Italian CAR Vocabulary: Words and Verbs to talk about CARS in Italian!

Whether you know it by the name macchina, automobile or simply auto, I am sure that you all know this means of transport on four wheels. But unless you are particularly interested in cars, I doubt you know every single part that make up cars, especially in Italian! Even if you already know the main components of cars, are you sure you know them all? Either way, in this lesson I will teach you all those words and verbs that have to do with cars: we will see all the parts of a car, but also all those verbs that can come in handy when talking about how it works, and how to drive it!

WORDS AND VERBS TO TALK ABOUT CARS

In the following list you can find more than 50 extremely useful terms that are related to cars: first, we are going to talk about all the various parts inside and outside the car, then we’re going to see the verbs that you need to know when talking about each and every part, and lastly we’ll talk about the parts you need to know to drive.

THE INTERIOR OF THE CAR

Let’s start with the easiest elements that make up the inside of a car (called “abitacolo“, i.e. the driver and passenger compartment of a car): in most Countries, the person who seats on the left is called CONDUCENTE (literally “the person who leads, who drives – it’s the driver) and their seat is called SEDILE DEL CONDUCENTE (driver’s seat). On the driver’s right there is another seat, called SEDILE DEL PASSEGGERO (passenger’s seat) – “passeggero” signifies a person who is seated inside the car but does not drive it.

To drive, what the driver has to do is take the CHIAVE DELLA MACCHINA (car key), which makes the car to start. The car key must be inserted inside a part of the car that is found behind the VOLANTE, the usually rounded part of the car that is essential to drive a car – it’s the steering wheel. The part where you have to insert the key is called BLOCCHETTO (the ignition point, a sort of keyhole). To start the car, the key must be inserted and twisted.

GEAR SHIFT, GEARS AND PEDALS

Right beside the driver, between the two seats, you can find the CAMBIO (gear shift), the part that allows you to change the speed of the car. It can either be MANUALE or AUTOMATICO: if the gear is ‘manuale’ (manual) it means that you have to manually select the appropriate gear using the LEVA DEL CAMBIO (gear stick) and a friction – it this case, it’s a manual transmission. Whereas if the gear is ‘automatico’ (automatic), it provides automatically and autonomously to change the gears, therefore it does not need the driver’s control to work – it’s an automatic transmission.

So, what are MARCE (gears) for? They are needed to regulate the car’s pace – depending on the pace, the driver needs to change the engine power, which means that it has to be adjusted to the needs of the vehicle. There are six gears: gears from 1 to 5 (to slow/increase the speed) and the last one, R, is the RETROMARCIA, the gear that makes the car move backwards – in English it’s called reverse gear.

At the driver’s feet there are three PEDALI (pedals) which make the car move, as well as change the gear ration and brake the car. They are called:

  • (La) FRIZIONE (clutch), positioned on the left therefore activated using the left foot. It is used to SWITCH gears, to control the car in situations of low speed and to make it start and stop.
  • (Il) FRENO (brake), in between the other two pedals, it’s applied using the right foot. It is used to RALLENTARE, (slow down) or FERMARE, frenare, (stop, break) the car.
  • (L’) ACCELERATORE (accelerator) is on the right, so the right foot is used to press it. This allows the driver to “accelerare”, meaning that they can make the car go faster – the verb used to indicate the action of moving, driving the car is “MUOVERE”.

Obviously to stop the car after you’ve parked it, you cannot just press the brake: to keep the car anchor it to the ground and make sure it doesn’t move, the driver needs to operate what is known as FRENO A MANO, the parking brake (also known as a handbrake, or emergency brake). It obviously needs to be applied when the car is parked on even roads, but also on sloping roads.

DASHBOARD and its various parts

The panel that is in front of the driver is called cruscotto and it contains all the instruments and controls. The part of the dashboard that is right behind the steering wheel is called QUADRO STRUMENTI – as you might have understood from the name, it’s the control panel, the group of parts that contain the most important information about the car.

There are two main elements are called:

  • IL TACHIMETRO (the speedometer), which measures and displays the instantaneous speed of a vehicle.
  • IL CONTAGIRI (the tachometer), which displays the revolutions per minute (RPM). It can be either a digital display or an analog dial.

There are other elements too, such as…

  • L’INDICATORE DELLA BENZINA (fuel gauge) – used to indicate the amount of fuel in a SERBATOIO (fuel tank). If it’s VUOTO (empty), you need to get gas, while if it’s PIENO (full), you have already filled the tank up.
  • L’INDICATORE DEL LIVELLO DI ACQUA (temperature warning) – indicates any abnormalities concerning the temperature of the engine.
  • IL CONTACHILOMETRI (odometer)-  an instrument used for measuring the distance traveled by a vehicle.

OTHER INSTRUMENTS CLOSE TO THE DRIVER

In the front of the car, there are other instruments, such as buttons, knobs, and switches, as well as a series of instruments that the driver might need – for this reason, they are all close to their seat or in between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat to their right.

