International Car Talk

International car talk

This article is for all those gearheads out there . . .


Wait a minute!

If you’re reading this in London, you’re probably thinking “What’s a gearhead? Don’t they mean petrolhead?”

Yes, terminology about vehicles—and especially car slang—can change drastically from one country to another. However, in the middle of all this wordy confusion, there is one thing we all agree on—it’s fun to hear what people in different countries call items on their vehicles, things on the road or fellow travelers on the highway. 

So, do you have your engines running? Are you ready to find out more? Let’s dig into some linguistic differences in the car world.

That back part of the car . . . what’s it called?

In the US we call that space at the back of the car where we store, well, basically everything, a trunk. Why? Back when cars were a new form of transportation, drivers actually would strap a trunk to the back so they could take their belongings with them.

If you’ll be visiting the United Kingdom (UK), though, you’ll get some odd looks if you refer to a part of a vehicle as a trunk. They call that storage space the boot since the storage area on old-time horse and carriages often carried (you guessed it) the coachman’s boots.

Alligators and hammers

Back when CB radios were the only way truckers could communicate with each other on the road, they developed a full vocabulary to discuss their somewhat private business over the very public radio waves.

While an “alligator” is universal in the US and UK (a blown-out tire in the road), in the US you might ask someone behind you to “Back off the hammer!” while in the UK you’ll just ask them to “Back down!” (to slow their vehicle down).

Where do those pedestrians walk?

What do you call that area where the pedestrians walk along the road? Depending on what country you’re in, you’ll call it something different. In Australia, the pedestrians will be on the pavement (which is not where the cars go). In the UK, they may call it a footway. In the U.S., they’ll be on the sidewalk.

When things go wrong

And if you make a big mistake driving, you might wind up in the gaol (jail), searching for the services of a good solicitor (attorney). But we hope those words are part of the international vocabulary that you never need to use.

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