Cut the jargon - the most popular car terms explained
ABS – anti-lock braking system. Does what it says on the tin, preventing lock-ups (skids) in heavy braking situations. It also allows a driver to steer during emergency stops, hopefully helping to prevent crashes. Since 2004, all passenger cars sold in the EU have to have ABS as standard, so anyone listing it as a ‘desirable optional extra’ on a car registered after this date is pulling your chain.
ACC – active cruise control, or adaptive cruise control. This uses radars and cameras in the front of the car to maintain a set speed – AND a set distance to traffic ahead. This means that, if you set your ACC to 100km/h on the motorway, then your car will keep that speed until something slower moving is in its direction of travel. It then matches speed with the slower vehicle, until the obstruction pulls over or speeds up, at which point your car will automatically return to 100km/h without you having to do a thing. It’s a boon in heavy traffic, but watch out: while some ACC systems bring the car right down to a halt if necessary, some will automatically cancel below 30km/h.
AEB – autonomous emergency braking. Tough one to weed out, this, as some manufacturers call it by other names: City Brake, or Active City Stop and so on. But it’s an evolution of ABS, in which the car can react automatically to hazards (pedestrians, other vehicles, immovable objects etc) in your way that you might not have seen, performing an emergency stop all by itself in an effort to prevent you hitting something. It typically only works up to speeds of 60km/h or so, and almost all manufacturers say it cannot guarantee to prevent an accident every single time, instead only mitigating the effects of a minor bump in some circumstances.
DAB – digital audio broadcasting. It means your car’s radio system can pick up DAB signals, over and above AM/FM/LW analogue radio signals. DAB is supposed to be clearer than analogue radio, but it still infuriatingly drops reception from time to time.
DRL – daytime running lamps. The Swedes were onto this idea decades ago, as all Volvos and Saabs (remember those?) used to have their sidelights permanently on; this was the result of coming from a Scandinavian country where visibility is often poor, so being seen by other road users is critical. Now, every manufacturer fits DRLs to their cars and they can be formed into eye-catching ‘light signatures’, making the vehicle look more distinctive both during the day and at night. Often rendered in LEDs (see below).
EPAS – electronic power assisted steering. PAS has been around for ages now, but it previously worked using hydraulic fluid to lighten up the steering effort required to move the front wheels of a car. Nowadays, in order to save fuel, it’s an electronic ‘fly-by-wire’ system instead. Motoring purists reckon EPAS robs feel from the driver, compared to a hydraulic rack, but it’s perfectly fine for day-to-day use.
ESC – electronic stability control. A function of ABS (at the very least) this can go some way to preventing a loss of grip (a skid) if you corner too quickly, by braking independent wheels to help stabilise the car. Note it is different to TCS (see below).
FSH – full service history. Often used when selling second-hand cars, it is a desirable trio of letters that shows the car has been fastidiously maintained by previous owners. Often has the initial(s) of whichever brand of car you’re looking at shoehorned into it, so FASH for full Audi service history, FBMWSH for BMW, FMBSH for Mercedes-Benz and so on.
LDW – lane departure warning. A relatively new invention, this is one of a multitude of active safety systems fitted to a wide range of new cars. LDW keeps an eye on you wandering out of your lane without warning (i.e., using your indicators) and either rumbles the steering wheel in your hands or flashes up a graphical display in the instrument cluster or head-up display to tell you to turn back. Most systems beep at you, too. The evolution of LDW is LKA (see below).
LED – light emitting diode. These are lower consumption, brighter output, longer-lived and just downright cooler lights than old-fashioned filament bulbs, or halogen/Xenon items. Often used for DRLs and now almost universally widespread for taillight clusters on the newest cars, but they’re still often optional upgrades for headlights, where they’re at their most useful. Top-level systems on the biggest cars can dip individual LED bulbs in their main-beam headlights to prevent dazzling oncoming traffic, while still maintaining maximum illumination elsewhere. These are often known as ‘matrix’ LEDs.
LKA – lane keep assist. Does what LDW does, but actually can use minor, automatic inputs to steer the car back into your lane for you. Most LKA systems will warn you to put your hands back on the wheel after three attempts at keeping you on the straight and narrow, as they work out you’re deliberately driving hands-free to show off to your incredulous mates. LKA is not, repeat, NOT an autopilot function, simply an aid to prevent ‘unintentional lane wandering’ on faster roads.
MFSW – multi-function steering wheel. Simply means there are buttons on the wheel to control various functions of the vehicle, typically cruise control, audio system volume, hands-free-connected smartphones and, sometimes, adjustable driving modes for a performance car.
RCL – remote central locking. Has been around since the dawn of time now and practically everything will have this fitted. Means you can access your car or lock it, by pressing a button on your key fob, rather than inserting a fixed metal blade into a physical barrel lock in the vehicle’s door.
TCS – traction control system. Like ESC, but instead this cuts the engine’s power if you’ve got too liberal with the throttle pedal in too low a gear, normally while attempting a lively traffic-light drag race. It prevents wheelspin in front-wheel-drive cars, but it – along with ESC – is very useful in powerful rear-wheel-drive cars in slippery conditions. Especially if said car is in the hands of a relative novice…
USB – universal serial bus. Not a form of public transport, this instead is the flat, rectangular connector you see on the recharging cable for almost all electrical devices these days. Most cars have multiple USB ports, so that kids in the back can be entertained with iPads and their smartphones etc, without them running out of battery juice and berating their parents up front. Can also be used by said adults up front to connect electronic devices to the car on long journeys, allowing the device to be operated by/transmitted through the in-car infotainment system and also conveniently ensuring full battery power at the end of the trip.