Automatic Car Expert: The L.A. Driver Dictionary, E to O

Aren’t sure what electric steering has to do with electric vehicles? Check out the second installment of our three-part L.A. Driver Dictionary

Electric Steering


Using an electric motor to turn the front wheels, electric steer technology replaces less-efficient hydraulic systems, which suck power from the engine. Driving enthusiasts claim electric steering reduces engagement and feel, but the technology is evolving rapidly enough to quell many of those complaints.

Ex.: “Porsches just aren’t the same since they switched to electric steering.”

Electronic Stability Control


By detecting when a vehicle loses its grip of the road (see: oversteer), electronic stability control (or ESC) automatically applies brakes to individual wheels and cuts engine power to guide the car back onto its intended path.

Ex.: “My car’s electronic stability control makes me feel like world champion racer Mario Andretti, especially on Mulholland.”

EV (abbreviation)

/ ee-vee /

An EV, or electric vehicle, is powered entirely by electricity supplied by a battery. Instead of refilling a gas tank, EV owners have to recharge their battery by plugging the car into either a charging station or a personal outlet.

Ex.: “I never thought I’d be caught dead in an EV until I drove the Tesla Model S.”

Front Wheel-Drive


Front-drive cars cram the engine and transmission at the nose of the vehicle, which eliminates the need for a bulky rear differential and opens up room in the cabin. While boy racers critique front-drive configurations for their nose-heavy weight distribution, engineering advances have made this layout better handling than ever.

Ex.: “You’d wouldn’t guess that the Volkswagen GTI front wheel-drive; it corners like a dream.”



A vehicle that uses more than one powertrain (or part that generates power) to drive the wheels, usually an internal combustion engine along with an electric motor. Mainstream use of hybrid powertrains reached critical mass mainstream use with the ubiquitous Toyota Prius, and can also be found on buses, trains, and rail transit.

Ex.: “I want a hybrid, but I don’t want people to think I’m an eco-weenie.”

Limited Slip Differential


Hardcore driving geeks don’t think of hallucinogenic drugs when they refer to LSD. They’re part of a select few who know that a “limited slip,” as they lovingly refer to this mechanical technology, is part of what keeps wheels from skidding as you peel out from a red light.

Ex.: “My Subaru’s limited-slip differential will smoke your Miata off the line.”

Manual Transmission


See also: stick shift. Remember Richard Gere grinding gears in Pretty Woman? He played a charming dude who just couldn’t handle his Lotus Esprit’s manual transmission, a dying breed of gearbox that uses three pedals and a hand-operated gearshift to transfer power to the wheels. Though die-hards love ’em, manuals are going the way of the dinosaur and getting replaced by quicker-shifting, easier to drive automatics.

Ex.: “Dual-clutch gearboxes (see: part one) are the bomb, but I kinda miss a good old-fashioned manual transmission.”

Natural Gas Vehicle


This form of alternative fuel has been powering fleets of public buses for years, and is gradually expanding into passenger cars. Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) use a modified engine that runs on abundantly available Compressed Natural Gas (or CNG), which can be sourced from home refueling stations. Bonus: the CNG equivalent of one gallon of gas, which runs you like $4.50, costs less than one dollar.

Ex.: “I’m thinking of going next level eco, and replacing my Prius with a Honda Civic Natural Gas Vehicle.”


Life is full of tough choices, including those three numerical options at the pump between 87, 89, and 91 octane fuel. Without busting out the dull chemistry details, the higher the octane fuel, the less likely it is to allow your engine to knock (or make an annoying clunking sound), which can cause damage to the valvetrain. Our advice? Play it safe and spring for the expensive juice.

Ex.: “As much as I hate to spend the dough, I take care of my ride by filling her up with high-octane fuel.”



A phenomenon that describes when a vehicle turns more than intended and loses traction in the back wheels, usually due to the over-application of throttle in a rear-wheel drive car. Oversteer is the essence of the vehicular exhibition sport called drifting, and the reason many parents avoid gifting testosterone-filled 16-year-olds with high-powered, rear-wheel drive cars.

Ex.: “I shouldn’t have floored my muscle car on that corner; I oversteered into a lamp post on PCH.”

Part One: A to D