When you walk onto the lot to purchase a car, you browse around looking at all the white labels affixed to rear windows on every vehicle. Naturally, the first place your eyes go is to the bottom right side – the price. Above that price is a list of items that looks more like the world’s longest and most complicated grocery list. These are car specs. They tell almost everything there is to know about the vehicle sitting before you. Knowing what they say and how to read them is important to knowing if you’re about to choose the right vehicle or not.

Let’s start with the obvious things to look at. The top of the car spec starts off with performance and efficiency standards. This is where you’ll find the vehicle’s fuel capacity and consumption estimates. They are always listed in miles per gallon (mpg). It will also tell you how much fuel the vehicle holds in its gas tank and the way it is delivered to the engine. One of the most confusing parts of this area is Power. First, it will list a kilowatt number. This is the amount of electricity that the vehicle’s alternator puts out during operation. That is followed by the amount of horsepower and lb-ft. of torque the vehicle possesses at a certain rpm. Basically, the higher those numbers, the more power the vehicle has. It will also list engine size.

Below the performance category lies the handling and braking standards. This is where you will find what type of braking the vehicle has (drum brakes, disc brakes, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, etc.)  On trucks, SUVs, and rear-wheel drive vehicles it will also list the vehicle’s rear axle gear ratio. That number will look something like this: 3.550:1. That’s basically the ratio of the gear size to its output power in certain transmission stages. This will also tell you if the vehicle offers independent suspension, stability and traction control, and hydraulic or electric steering. This is basically all the undercar information. Everything your mechanic sees when the vehicle is in the air is described here.

Next comes the exterior and aerodynamics. You’ll typically find the vehicle’s curb weight here, the external dimensions of the vehicle, as well as all the goodies you have on the outside – tinted windows, intermittent or rain-sensing wipers, paint type, body color, headlight type, tinted glass, defoggers, and side mirror features. This section seems unneeded for the most part, since you can see everything the vehicle has on the outside by simply walking around it. It does offer some handy info regarding the technical specs on wipers, lighting, and overall weight though. After all, the weight and dimensions of the vehicle have a direct bearing on how it will handle on the road.

Finally, here comes the laundry list. The last section lists all the interior features and gadgetry. Since cars are designed to be driven from the inside (unless you’re Evil Knievel), there is usually tons of things to list here. Everything from the type and operation of the seats to what type of ventilation system the vehicle has will be listed in this section. This is the section that will appeal to most buyers. It is where all the options are listed. And not just the options, but internal dimensions (handy for knowing legroom and head space), safety features (handy for staying alive), and storage spaces (just plain handy). These lists can become rather long, especially on loaded models, and they can also run the price up in a hurry. Most features will have the additional price listed to the side of them. If you can’t find a vehicle that fits your exact needs, one can usually be ordered for you from the manufacturer to fit your specs. That’s where knowing the prices comes in handy.

At first sight, car specs can seem like an overwhelming list of gobbledygook. But in reality, they are like the birth certificate of your vehicle. They tell you anything and everything you’d like to know about the vehicle in front of you. Learn how to read them and you can avoid the high pressure of a salesman standing directly over your shoulder while you browse.

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