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Common car terms every Singaporean driver must know

Owning a car in Singapore isn’t just about paying up for COE, car insurance, and road tax. If you get to know some of the common car terms in the industry, it will help you when you test drive, buy, and maintain your own car.

So, go through this list and see how many terms you know, or don’t.

Contents: Car terminology | Look out for these when buying a car | Financing your car | Glossary of road transport terms | Car insurance terms

Familiarise yourself with your car

Your car brings you to places, but do you know how it works? Here are some terms about your car that you should keep in mind.

Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)

A safety anti-skid braking system installed in modern cars.

Automatic Gearbox / Manual Gearbox

With an automatic gearbox, the transmission will automatically select gears as the driver accelerates and decelerates. For the latter, the driver physically selects the gears themselves.

Catalytic Converter

A gadget fitted to the exhaust system that reduces pollution by turning harmful gases into less harmful ones.


The structure that acts as a mounting to the major car parts i.e. suspension system, frame, wheels and body.


The clutch enables the engine to be disconnected from the transmission in order to engage or disengage the gears.


The cylinder is the where fuel is burned and converted into mechanical energy. Each car will have a different number of pistons—four, six or eight. The pistons moves up and down to compress the fuel. The more pistons there are, the larger the engines and more powerful. On the downside, they consume more fuel.


Well, it’s a box containing gears! The gearbox has a series of gears that changes torque and speed for the car.

Engine Coolant

Liquid in the radiator that removes heat from the engine.

Exhaust Emissions

Gasses that are expelled from the exhaust pipe.

Power Steering

Makes turning the wheels a lot easier. Means the car has a separate power source that helps turn the wheels.


Torque is a measurement used to quantify the force of the rotational force produced by the engine. It is another way to measure the power of a car.


These help an engine produce more power. A turbocharger uses the pressure from the exhaust to create more pressure in the cylinders, which enables them to receive more fuel-air mix.


Each cylinder has valves; ones that allow the fuel-air mix in (intake valves) and ones that allow the exhaust fumes out (exhaust valves). Every cylinder needs at least one intake and one exhaust valve. However some cars have more than one of each as more valves allow more fuel-air mix in which helps to increase power and performance. A 16-valve engine is likely to have four valves on each of its four cylinders.


The transmission is a device that is connected to your engine, which gives mechanical power from the engine to drive wheels. There are various types of transmission and most drivers would be familiar with Manual and Automatic transmission types.

Tyre Pressure, or PSI

Your car tyre has a certain level of air pressure, which is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). The recommended pressure is usually 30 to 35 PSI.

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When buying a car, remember to look out for these

Engine Litre Size

The engine size, or more accurately, the space that is available inside the engine’s cylinders for the fuel-air mix. The greater the space the greater the amounts of fuel-air mix which ultimately means more power.

When buying a car, you’ll often see a number at the end of the model, for example, Toyoto Vios 1.6 (A). The figure “1.6” points to the size of the engine, standing for 1.6 litre.

The bigger the engine size, the higher the power. But, certain turbocharged small engines can also offer high power.

Fuel Consumption

The amount of petrol or diesel that your vehicle uses.

Fuel Economy

When you think about fuel consumption of your car, the next thing you have to look into is fuel economy. Basically, fuel economy relates to the distance travelled and fuel consumed. It’s typically measured in litres/100km in Singapore, or miles per gallon in the US.

Horsepower / Brake Horsepower (BHP)

Measure of an engine’s power. The BHP an engine is measured by the degree of resistance offered by a brake, that represents the useful power that the machine can develop.

Car Handling

How responsive and accurate the steering is. If you were driving through a bend and you needed to make constant alterations to the steering wheel then you could say the car had bad handling. If the car went exactly where you steered it, even at high speeds, then the car would be considered to have good handling.

