What do all these driving terms mean?!

When it comes to motoring there’s a whole world of terminology to tackle.

From the smallest component to driving techniques, there is all manner of words and phrases which - to the uninitiated - can prove pretty daunting.

But understanding some of these key terms can prove useful in the long run. So we’ve got some of the key phrases it’s worth getting used to.

Cars on the road in the rain


You’ll often encounter these terms when you’re looking to buy a new car as one will be listed on their descriptions. It relates to which wheels the engine sends its power to. One of the most common layouts is front-wheel-drive, which means that the front wheels are powered. This layout gives more space in the cabin, but does mean that the front wheels have to deal with both steering and putting down the power. This isn’t an issue in less powerful cars, though.

Rear-wheel-drive - where the engine’s power drives the rear wheels - is more commonly found in performance cars, while all-wheel-drive - which distributes power to all four wheels - is a frequent choice for off-road vehicles owing to the added traction it brings.


Oversteer is a term that is commonly used in performance driving or motorsport. It’s when the rear of the car rotates too much and can, on occasions, cause the vehicle to spin.

It can be caused by braking too hard while turning or accelerating too aggressively in a rear-wheel-drive car when applying the steering. However, it’s often used by performance drivers in order to corner more quickly, while ‘drifting’ describes the act of pitching a car into a controlled slide with oversteer.


Understeer is essentially the opposite issue to oversteer. It relates to when the front wheels of a car ‘wash out’, leaving the vehicle to go in a different direction to that intended by the driver

It usually occurs when the amount of grip required to turn the car is higher than what is actually available. It often happens when drivers turn too quickly or while driving too fast, which overloads the tyres and makes them lose grip. Accelerating too hard when cornering in a front-wheel-drive car can also cause understeer.


With fuel proving expensive for many drivers, so many motorists who are concerned about fuel costs have come up with some new advanced driving techniques which help to conserve fuel. It’s known as hypermiling.

You have to make sure your car is properly serviced beforehand, of course, and ensure that the tyres are inflated to their correct pressures, too. Then, once you’re up to speed you should drive as smoothly as possible and as slowly as is safe to do so - for example, you could back off to around 60mph on motorways. You should also use the correct gear at all times and apply the throttle as gently as possible.

Defensive driving

Advanced driving schools teach defensive driving as a way of being even safer out on the roads. Drivers are taught to be alert at all times and to expect the unexpected.

Defensive drivers also look ahead to anticipate the actions of others while maintaining a safe speed.


Aerodynamics refers to the way air flows over a car. It can have a huge effect on how quickly a car can corner to how much fuel it uses. Aerodynamics are a key factor in performance cars as a vehicle’s bodywork can be adapted to ‘push’ the car closer to the road, enhancing its cornering ability. Doing so, however, increases drag which can increase fuel usage.

However, aerodynamics are becoming a more common consideration in the manufacture of economy cars. They aim to do the opposite of a performance cars by reducing the amount of drag a vehicle generates when moving, therefore using less fuel.

You’ll see this ‘drag coefficient’ written as a number, followed by Cd. The lower the number, the less drag created. The Porsche Taycan Turbo S’s drag coefficient, for example, is 0.25Cd.

Car with smoke

Heel and toe

Though this is a skill that is becoming less common as automatic cars gain popularity, it’s a great technique to learn for those with manual vehicles.

To make a gear change as smooth as possible, it’s best to match the engine’s revs between the gears. Though this isn’t quite as important during normal driving, aggressively downshifting during performance driving can cause serious wear and tear to a gearbox.

Heel and toe avoids this. You use the toes on your right foot to brake, depressing the clutch with your left foot. Then, as you go through neutral, you use the heel of your right foot to ‘blip’ the throttle to increase engine revs, selecting the next gear after. It takes some practice, but it’s a good technique to learn.



Share this article

You May Also Like...