British Slang: 48 British Words For Driving That You May Not Know – How the British Communicate Driving Differently Than Americans


This is the first article in an ongoing series about British English or as we Americans tend to call it, British Slang. The following list of words is taken from Anglotopia’s Dictionary of British English and you’ll find these and a ton more words in our bestselling dictionary.

This week we’re going to talk about the words for driving that are different from British to American English. Some of the words are obvious in their meanings, some words are used completely differently to the way we Americans use them – which can lead to confusion when renting (or hiring as the Brits say) a car when you’re in the UK.

AA – abbr – The British Automobile Association, whom you call when your car breaks down.
Bollard – n – Metal post that usually indicates a place one should not drive into.
Bonnet – n – The hood of a car.
Boot – n – The car’s trunk, opposite of the bonnet.
Camper van – n – Recreational vehicle.
Car boot sale – n – Swap meet or flea market where people sell items from the back of their car.
Car park – n – Parking lot or parking garage.
Caravan – n – Another term for Recreational Vehicle.
Caravan Park – n – Campsite for recreational vehicles and trailers
Cat’s eyes – n – Reflectors located on the road in the center line.
Central Reservation – n – The median between two opposite sides of a road.
Damper – n – The shock absorber on a car.
Dual carriageway – n – A divided highway a step down from a motorway.
Estate car – n – A station wagon.
Gear lever – n – The stick shift in a manual car.
Golf buggy – n – Golf cart.
Handbrake – n – Parking/ Emergency brake in a car.
Hard shoulder – n – Shoulder on the side of the road that’s paved.
High street – n – Main street.
Hire car – n – A rental car.
Indicator – n – Turning signal in a car.
Kerb – n – A curb.
Kerb crawler – n – A person who solicits street prostitutes.
L-plates – n – Special license plates you’re required to have on your car while learning to drive in the UK.
Lay-by – n – Rest area along the highways.
Lorry – adj – A semi or heavy goods truck.
Manual gearbox – n – A manual transmission on a car.
Motor – n – An antiquated term for an automobile.
Motorway – n – The equivalent would be an interstate highway.
Nearside – n - The side of the car that’s closest to the curb.
Number plate – n – License plate.
Pavement – n – The sidewalk.
Pelican crossing – n – A type of crosswalk on British streets.
Puncture – n – Flat tire.
Registration – n – A car’s license plate.
Roundabout – n – A traffic circle.
Saloon – n – Standard 4 door family sedan car.
Sleeping policemen – n – A speed bump in the road.
Slip-road – n – An exit on/off ramp on a highway.
Soft-Shoulder – n – Roadside shoulder that’s made of gravel.
Tarmac – n – A paved road.
Traffic Light – n – Stoplight
Trailer tent – n – A pop-up camper.
Undercarriage – n – The underside of your car.
Verge – n – Shoulder on the side of the road.
Windscreen – n – Windshield.
Wing – n – Car fender.
Zebra crossing – n – Pedestrian crossings on roads.

Did we leave anything off the list? Which word is your favorite. We love saying ‘hire car’ instead of rental car – sounds so much more adventurous!

british-slang-dictionary-coverThe words on this list were excerpted from Anglotopia’s Dictionary of British English: Brit Slang from A to Zed. Available now from major retailers in prints and eBook form. The book features over 1,000 British Slang words including extra sections on Australian and Kiwi Slang, Cockney Slang and London slang. There’s also a hilarious section on Britain’s rude place names.  Full details here.


  1. avatarMindy Helms says

    This is great! I love this topic! My favorites are “Sleeping policemen” and “Pelican/zebra crossings”. Of course “Kerb crawler” gives me a good laugh too. Is there a different word for the roof of a car in British English?

  2. avatarpsgifford says

    A caravan is a self contained unit for travelling that you tow. Us Brits love them.Plus the term motor is till very much used in certain parts of England, particularly in London, A Bonnet is where the engine is and a boot is the storage part of the car- so a boot might be in the front of a rear engined car. I would also add ‘Lollipop lady,” which is a school crossing lady. A Panda car for police care, motorway services, and a few others. But, a good job.

  3. avatarAlex says

    Blinker (v turn indicator)
    Brake disc (v rotor)
    Flat battery (v. dead battery)
    Outside (opposite of nearside)
    MOT (v inspection)
    Moped (? North Americans don’t have them)
    Reliant Robin (? North Americans don’t have them)
    mini-roundabout (? North Americans don’t have them)
    Belisha beacon (? North Americans don’t have them)
    Invalid carriage (? North Americans don’t have them)

  4. avatarMartha McCann says

    Belisha beacon: an amber flashing globe on top of a black and white striped pole, placed at a zebra crossing.

  5. avatarLanina123. says

    People carrier. A seven to twelve seat mini-van similar to Dodge Caravan. It makes you wonder what exactly other vehicles carry!

  6. avatarFrank Levin says

    You left out my favorite which I learned in Wales last year. The slow lane up the long hills that the lorrys use is called the “Crawler Lane.” There is no doubt who travels there.

  7. avatarJan Sasser says

    When we put Garmin in British mode, Jeeves (our name for him) tells us to take the slip road. My favorite!

  8. avatarMarie Mac says

    No point explaining what an indicator is , most Americans don’t or don’t know how to use them.. It’s bloody annoying

  9. avatarDoug says

    A caravan is not the same as an RV. A caravan does not have an engine and is typically towed behind a car. We don’t use damper in British English, we use shock absorber. We use ‘registration’ to refer to what is written on the number plate, not the physical object. I would say ‘gear stick’ is used more often than ‘gear lever’. Interesting, I always though fender was what we call a bumper.

  10. avatarDrew G. says

    Can’t forget to add ” BLIND SUMMIT ” to the list. In the states they’re called hill & dales, or hilly up and down roads, like the two lane hilly up & down roads in upstate New York, <–which includes a lot of those much safer "no passing", no lane changing areas, because you would be "Blind" to what was coming in the other lane of travel at the top or bottom of those scenic hills. :-). "…..Safety First …."May save your own life,as well as others.!!!

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