Four-Wheel Drive (4WD)

On a 4WD vehicle, power is sent to all four wheels. This allows for better grip and traction. This is as opposed to Front Wheel or Real Wheel Drive. SUVs, or sports utility vehicles, are commonly four-wheel drive cars.

Front Wheel and Rear Wheel Drive

Most cars have front wheel drive. This is where the power is sent to the front wheels and these in turn drive the car. Rear wheel drive cars are usually much better handling but also tend to be the more expensive cars to buy.

Over Steer / Under Steer

Check this out when test driving a potential car. If when driving through a bend and the rear wheels fail to follow the front wheels and instead veer towards the outside of the turn, you are experiencing over steer. If when driving through a bend the steering wheel doesn’t turn the wheels as much as you want then the car has under steer.

Wheel Balancing

Wheels need to be balanced correctly as this allows them to rotate smoothly at all speeds.

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Financing your car

It’s no secret that cars are expensive in Singapore! But why? It’s because of the many rules and regulations put in place to ensure that there aren’t too many cars in land-scarce Singapore.

Certificate of Entitlement (COE)

COE is a term unique to Singapore. It’s stands for Certificate of Entitlement and is an expensive document that proves you own your car. The price varies across categories. For Category A cars, COE prices can range between $24,000 to $36,000.

That’s why buying a new cars in Singapore starts from at least $60,000. There’s COE factored in.

Open Market Value (OMV)

The OMV of your vehicle is the price payable when it is first imported into Singapore—so it includes car price, freight charges, insurance, delivery. In a sense, it’s the “base price”, as it excludes COE, GST, registration fee, and dealer’s profit.

Additional Registration Fee (ARF)

Once you register your vehicle in Singapore, you will need to pay this. Calculation of ARF is based on OMV.

Preferential Additional Registration Fee (PARF)

If you deregister your car before it turns 10, you can recover the ARF paid, anywhere between 50% to 75% of the ARF paid, depending on when you de-register.

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Drive safe, drive well

Don’t forget what you learnt during driving lessons! Here’s a refresher on some of the common car terms to remember when driving safely.

Blind Spot

The areas on the right and left of your vehicle which cannot be viewed in your mirrors. You have to turn your head and look over your shoulder to the left or the right to check for traffic in the “ blind spots” before changing lanes, overtaking, turning and stopping.

Hazard Warning Lights

When you meet with an accident, or your car is faulty, turn on the hazard warning lights. Flashing amber lights on a vehicle that can be used to warn other drivers that you have broken down, or to warn other drivers on a motorway that there is a hazard ahead.


Tailgating means driving too closely behind another vehicle. Try not to do this as it increases the risk of accidents.

Car servicing

It is compulsory to send your vehicle for regular inspection in Singapore. Drivers ought to send their car for servicing every six months or at every 10,000km mileage interval, whichever comes first.

Car insurance terms

Car insurance is compulsory in Singapore. Don’t rush to get the cheapest plan out there without looking at your options. But what should you look out for?

Comprehensive Cover vs Third Party vs Third Party Fire & Theft

There are three common coverage types in Singapore. Third Party only covers your liabilities for damage or injury/death caused to others and their property, and Third Party Fire & Theft covers liabilities caused to others and their property, fire and theft.

Comprehensive plans cover liabilities to yourself, plus any damage to your car. Such plans are typically more expensive, we go more into detail about these coverage types here: Comprehensive vs Third Party car insurance plans in Singapore


The upfront amount you have to pay when you claim. Higher tier car insurance policies sometimes offer excess waiver so that you don’t pay huge amounts upfront.

Market value

The insurance company will pay out the market value of your car in the event of total loss. This value is assessed based on condition, age and make of the car.

No Claim Discount (NCD)

In Singapore, insurers typically offer 10% discount off car insurance premiums for every year where the insured does not claim.

For more tips on choosing a great car insurance plan, read ‘The essential guide to choosing the right commercial car insurance.

Are you already a car expert or have your learnt something today?

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