When you go to buy a new car, you’re a wash in two things, footage of it driving through beautiful California roads before they all burn to ash and specs, many of which you think you should understand, but probably don’t.
I’m gonna fix all that right now.
Some car specs make total sense.
Eight airbags means eight airbags.
I’m gonna run down the top dozen or so specs make them real simple and most importantly, tell you the ones you can largely ignore starting with 0 to 60.
0 to 60 is the holy grail of performance benchmarks.
It is obviously how fast a car can go from a standing stop to 60 miles an hour.
The quickest it can do that, either with a really good driver on a manual transmission, or relying on automatic transmission.
The thing about zero to 60 is you never do that.
How often in real life do you go from a standing stop to 60.
Nonetheless, it’s a good benchmark because it encompasses a lot of acceleration phases of a car.
You see cars don’t accelerate as quickly through all ranges of speed.
They may be quicker 15 to 23, then slow down a little bit 24 to 46 and then speed up again 46 to 60.
It’s kind of a wavy curve, 0 to 60 captures all that in totality and gives you kind of one big lump number
Horsepower, good grief.
They spent a lot of time screaming about this in car advertisements and specs don’t.
Horsepower has this arcane definition from way back in the day.
It’s the power you need to lift 550 pounds, one foot off the ground.
In one second, there’s a time factor there because it expresses work, horsepowers and even more peripheral number than 0 to 60 time.
You care about things like acceleration field, fuel economy, towing capacity.
Those things are all related to horsepower but they’re not expressed literally by the number.
There is another number I do want you to get more caught up in.
This is how hard the car’s engine can twist something and twisting is the whole idea behind moving a car.
The engine twist the guts of the transmission which twist the drive shaft which twist the wheels and off you go.
Pork is measured in pound feet.
A pound foot is when you have, let’s say, a one foot long lever.
This wrench, for example, and I apply one pound of force at the end of it.
The one foot mark that is one pound foot, okay?
That might undo something that might not.
For example, I’ve got a bolt sitting here inside this vise.
Stick my socket on it.
I’ve got my one foot wrench here.
And maybe or maybe not, this one foot-wrench with a pound of force is gonna undo it.
If it doesn’t, what am I gonna do?
Gonna get a bigger hammer, or in this case, a bigger wrench.
Here’s a two-foot wrench, more or less.
As you know from experience, if I drop that guy in, and now apply the same one pound of force.
I’m probably going to undo that bolt, right?
Leverage makes a big difference, more torque.
Imagine this wrench was actually 266 feet long, huge thing way out there.
And I take a long walk I go to the end of it and I still apply my one pound of force.
That’s all to the end of it.
I could unscrew anything right huge torque Well, that’s 266 pound feet.
That’s what you find in let’s say a Chevy Bolt.
cars have amazing amounts of torque, and it’s exceedingly important to notice the differences between cars on this spec.
When you’re looking for responsiveness, for punchy acceleration, for immediately, having that ability to dive into a quick lane change, zip around a corner and have the power you need at the right moment in a curve.
That’s where you want more torque.
This is a measure of battery capacity.
One kilowatt hour means a battery can put out a kilowatt, a thousand watts, for one hour.
Or any other combination that adds up to the same thing.
For example, a Nissan Leaf, with the bigger of the two batteries it offers, has 62 kilowatt hours of battery capacity.
That can be used any number of ways, a 1000 watts for 62 hours, or any combination thereof.
As I mentioned, the key thing about kilowatt hours is that it tells you largely what kind of range you’ll get on the car.
All other factors being equal, like how efficient its motor is, and also gives you an idea about how long it’ll take to recharge.
All that power going out is great for range.
But that also requires you have a stout charging system to put it back in it goes both ways.
You don’t need to worry about this one.
You just look at range and charge time.
What the kilowatt hour battery is underneath?
Doesn’t matter to you Good grief a lot is made about this.
It’s all over advertising for cars.
It’s all over the butts of many cars.
You see the badges 2.0 or 3.6 or 4.0.
Those refer to a car is displacement.
What is it?
It is the space in all of its cylinders combined.
Let’s say the pistons were all down.
Those cylinders are empty like little grain silos you measure all those, and that’s your displacement.
For example, this Ford EcoBoost four cylinder is a two liter engine.