  • LA RADIO (radio) – in cars, the radio is usually placed somewhere in between the driver and the passenger. In modern cars, it’s a device that features touchscreen, USB ports and Bluetooth readers. It’s often the same screen as the GPS.
  • GLI INTERRUTTORI PER I FINESTRINI (window switches) – these buttons allow the driver to be in charge of all windows (by lowering and raising the windows). This is why they’re either to the driver’s right (near the passenger too) or their left; in the second case, the switches are integrated in the car door.
  • IL PULSANTE PER LE FRECCE DI EMERGENZA (warning light switch), also known as “QUATTRO FRECCE” (four arrows, or hazard lights) – this switch is frequently placed between driver and passenger. By pushing it, it activates all four turn signals/indicators, placed at the four corners of the car. It’s called “warning light” because it should be turned on only in case of emergency stop, or when you are blocking the roadway. In general, it should you should turn this switch on only when your vehicle is a hazard to other motorists.
  • LA SPIA PER SBRINARE IL PARABREZZA (windscreen defrost indicator) – this yellow indicator will turn on when the demisting system or the rear window defroster are working. “Parabrezza” is the windshield/windscreen, while “sbrinare” is a verb that comes from the term “brina” – the atmospheric phenomenon during which dew and water vapor turn into a thin layer of ice. So, the verb “S+BRINARE” means “to remove frost”, defrost!
  • L’ACCENDISIGARI (car cigarette lighter) is another type of power outlet that can be found in the front of the car. It can be compared to a small burner, a button that heats up when pushed. When it reaches its maximum temperature, it can light cigars (“sigari”) and cigarette…so, it’s like a small portable lighter, but smaller and functioning without the need of gas and so it has a bigger safety margin.

There are other non-essential elements that are near the driver and that are almost always present in cars. In a way, they are essential to the practicality of the car and the well-being of the passengers.

  • LE BOCCHETTE DI AREAZIONE (air vent)- openings which allow the air to circulate inside the vehicle without having to lowering the windows. Sometimes, they can be found at the centre of the dashboard, and other times they are placed at the sides. Both the diver and the passengers can change their direction manually. They cool or heat the car – if they cool it, it means that the ARIA CONDIZIONATA (air conditioning, or AC) is on.
  • IL PORTABICCHIERI (cup holder)- Attachable and removable, or fixed in between the seats, they allow to transport bottles, and cups containing any sort of liquid, inside the car decreasing the probability of accidents. They can be found between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat, or in the back of the car.
  • IL PORTACENERE (ashtray) – Just like the car cigarette lighter, the ashtray can’t be reached from the back seats, for obvious reasons. To avoid any spillage, ashtrays is cars are usually shaped like cups and have a lid, which can be opened and closed easily.
  • IL VANO PORTAOGGETTI (glove compartment) – It’s placed in front of the passenger’s seat, in the front of the car, and it takes up most of their part of the dashboard. It’s a sort of “drawer”, a container; because it’s part of the dashboard, it’s suitable for storing everything that has to do with the car: the maintenance booklet, insurance papers, car registration, car manual and all you might need in the event of mechanical problems.

THE EXTERIOR OF THE CAR

Now that we’ve talked about the elements that make up the interior of the passenger compartment, we can move on to those that make up its exterior.

The outermost part of the car is called CARROZZERRIA (bodywork) – generally speaking, this term includes the entire outer cover of the vehicle e.g. hood, doors, bumpers, wheel arches and trunk; its main function is to isolate the isolate the internal environment from the external one, so that better conditions can be guaranteed – such as temperature regulation and the control of air flow that reaches the passengers.

Starting from the front-end of the car, we have already talked about the windshield/windscreen. The front of the car is called COFANO and it’s a hinged cover over the engine – in British English it’s called a ‘bonnet‘, while in US English it’s called a ‘hood‘. Included in the hood, there’s a GRIGLIA DI AREAZIONE DEL RADIATORE (grille) -its purpose is to allow fresh air to flow inside the hood, cooling many parts heated by use and friction, but more specifically the engine and radiator.
Both in the front (in front of the hood) and in the rear end we find the PARAURTI (bumpers), parts of the body that prevent, limit, or cushion the damage of a low-speed collision. Above the bumper, we find the FARI (headlights), also known as FANALI (lights), which serve both to signal their car presence on the road, and to make the road visible to the driver.

Among the various mandatory light and light-signalling devices, there are:

  • LE LUCI DI POSIZIONE (sidelights)- as you can easily guess from the name, these lights are intended to indicate the position of the vehicle during a stop, when the car is parked in a street with poor visibility. When the car is in motion, it is mandatory to keep them on from half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise. The position lights have a very specific color: those placed in the front of the vehicle are yellow or white; as the law stipulates, while the side position lights of the car the law provides that they are orange, those placed behind must be red.
  • LE LUCI (o FARI) ANABBAGLIANTI (dimming/low beams)- these are the type of headlights are mostly used to see the road better at night; they are usually white or yellow.
  • LE LUCI (o FARI) ABBAGLIANTI (bright/high beams)- because they provide a bright, center-weighted distribution of light with no particular control of light directed towards other road users’ eyes, they are only suitable when there are no other cars on the road, and far from residential areas. They’re usually yellow or white.

