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Car Specs Guide: Everything You Need to Know


Understanding car spec terminology can be a challenge. What exactly do manufacturers mean by “wheelbase?” How do you define “headroom?” And why are these vehicle specs so important?

In this article, we’ve researched 11 key vehicle specs terms you’ll need to know about when making comparisons between competitors of cars, trucks, and SUVs:

  1. Approach, Departure, and Breakover Angles 
  2. Cargo Volume
  3. Headroom 
  4. Height
  5. Hip Room
  6. Leg Room
  7. Length
  8. Shoulder Room
  9. Turning Circle
  10. Wheelbase
  11. Width

1. Approach, Departure, and Breakover Angles

Ford-F150-Breakover_approach_angle_car_spec

Sometimes, searching for an SUV will turn up one or all of these three car spec terms. While they sound technical, they can be helpful.

  • Approach angle is the angle of a hill an SUV can clear without scraping its front end.
  • Departure angle is the same thing, just with the rear wheels.
  • Breakover angle measures the angle between your car’s underside and its tires. That can be useful if you’re on top of an object and you don’t want to scrape the bottom of your car.

And all three terms may be helpful to shoppers who enjoy off-roading — or even just those who have a steep driveway.

2. Cargo Volume

Cargo-space-car-spec-in-SUV

Cargo volume car spec is the total cubic feet of space in a car’s cargo area. In SUVs, minivans, and hatchbacks, this measurement is often given twice, once with the seats up and a second time with the seats folded down. That gives drivers an idea of their typical cargo volume and their possible cargo volume for that occasional trip to the furniture store.

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3. Headroom

Man in Car showing car spec of headroom

The measurement of “headroom” is the distance from a vehicle’s roof to its seat bottom. (A more appropriate name might be “torso room.”) Sometimes, you’ll see maximum and minimum values for this car spec published since most automobiles have seats that adjust up and down.

4. Height

Height, like length, is a simple measurement. This vehicle spec measures the distance from the car’s bottom point to its very tallest point. Knowing a car’s height can be helpful if you have a tight garage or commonly park in a place with low ceilings. If you’re a pickup truck owner, it becomes especially important.

5. Hip Room

2018 Hyundai Palisade has large driver's seat for hip room car spec

Hip room defines the width of a car’s front seats or, in the back, the width of a seat cushion. It can indicate how much space you’ll have on either side of your waist once you sit down.

6. Legroom

legroom in back seat car spec

While it might seem like an easy one, legroom is one of the most complicated automotive measurements. The reason is it can be controversial: Should you measure it with the front seats all the way forward or back? The Society of Automotive Engineers — the organization responsible for horsepower ratings — uses one consistent measuring system. But it doesn’t give much insight into exactly how much room a driver or passenger has. As a result, we suggest sitting in a car before buying if legroom is a significant concern.

7. Length

The length measurement is probably the easiest of all the car specs. As its name implies, it’s just the distance from a car’s front tip to the farthest point in the back.

8. Shoulder Room

Girl with shoulder room in car showing spec

Although shoulder room is rarely measured, it can be important for shoppers who often carry passengers in the car. It’s the measurement from one door panel to another. That’s different from the vehicle’s hip room, which measures a single seat. And it’s different from width since the car’s shoulder room measures its interior, which is usually much narrower.

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9. Turning Circle

The car’s turning circle describes the diameter of the smallest U-turn a vehicle can make. For example, if its turning circle is 37 feet, that means it takes a total of 37 feet to make a complete u-turn. A turning circle can be crucial to drivers who live in narrow urban areas where tight turns are the norm.

10. Wheelbase

The wheelbase is the distance between the center of the front and rear wheels. While the wheelbase won’t tell you how long a car is, it roughly measures the size of the passenger compartment and may give you an idea of how big the interior is.

11. Width

truck fitting in garage and car specs

The width measurement can be tricky for drivers with a narrow garage. A car’s width defines its widest point without its mirrors. That means a vehicle only a few inches narrower than your garage will give you a tighter squeeze than you realize. After all, even if you fold in the mirrors, you’ll still have a few extra inches on each side.

Related Car Specs Articles:

Editor’s Note: This article was updated for accuracy since its original publication date.

FAQ

What are car specs?

Car specifications, or vehicle specs, provide important details about a vehicle. This includes basic dimensional factors such as height, length, and weight, as well as deeper details like the car’s wheelbase and cargo capacity.

Why are car specs important?

Having an explanation of car specs and understanding the measurements can help you get a vehicle that fits your lifestyle – and fits into your garage.

What do car specs measure?

Car specs fall into broad categories of construction, operation, and performance. Construction specs are fundamental measurements. Operation specs detail features such as air conditioning, driver-assist technologies, and seating material. Performance specs outline how the vehicle is expected to perform, including fuel economy and the vehicle’s turning radius.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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4 COMMENTS

    • Probably the same stupid reason a garage only a few inches wider than a car seems no problem for this brain-dead writer. Lacking enough side clearance to open doors, journalists must be perfectly happy living out their remaining years in the car, unable to exit.  Falling every year since 1963, national average SAT scores speak volumes to why good manufacturing jobs fled the United States.  All the lights may be on, but no one is home! 

  1. how to judge the impact of a bounce by the cars? Can you suggest cars having very minimal affect of a road on the passengers passing over the bouncy terrain.

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