Pretty sure that that means it has a half a liter of empty space available in each of its four cylinders adding up to two liters.
That is the room it has to take in air and fuel which is then combust and creates power.
That’s why it’s such an interesting metric.
It tells you the potential area that can be filled with combustible components that then go on to create power.
It’s kind of your very, very core heart of the engine.
This is displacement.
Here is a big 5.4 liter Shelby v eight from Ford, eight cylinders, and about two thirds of a liter each.
So more cylinders and they’re bigger than this guy as well.
Hence you get to 5.4 liters, much more than the 2.0 liters over here.
Sounds like a really accurate way to compare engines, right?
It’s not as much as it used to be, because now we take a smaller engine like this and we add a turbo, maybe a supercharger, maybe some electric hybridisation boost and all the sudden it’s not so clear if this guy is dramatically scrawny than this one, it is yes, but dramatically it may not be the case anymore.
And that’s a huge part of the trend toward going to smaller displacement engines.
And yet getting the same or better performance than we used to.
So this yardstick is not what it used to be.
Drive the car, look at its actual performance on the road.
Don’t sweat the displacement that they used to get there.
This is the distance between the front and rear axles, now cars, so they don’t have simple axles like a Hot Wheels car.
So it’s the distance between the center of the front and rear wheel where the little hubcap is.
This has a huge impact on a car’s ride quality, its handling, its interior space in many cases, and its look But you don’t need to care about wheelbase just evaluate its handling interior space and looks directly and don’t worry about what wheelbase they use to get their track is wheelbases lesser known sibling.
It’s the distance between the left and right wheel, either in the front or in the back.
It affects handling and appearance of a car, but like wheel base, you don’t need to care about the number.
Just evaluate the handling and the appearance of the car, don’t worry about the track numbers.
CD or coefficient of drag.
This is a huge thing at car companies.
They will spend countless hours, millions of dollars Reducing the CD even a little bit on a given car.
What it expresses is how well the car can glide through the air without a whole bunch of friction and turbulence, basically holding it back.
The benefits are many, including a higher top speed, better fuel efficiency and lower wind noise.
But you don’t need to worry about the CD it’s an arcane number for the car buyer just worry about fuel efficiency, top speed and interior noise.
Mpg perhaps the best known of all the automotive specs and we think we understand it, it’s miles per gallon, obviously.
And on the window sticker you’re gonna see city.
Highway and combine they used to call it average.
The city is based on a test that is not real driving.
They put the car on a dynamometer and the EPA has a complicated formula about how you run the car.
What systems are on all of that.
The automaker does this by the way, and sends in certified results to the EPA.
The EPA itself drives only a tiny fraction of cars to actually test them and audit them, if you will.
There’s also a track for highway testing.
And the combined thing by the way, is not the simple mathematical average of the two, as you may have noticed, it is its own calculation with its own weightings.
And here’s where it gets interesting.
There’s a whole school of thought that says MPG is kind of a dumb rating, because the math within it is kind of warped.
Here’s a good example over at the skeptic blog, they pointed out that if you have two pairs of cars, one gets 14 MPG one gets 17.
They look about the same right?
And then the other pair one gets 33 and one gets 50 MPG.
I’m gonna see a big difference in savings there.
But in fact, they point out the difference in fuel burned over 100 miles between those two pairs of cars is the same.
There’s a one gallon difference between the high and low cars in each pair because mpg is a weird number that has a curve in it.
The Europeans use something different.
They look at fuel consumed per distance traveled.
Typically for them it’s liter per 100 kilometers.
And that gives you a non distorted apples to apples.
You can find that in American window stickers.
It’s just in the fine print.
Check it out.
Related to mpg is mpg miles per gallon equivalent of gasoline.
This is used for cars that can run sometimes or all the time on electricity.
A gallon of gas has 115,000 bt use of energy in it.
And that is considered to be equivalent to 33.7 kilowatt hours of electricity in a battery.
That’s the math used by the EPA.
You use this so you can get some idea of the relative efficiency.
It’s particularly interesting in cars that are plug in hybrids or straight up hybrids, as long as they can run some of the time.
In pure electric mode, otherwise you kind of have holes in the mpg rating because the car is not always running on G.
