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What Do These Confusing Car Terms Mean?



Author: Jil McIntosh -

What's in a name? A lot if you're an automaker, because you want to tell people about your vehicle's features in the ads. But sometimes these go by proprietary names, or there's not enough room to explain what's meant.

Or sometimes one item might have a few names, used interchangeably, depending on who's telling the story. We're here to help with some you'll hear.

Sunroof vs moonroof
The story goes that, originally, a sunroof was a metal panel that you slid back to let in sunshine, while a moonroof was glass. They're all made of glass now, and automakers tend to use the terms interchangeably, but they're the same thing. A panoramic sunroof is large and takes up most of the roof, and generally only the front section tilts or opens.

Wheel vs rim
Automakers will always say wheel, but some people prefer rim, as in, "Hey, nice rims!" They're talking about the wheels, of course, but the terms aren't the same. The wheel is the entire unit, while the rim is the edge.

Wheels are measured by their diameter, such as a 17-inch wheel, and the tire size — its inside diameter — corresponds to that. So what's up with huge numbers, like the 35-inch tires we're hearing about on the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler?

No, the wheel itself isn't that big. Instead, in addition to wheel size, off-road tires are also measured by their outside diameter. It's used by serious off-roaders when retrofitting their vehicles, since they have to know if an extra-tall tire will fit inside the wheel wells without interference.

Wheel Cover vs hubcap
Although most new vehicles have alloy wheels and so don't use either one, we still tend to say hubcap for anything that covers a wheel — but in reality, most of these are wheel covers or wheel discs.

Properly, a hubcap is a smaller cover that goes over the hub (and usually the wheel nuts too), descended from the caps used to keep grease in and dirt out of the hub on early cars with wooden-spoke wheels. If it goes all the way to the edge of the wheel, it's a wheel cover.

Ventilated vs cooled seats
Heated seats have been around for a long time, but now an increasing number of manufacturer are offering chairs that keep you cool as well. These seats contain fans that blow air through perforations in the seat upholstery.

Ventilated seats blow ambient air, so it's the fan effect that's cooling you off. (A few suck air into the seat, drawing it away from your warm body so you feel cooler.) Cooled seats first pass the air over a cooling element inside the seat, or use refrigerated air from the air conditioning system. Cooled seats are costlier units, so they're more likely found on pricier vehicles.

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