Deciphering the used car code - explaining the car advert acronyms and jargon

The end of lockdown has seen a surge in people searching for cars as they try to avoid public transport while returning to work.

Used car platform Gumtree reports a 24 per cent rise in car searches, and demand across other new and used car platforms has soared as people look to replace their old car or switch from bus or train to their own private transport.

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Despite the rise in interest, research by Gumtree has found that car advert jargon baffles more than a third of online shoppers and as many as half of drivers don’t understand common acronyms such as SRS and VRM.

To help those struggling to make sense of the jargon and acronyms we’ve looked at the most commonly misunderstood terms and come up with some simple definitions.

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Key things to consider when buying a used car


Supplementary restraint system, most commonly the airbags in a car. If the SRS light is lit, it could indicate a problem with the airbag system


Vehicle registration mark. Known to you and me as the car’s registration number as shown on the licence plate


Vehicle excise duty. The dreaded car tax


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Stands for European New Car Assessment Programme. It is the rating system that assesses vehicles for crash safety and awards a score out of five

(Photo: Shutterstock)(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)


Full service history or full dealer service history. An indication that the car has been serviced according to the manufacturer’s schedule. Important to look for as a sign of a cared-for car and as a record of any problems/recalls having been addressed

A/T or M/T

Automatic transmission or manual transmission. Details the type of gearbox or transmission system in the car


The international standard for attachment points for child safety seats, and enables child seats to be fitted securely


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A vehicle history check service that determines where there is any adverse data against a car (outstanding finance, police or insurance issues, whether it has been ‘clocked’ ie if its recorded mileage has been reduced)


Brake horsepower. The imperial measure of a car’s power output


Vehicle Identification Number. Unique identifier for the vehicle and can be used to track recalls, registrations, warranty claims, thefts and insurance coverage.


Revolutions Per Minute: Used to understand how fast the engine is operating at any given time


Anti-lock Braking System: Safety feature in all modern cars that prevents the wheels locking up under heavy braking, thus maintaining grip with the road below