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:
- Approach, Departure, and Breakover Angles
- Cargo Volume
- Hip Room
- Leg Room
- Shoulder Room
- Turning Circle
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Car Negotiations Guide: Everything You Need to Know
- Car Finance 101: Everything You Need to Know
- Everything New Parents Need in the Car
Editor’s Note: This article was updated for accuracy since its original publication date.