So look for this on a window sticker and know that it’s trying to make pretty pretty much an equivalent out of gas and electric propulsion, headroom and leg room I get a ton of email about this from you guys you say look, I looked at this car that had a certain headroom and it was more than the other car and yet it felt tighter in the back What’s going on?
headroom and leg room are really problematic numbers because they apply some simple stick figure lines and measurement [UNKNOWN] To a car that is made up of soft things with complex shapes, you really cannot judge the headroom leg room or other space in a car without sitting in it.
That’s my experience.
Don’t worry about the numbers go sit in the car.
cargo and volume capacity.
They’re kind of like legroom and headroom.
They’re kind of useless You can look at the volume and say, Okay, well this car has more than the other car does.
But because of the complex shapes, the door opening contours, the way that Windows or sides of the car may tilt in or out and what protrusions are in there.
It doesn’t really tell you exactly what can fit in one car versus another There, you got to kind of try it or at least eyeball it.
This one is a rough metric at best.
This is a good one to pay attention to and it does tell you quite a bit.
It’s normally referring to the diameter of the wheel, not the wheel and tire just the actual metal wheel itself.
When you’ve got a bigger or smaller wheel that has a lot to do with the ride quality of the car with the handling of the car and with the appearance of the car bigger wheels tend to look better than smaller ones.
The reason this is is because the wheel size both diameter and the lesser talked about width Determine the size and ratio of tire you can use is the tire wide and low, or is it kind of narrower and tall?
And that’s what determines that difference in ride quality and handling and appearance.
So yes, wheel size is a big deal and that’s why they talk about it all the time on New cars.
12 volts 120 volts and five volts.
You see a lot of power in a car these days all of it in the cabin.
This is not part of electric drive.
12 volts is what comes out what we used to call the cigarette lighter.
It’s still shaped like a cigarette lighter just because of tradition.
It’s too bad.
It’s kind of a dumb shaped connector but we’re stuck with it.
That’s 12 volts.
120 volts, sometimes labeled 110 or 115, it’s all the same thing.
It’s a household outlet, because the car is using a conversion process to turn the 12 volts that it natively uses up into 120.
So you can plug in things like a popcorn popper like Craig Cole did.
Might want to put some butter on that.
And then there’s five volts that’s what comes out of your USB port but most of us don’t worry about that we just think that’s USB power, but for what it’s worth it is five volts.
Wait, you’re hit with this one all the time and I bet you scratch your head and go.
Okay, all things being the same weight really just tells you how fast a car will go through a set of tires, how fast it’ll go through brake pads, and how fast it’ll go through another car if you hit it.
Beyond that you don’t really need to care about weight.
It’s a factor that leads to a car’s fuel efficiency, a car’s acceleration ability in combination with horsepower and torque.
In of itself, weights kind of pointless for the consumer.
The main one you’ll see is curb weight.
curb weight is the car sitting at the curb.
There’s nobody in it, there’s no cargo in it.
It’s gotta full tank of gas and all the factory equipment that it shipped with.
It’s a showroom car, if you will.
There’s a gross vehicle weight and that’s the car including all of the stuff in people it is limited to carrying, fully loaded to the manufacturer’s spec.
Then there’s towing weight.
This one’s important.
This tells you how heavy a trailer a vehicle can pull and can break.
Those are both important going both directions.
There’s tongue weight which tells you how heavy the weight can be of a trailer on a property installed trailer hitch and about three other different weights.
Watts in terms of audio, this one has a huge bs factor around it.
One car may have a 200 watt sound system and other one is 600 watts.
Another one Nearly 1200 watts.
Does that mean it’s six times louder than the 200 watt system?
Not at all.
Most stereos will go to about the same level of sound where you’ll go deaf.
What you do see is that systems that have more speakers, need more watts because each one needs its share of power.
So you got that The other one is high wattage when it’s used well allows a car’s audio system to respond to transient moments in the music when a lot of power is needed.
A big hit of bass, a whole lot of other audio energy where the AMP has to rise up to portray it cleanly and accurately.
It’s not a measure of how far the maximum volume can go per se It’s more about accurately reflecting audio.
That’s the real benefit of high wattage as well as supporting a lot of speakers that are doing so.
And finally, MSRP.
It stands for Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.
All you got to know about this one is, don’t pay it.