Which Vehicle Specifications Matter and Why

March 18, 2013

What you need to know about vehicle specifications when purchasing a car will depend on your shopping needs. You can find a vehicle's specifications through web research, user manuals and brochures offered by dealerships. Technical or numerical descriptions about a car may seem intimidating at first, but the meanings become clear with experience. Your individual circumstances will dictate what specifications to learn about. Having these facts prior to visiting a dealer will empower you when talking to your salesperson. Specifications fall into three general categories.

Dimension and capacity specifications - These relate to the size of the vehicle and its parts. For example, head room is the distance from the seat to the roof, and front legroom is from the accelerator pedal to the seatback. Tall people will need as much leg and head room as possible. If you expect to carry many passengers, try to find a vehicle with high seating capacity (number of people who can fit in the vehicle). Fuel tank capacity can impact a buying decision. If minimizing gas station stops is important, then the buyer will want a tank that holds as many gallons as possible and has high fuel economy. Other examples include door count (important for ease of entry and exit of the vehicle), turning radius (important for maneuverability in narrow streets) and exterior length and width (important for fitting a vehicle in a garage).

Performance and mechanical specifications - Performance and mechanical specifications describe how the engine, drive train and other technologies built into the vehicle provide power, speed and handling. A higher engine size, measured by liters in the combustion chamber and number of cylinders, i.e. 4.6L V-8, delivers more power and often a smoother ride. Horsepower indicates how much load the vehicle can carry and how quickly it can accelerate. This is important for drivers who want "muscle" cars and those hauling loads in a pickup bed. The buyer's driving environment makes drive-type (rear-wheel, all-wheel, or front-wheel) a relevant specification. Front or all-wheel vehicles are ideal for hilly or snow-covered environments while rear-wheel drives are fine for flat snow-free environments.

Feature specifications - Feature specifications provide the prospective buyer with information about sizes and quantities of equipment and accessories on the vehicle. Families who take road trips may find it useful to know how many power outlets and cup holders are in the front and rear seat areas of a vehicle. Entertainment enthusiasts could consider that a 2009 Infiniti G37x base 4 door all-wheel drive sedan has 6 speakers and a CD player with 6-disk capacity. For the safety conscious, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes that prevent wheel lockup during hard braking and first and second row overhead airbags would be useful data.

The above examples cite just a few specifications. Conducting this research is especially convenient in the modern Internet age. You can pull up a "comparison" on a website such as CarsDirect that shows over a hundred attributes of two or more vehicles side by side. You don't have to be a "gear head" to learn specification data. It's just one tool to help you narrow down the car or truck that fits your needs and desires.

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