Pre-owned car shopping is an exhilarating experience, but all those car specs can get a little overwhelming. We’ve outlined the most important pre-owned car specs to understand when shopping for your next vehicle to ease your way into the land of car specifications.
Under the hood, there are a few car specs you’ll want to familiarize yourself with before you start used car shopping.
Horsepower is one of the most frequently advertised powertrain specifications on a car because it’s generally the most familiar to the average car shopper. It’s simply the engine’s power, right?
Yes and no. Horsepower is the engine’s ability to maintain the vehicle’s speed under a load. For example, if you’re traveling into the mountains, you are putting extra load on the engine to pull the car’s weight uphill. With a high horsepower rating, the engine has to work less to maintain your driving speed. The same goes for towing or hauling a car full of passengers.
The engine’s torque is the second half to its overall power ratings. The torque is the overall twisting force the engine can produce, and this twisting force is what starts the wheels moving to get the car going from a complete stop. The higher the torque rating is, the more powerful the vehicle is from a complete stop.
This is great for acceleration in some vehicles, but it’s primarily best for towing and hauling, as acceleration requires a combination of torque and horsepower.
If you plan to haul a trailer, a vehicle with high torque at low RPMs is ideal. This is why many tow vehicles are diesel — most of their power is low-RPM torque.
Fuel consumption is another key powertrain specification you’ll want to consider when buying a pre-owned vehicle. In Canada, fuel consumption is primarily measured in litres consumers per 100 km of driving (L/100km). The higher the L/100km rating, the less efficient the vehicle is.
Fuel consumption has three ratings, city, highway, and combined. City is how much fuel the vehicle uses in stop-and-go city driving and is usually the lowest rating. The highway rating is the fuel consumption at typical highway cruising speeds without stops and is usually the highest rating. Finally, the combined rating is the estimated total fuel economy for the average Canadian driver on both city streets and highways.
With the boom in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), and battery electric vehicles (BEVs), some fuel consumption changes have occurred. First, PHEVs and BEVs can run on electricity alone, so a new equivalency rating estimates the cost of the electricity used to drive 100km and converts it to gasoline. This new rating is called Le/100km — the “e” stands for “equivalent.”
PHEVs and EVs are generally also more efficient in city driving than on the highway, so unlike gas and diesel vehicles, their highway fuel consumption is generally higher than in the city. HEVs frequently have the same or very similar ratings between city and highway driving.
There is also a handful of car specifications to understand on the outside of a vehicle before pre-owned car shopping.
The length of the vehicle is relatively straightforward. It’s simply the distance between the frontmost part of the vehicle’s body and the rearmost point. Generally, the longer the vehicle is, the more challenging it is to park.
A vehicle’s width can be measured in three ways, and some automakers advertise all three, whereas others only advertise one and specify which it is. The three ways are:
Height is another fairly straightforward measurement, as it’s simply the distance from the ground to the highest point on the vehicle. However, there can be multiple height measurements on vehicles with adjustable suspensions.
Ride height is often confused as the distance from the ground to the bottom of the body. However, it is actually the distance from the ground to the lowest point on the vehicle, which can be an oil pan, lower control arm, differential or other undercarriage components.
Only serious off-roaders need to worry about these measurements, but they are important. You typically see this only on trucks and SUVs.
The approach angle is the angle of a hill the vehicle can clear without dragging its front end on the ground. The departure angle is the same but in the rear end.
The breakover angle is the angle between the centre of the vehicle and your tires. This is useful for rock crawling, where you may find yourself straddling a pointy rock that you’d rather not scrape the underbelly of your truck with.
The wheelbase is the measurement between the centremost point of the front and rear wheels. The closer the wheelbase length is to the vehicle’s overall length, the less off-road-capable the vehicle may be. However, this long wheelbase pushes the wheels closer to the corners of the vehicle to enhance handling. Short-wheelbase vehicles are generally better for off-roading, a la the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco.
Curb weight is the vehicle’s weight with all its equipment, fluids, and a full fuel tank. It does not include passengers or cargo.
The GVWR isn’t always front and centre, but every pre-owned car will have one. This is the maximum weight — curb weight included — that the vehicle can carry.
If you were to subtract the curb weight from this number, the result is the weight of people, cargo, and other items the vehicle can carry. In a truck, this amount the vehicle can carry is referred to as its payload capacity.
The towing capacity is the total trailer weight a vehicle can handle. Generally, SUVs and pickup trucks have the highest towing capacities, but many cars can tow around 450 kg. Also, be mindful of the tongue capacity too. This is the total weight the vehicle can handle at the tongue of the trailer, the frontmost part of the trailer that connects to the vehicle.
A pre-owned vehicle’s interior has many specifications to consider when purchasing. Here are some of the most important ones to consider when using-car shopping.
Legroom is by far one of the most important specifications for families. It is measured differently depending on what seat you’re in. This is measured from the accelerator pedal to the point where the seatback meets the seat cushion in the driver's seat. The front passenger’s legroom is from the furthest point of the footwell to where the seatback meets the seat cushion. Both measurements are taken from the seat’s furthest rearward setting.
The rear seats are trickier. You must set the front seats to 1,016 mm of legroom. Then you measure the distance between the rear-seat backrest and the front-seat backrest.
Generally, anything greater than 889 mm of rear legroom is fine for most kids and smaller teens and adults. However, if you haul adults frequently, you may want to target 965 mm or more.
The hip room is the width of the seat cushion dedicated to each passenger. Essentially, this indicates how cramped or spacious each seat is.
The shoulder room is the measurement from one door panel to the other. It indicates how much total room the passengers’ upper bodies will have.
A vehicle’s headroom is the measurement between the seat cushion and the ceiling in each seat. In some cases, you will see multiple headroom measurements. This is because seats adjust up and down, making the headroom adjustable. Plus, a sunroof will often reduce headroom by an inch or so to make room for the track and motor.
If you’re looking at a minivan, SUV, or hatchback, you’ll usually see a cargo capacity measurement. This is the amount of cargo in litres the vehicle can haul. There are often multiple measurements to account for the extra space you get by folding the rear seats.
In a sedan or coupe, you’ll usually see only trunk volume. This is also measured in litres. Though the rear seats often fold to accommodate larger cargo, this is not included in the measurement like in cargo volume.
At Clutch, Canada’s first online-only automotive retailer, we offer a wide selection of cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans from major automakers, including Nissan, Toyota, Chevrolet, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and more. We’re confident we have a vehicle that suits your needs.
Plus, Clutch includes all the important car specs on each pre-owned vehicle we sell, so you can easily see if it’ll work for you.
You can also rest assured you’re getting a quality pre-owned vehicle from Clutch, as they all include a 90-day or 6,000-km warranty and a 10-day no-questions-asked test-own period. If you don’t love your Clutch vehicle in the first 10 days or 750 km, you can return or exchange it.
Check out our vast online pre-owned vehicle inventory and choose the car you love. We’ll help set up the financing, evaluate your trade-in car online, and even drop the vehicle off at your house. All without setting foot in a used-car dealership.