Gearhead Slang For The Fast Lane

Learn the lingo

Can you speak car slang? Here are some words the gearhead (or “car fanatic”) in your life probably knows and uses at weekly car meets or on the forum. So, read through and learn to speak their language!


It’s best to begin at the beginning. A whip is a car. By some accounts, in the early days of the automobile, the steering wheel was referred to as the “whip,” which was carried over from the horse and buggy days. (Did you know cars had a tiller before they had a steering wheel?) Today’s whip first appeared in hip-hop lyrics, referring to a sleek, expensive ride, but it now means any vehicle, including motorcycles.


You might know beater, clunker, or the more arcane jalopy, to mean a downright decrepit vehicle. Hooptie—also spelled hoopty—came along in 1989 when Sir Mix-A-Lot sang about his “three-ton monster, econo-box stomper” in the song “My Hooptie.” Though the term isn’t as widely used today, you’ll still hear it on occasion.


Banger refers to the cylinders in a vehicle, and it is mostly used when referring to smaller engines, specifically four-cylinder engines (“Really? You’re going to run that ‘four-banger’ at the track?”). You’ll rarely hear “six-banger,” or a reference to any larger engine. The term comes from the “bang” in a combustion engine’s cylinders.

Torque or "pulling power"

If you want to talk cars, you need to know about torque. Where horsepower is important to the speed of an engine, torque essentially means the power or rotational force available from the crank shaft. Torque has become more important over the years as vehicles have gotten heavier. Many wannabes use the terms torque or pulling power incorrectly or as slang in casual car convo, but use it accurately and the serious gearhead will think you know what’s what.

Oil burner

You might think oil burner refers an unhealthy car that burns oil. You would be wrong. An oil burner is, specifically, a diesel engine, which burns a dirtier, less refined type of fuel than gas motors do. Some folks, especially those with larger trucks and SUVs or drivers of industrial vehicles, appreciate the improved torque performance of diesel engines.


If you drive an automatic car, gearheads may refer to it as a slushbox. The term for an automatic transmission likely came about because the engine is connected to the drive shaft by fluid, instead of a solid plate. If you drive a slushbox, you may have to defend yourself against the next term.


People who drive automatics have an easier time juggling coffee, eyeliner, kids’ toys, bluetooth . . . and they are quite happy they can do it. Gearheads, on the other hand, say it’s downright autotragic to drive a “slushbox.” They’ve made themselves pretty clear on the better choice!


To the uninitiated, hoon might sound like a clever car maneuver. But, it’s an all encompassing term for taking pleasure in driving fast (and furious) but staying just this side of the law. It involves noise, smoke, speed, trick moves, and generally reckless behavior. It originated in Australia and New Zealand and is thought to be related to hooligan, or perhaps a portmanteau of hooligan and goon.


A slammed car is one that is lowered substantially to the ground, for better handling and for a certain look. The word is probably also appropriate for what happens to the driver’s head once they encounter unexpected speed bumps or other road hazards.

Fart can

So, there are many ways to customize one’s ride, such as “slamming” it, which we just explained. Another is adding a fart can, or a modified exhaust that magnifies the sounds emitted from a car. Because who doesn’t totally love noisy, rude, sputtering sounds at 6:00am (or any time, for that matter)? And, what’s worse than a “fart can”? Dual fart cans.


A ricer is a person who modifies a car—usually an import car, often a Honda—to make it loud (and obnoxious); to appear to be faster than it is; to make it lower, or appear to be lower, to the ground; to show the owner’s true age, as the modifications include things like stickers, neon lights, and spoilers. The word is borderline offensive as it was created because modifications are typically done to many Asian-made import cars.


If someone says they did a Rockford, it means they were moving in reverse at a good clip, eased off the gas pedal, and made a hard left while pulling on the emergency brake in order to spin 180 degrees before speeding forward in the opposite direction. Also known as a “reverse 180,” “the Rockford” references the 1970s television show, The Rockford Files, starring James Garner as the lovable private eye Jim Rockford, who took a certain joy in driving his Pontiac Firebird in a dramatic fashion throughout the series.


Bondo is a brand name for a line of products that include putty and body filler widely used in auto body work. The generic use of the term bondo generally means a DIY fix, as in, “just bondo that thing!” It can imply a last ditch effort or a temporary fix. True gearheads will testify that there’s nothing a little bondo can’t fix.


Wrench is an affectionate (but manly) verb for working on one’s own car. Rather than turn one’s beloved machine over to a mechanic, most gearheads prefer to wrench on their own cars. Because, love.

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