What is the Definition of Car? [Explained]

We all see cars around us every day and you likely have ridden in or even driven one before. But you may not know all of the things there is to know about them. So, let’s take a little closer look at some of the things you may not know, but may want to.

What is the Definition of a Car?

When you think of the term ‘car’ you probably can picture a vehicle that you’ve seen on the road. The actual definition, however, is ‘a four-wheeled road vehicle that is powered by an engine and is able to carry a small number of people.’

A car can be any number of different types of vehicles, which you likely knew already just from watching them go down the road. Or watching what people drive in other countries which may be different from the cars that you’re used to.

If you’re talking about the term ‘car’ however you may also want to look at other definitions, such as railroad cars, which are ‘railroad vehicles for passengers or freight.’ Or compartments on a balloon or elevator, which are also considered cars.

What Were Cars Originally Called?

The very first car was patented by a man named Carl Benz, who called it a three-wheeled motor car. The specific name for his vehicle was the ‘Motorwagen.’ Likely this name came about as a result of the ‘car’ being a wagon with a motor in it.

These cars would not fit the definition we have today, which requires four wheels, but at the time three wheels were considered a better fit. And Benz believed that it would make for a better quality vehicle as well.

When Did the Term Car Originate?

Car is actually not a recent term. Rather, it came about back in the 1300s, long before anything even resembling what we see today was around. But the word is originally Latin, ‘carrus’ or ‘carrum’ and refers to ‘wheeled vehicles.’ There is another word in Middle English that  means a two-wheeled cart, ‘carre’ and even ancient languages refer to ‘karros’ or a ‘self-propelled automobile.’

What is Another Name for a Car?

There are many terms that you might hear for a car, though most commonly they are referred to just as a ‘car’ or a ‘vehicle.’ They could also be referred to by different types, such as a truck, van, or SUV. Other terms might not be as common or might be more slang terms.

For example, a car might be called an automobile, a jalopy, wheels, auto, motor car, or any other number of different terms. Some of these are older, while some are slightly more formal and still others are simply slang terms that have evolved over the years.

What is a Slang Word for the Car?

When most people talk about their car they refer to it as a car or a vehicle, sometimes an automobile. Or they use the category that the car is part of, like a van or an SUV or crossover. But slang terms are also somewhat common and terms like ‘wheels’ or ‘jalopy’ have also become normal.

Some specific brands of cars have their own nicknames and slang terms, such as a Beamer, Chevy, Lambo, and more. Vehicles may also be referred to as a ‘junker,’ ‘heap,’ ‘jalopy,’ or ‘clunker.’ Each of these later terms generally refers to an old vehicle that’s not in good shape anymore or to the first vehicle that someone buys when they get their license. But some people drive ‘beaters’ for most of their lives.

How Do You Say Nice Car?

If you’re looking to compliment someone on their vehicle you could just say ‘nice car.’ Or you could use any of a number of other terms in place of nice, like great, good, cool, brilliant, gorgeous, hot, and so on. Other terms are popular as well, such as ‘nice ride.’

Telling someone that they have a fine automobile or a fast car can often be seen as telling them that they have a nice car as well. A ‘sweet ride’ is another commonly used slang term to refer to a vehicle that is really nice.

What Are Old Cars Called?

Old cars can be referred to in different ways depending on their condition and just what they can do. Old cars that are in great shape are called ‘classics.’ On the other hand old cars that are not in good shape are often referred to as ‘beater’s or ‘junkers.’

Old cars that are called ‘classics’ or ‘vintage’ are generally those that are in good shape and have a unique design to them that makes them special in some way. These are collectible cars that people enjoy looking at during auto shows and more.

On the other hand, if the old car is in bad shape it’s usually referred to by less desirable slang terms. It might be a ‘clunker’ or a ‘heap.’ These are vehicles that people drive when they can’t afford something else, rather than a car that they aspire to own.

What is a Car Enthusiast Called?

There is no official term for a car enthusiast, other than to call them an enthusiast. Instead, They’re commonly referred to by a slang term, ‘motorhead.’ This term is actually common in the US and in Canada. It refers to the motor of the vehicle.

Motorheads might be interested in all cars or they might be interested only in specific ones or specific types of cars. In fact, there are people who are obsessed or entranced by only specific types of cars rather than those that are interested in all of them.


If you’re interested in cars and learning more about them you absolutely can (without becoming a motorhead yourself). There’s a lot of interesting information available if you know where to look and you take the time to do some research. Or let us help you out with some of those fun terms and questions.



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