VotW – English vs American Automotive Vocabulary

This week we are going to take a drop back away from the cars themselves and take a look at terminology. And no, I am not referring to the infamous “reverse procedure” instructions in most manuals on how to reassemble your automotive explosion. What we are looking at here are the words that are used for the same parts of the cars depending on whether you are speaking “English” or “American”.  Ever look at your US friend’s faces the first time you tell them you are going to stuff something in their boot?

Yes, as the phrase most often attributed to George Bernard Shaw goes, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” And this is no more true than when we talk about cars.

When I was younger, way so may years ago, I learned most of what I knew about my cars by reading manuals and magazines. Of course, since my fascination was my MG and other British cars, my reading materials were most all of British origin. I used to get that “are you from another planet” look from the folks at the local NAPA store when I would go in and talk about spanners, wings, petrol, and knock-offs. Oh, and if you want a good laugh, imagine all of this with a good Southern accent.

Honestly, it didn’t get much better when I tried to explain what car I was working on. How many of has heard the infamous, “MG? Who makes them? Do you mean GM?”. Luckily the local Foreign Car Parts came to the rescue with parts, education, and then a job. But that is a different and very long and circuitous story.

So, while most of us have gotten used to the English to American translation, there are still those new to the hobby who may get confused. And, if you are into this type of thing, you will soon begin to come across slang and insults. They just come with the territory. I urge you to check out Anglotopia and their Top 100 Most Beautiful British Slang Words and Phrases – Guide to English Slang. The entire Anglotopia site is wonderful and I can’t recommend it highly enough, but their exposes on slang, swearing, and other such language topics are both amusing and informative.

Michael Carnell
Editor at Just British

Michael Carnell is the editor and founder of the Just British Online Motoring Magazine. As a lifelong British car enthusiast, he has owned or driven British cars of all ages from Austins and MGs to Jaguars and Triumphs. He currently owns a 1966 Vanden Plas Princess 1100 and a 1977 MGB. But there is always room for more - no matter what his wife says.


  1. Yes, this can be fun. Many years ago a friend was sending her teenage son to London to join a group of college kids. He was the sole member from Los Angeles and his mother was concerned about him getting from Heathrow to the meeting place in London. We armed him with Underground maps and a list of Anglo/American phrases, which was a kick to compile.
    Being Anglo/American myself, I sometimes have trouble determining which is which but our fully American teenage daughters, who had spent many holidays in England, were a wealth of ideas.
    If you need to “Spend a penny”, look for the “Loo”.

    • I don’t know whether it is me with my cars and such or her addiction to Harry Potter, but this is a constant thing with my daughter. She uses many British terms instead of American ones. And thinking back, even when I was a young child in primary school I often spelled words with the English or European spellings such as “colour”. This though was my mother’s fault because her father was Swiss and she used to read to me out of books from Europe.

  2. I found a little mistake on the ladies comment re. “pavement”. Pavement is what you walk on in Britain & is a side walk in the U.S.

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