, I say “what the hell is one of those, do you mean a Toyota GT86?”


Why must you be like this, America? It’s just making things awkward!

Because of all these strange new terms, it isn’t sufficient to just learn the correct way to write about your “favourite aluminium saloonl Instead, there’s a whole new language of car terms to wrap your head around. Shifters, gas stations and dome lamps must all be understood if you hope to stand any chance of becoming a transatlantic car fan.


My fellow writers here have been on hand to point out any rogue U’s in my work, the odd reference to a “driver’s licence” and the mistaken use of any European car names. And, there have even been handy pointers from commenters, with one recently informing me that “the forecourt” was a made-up UK term that nobody else uses. The more you know.

But then, Jalopnik managing editor Lalita Chemello uncovered a glossary of UK and U.S. driving terms that she thought would be handy for me to have. I guess the time had come for me to stop using ‘indicator’ instead of ‘turn signal’ in all my blogs. Sorry about that.

A graphic of three lists of American auto terms with their British counterparts.
All the American terms you need, in one handy place.
Graphic: Owen Bellwood

It’s made for a fascinating read and I finally now know what everyone is talking about in our team Slack! And, as well as spotting all the different terms used over here, I discovered that the American words for many automotive things are already prevalent back home.


Sure, “hood, “trunk,” and “muffler” are all words I’ll have to get used to. But apparently I should have been referring to a car battery as an “accumulator” all my life, and the “shock absorber” is actually a “damper” back home. You learn something new every day.

Also, why is the self-titled “oil pan” called a “sump” in Britain? That’s just trying to make things overly complicated.


But the same can be said for the new terms I’ve had to pick up to fit in stateside.

According to my new dictionary, the clearance of a car is now called its “lash, and a spanner is now a wrench. Also, why is a lorry now a tractor trailer?


There’s further confusion still to come, as my new dictionary tells me an “exhaust manifold” is now a “header, which is simple enough. But Steve DaSilva assures me that these are actually both acceptable terms over here.

He said:

“​​Also ‘exhaust manifold’ is any bad factory manifold, and ‘headers’ are cool good aftermarket parts.”


That’s always good to know.

Hopefully, my newly discovered automotive glossary, and handy hints like this, will make everything I write fluent in American now. Fingers crossed at least.


But, what other strange automotive phrases are out there? It’d be great to hear some of your favorite American phrases that I should know, or any international sayings that you wish would find their way into the vehicular vocabulary of this fine country I now call home.