Moving to the side of the car, the first element we see is the RUOTA (wheel), which allows the vehicle to move. It consists of the GOMMA/”copertone” (tyre/tire) and the cerchione. The tire is the part that is mounted on the wheels of a vehicle and that allows the grip of the vehicle itself on the road – if you know what “gomma” means, you might have already guessed that rubber is the main component, characterized by its elasticity and resistance. The CERCHIONE (wheel rim) is the part that connects the tire to the vehicle.

Continuing our analysis of the car, we find three elements that are closely connected to each other: the door, the handle, and the window.

  • LA PORTIERA (car door), also called sportello or portellone, is the door necessary to enter the car. If you remember, earlier I mentioned that the window switches can be embedded in the driver’s door, but usually it also includes a rather thin compartment for storing various objects.
  • LA MANIGLIA (car door handle) allows the opening and closing of the door. External ones may have a key patch, if the car opens with a key (and not with a remote control, for example).
  • IL FINESTRINO (car window) is the side window (as opposed to the windscreens), the “small window” (finestr-ino); in Italian, the same word can be used when talking about tram windows, bus windows and train windows.

The part that covers the entire car is called the TETTUCCIO (roof), the “small roof” (a word that comes from “tetto” + the suffix -uccio, which form the diminutive of the word “roof”) of cars.
It can be APRIBILE, meaning that it can be opened to let air in from above (sunroof) or PANORAMICO, meaning that a part of the roof can be removed, letting sunlight in (but not air!) – this is what in English is known as a panoramic sunroof. If the roof can be completely removed (even temporarily), the car is called “decapottabile” (cabriolet) or “convertibile” (convertible).

Last but not least, we have to talk about the back-end, which includes two parts: licence plate/number plate and trunk/boot.
The TARGA (license plate/number plate) is a metal or plastic plate attached to a motor vehicle or trailer for official identification purposes; it’s a series of digits and numbers combined together that make each and every one of them unique.
The BAGAGLIAIO (trunk/boot) is the vehicle’s main storage or cargo compartment, used to transport anything, including a spare wheel and an auxiliary tank.

HOW TO DRIVE A CAR

Being able to drive is a skill that is acquired by studying and practicing; here in Italy, you have to be at least 18 years old to get your driver’s license (“patente di guida”, or just “patente”). Let’s see the most important things you need to remember when you drive!

First of all, you need to keep your hands on the steering wheel, which we have mentioned in the first paragraph. The part of the car that allows the driver to change direction of the wheels by moving the steering wheel is called STERZO (steering).

Once you are seated in front of the steering wheel, you need to ALLACCIARE (fasten) your CINTURA di sicurezza (seatbelt), which is designed so that driver and passengers are in a situation where damage, danger and risk are limited. Obviously, it’s mandatory for both front and rear passengers’ seats and should be kept in front of the chest at all times.

After you get the car started, it won’t take long before you need to choose where you want to go, where you want to turn – choosing between two sides, means that you have to either SVOLTARE A DESTRA (turn right) or SVOLTARE A SINISTRA (turn left). Any time you drive on the road, change lane, or turn in any direction, you have to signal it… which you do by using the light-signaling devices we have already talked about! If you need to maneuver in a way that could be dangerous for others, you must signal it using acoustic signals – during the daytime, you must “suonare il CLACSON” (honk the horn),


Other parts you must know are the internal and external mirrors: the SPECCHIETRO RETROVISORE INTERNO (interior rear-view mirror) is installed inside the car so that the driver can see what happens behind them and it can be adjusted manually. The SPECCHIETTI RETROVISORI ESTERNI (outside rear-view mirror) are placed on both sides of the front of the car, and they allow the driver and the passenger to see what happens behind them without having to move their whole bodies, therefore avoiding any risk of accidents.

Lastly, we have two parts of the car that aim to counteract the weather – they make sure that the driver can be free from external distraction, and that their driving is safe:

  • I TERGICRISTALLI (windscreen wiper/windshield wiper) are devices used to remove rain, snow, and dust from the windscreen/windshield; they are both on the front and back windscreen.
  • L’ALETTA PARASOLE (sun visor), conversely, is inside the car and it designed to protect the driver and passenger’s eyes.

I hope you enjoyed this “dynamic” vocabulary lesson. If you want another dynamic video and “on the road”, then you should check out our vlog in Turin, in which we also have an exceptional guest … Trust me, it’s a must-see!

If, on the other hand, you like to immerse yourself in the authentic Italian language, you should check out our course: Italiano in Contesto, completely based on Metodo Contestuale! You will be immersed in real everyday conversations (at the bar, in the pizzeria, at the doctor, etc), just as if you were really in Italy! Thanks to our course, you will be able to learn authentic Italian, native speaker’s Italian, the one you won’t find in books. By using our coupon code BRUMBRUM, you will gain unlimited access to Italiano in Contesto for just 79€.

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