Part of owning a car is taking care of it, and there are certain things you need to know to do that. You don’t need to memorise all of them, as long as you know what they are and have them easily at hand to refer to, like in your phone. I’ll be using my own car as an example in some cases.
Year, Make, Model, and Trim
These are the basic descriptors of your vehicle. They describe the approximate manufacturing year, the manufacturer, the type of vehicle, and the options, respectively. This should all be printed on your registration and bill of sale. As well, everything but the year is printed somewhere on the body of your car, most commonly the rear end.
My car is a 2004 Mini Cooper. A 2004 Mini was manufactured by BMW in late 2003 or 2004, using the “Mini” name. “Cooper” is the model, but that’s the only Mini model. If I didn’t have the base model it would have something like”S” or “Clubman” at the end of the name.
The engine displacement is the amount of space within the cylinders. It’s directly related to horsepower and inversely related to fuel efficiency. This is one of the more difficult things to know about your car, there’s a good chance you have no document with it. You can probably deduce it from the owners manual or a repair manual but the best way is to ask when you buy it or ask the dealer for help figuring it out. If you’re buying a new car it’s one of the things that you’ll likely have to choose. It can be stated using any volume units, but litres, cubic centimetres, and cubic inches are the most common. On my car, the displacement is 1.6L.
Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
Your vehicle identification number or VIN is a unique number that follows your car for its entire lifespan. It should be printed on your registration and bill of sale, as well as the base of the driver’s side windshield, facing out.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory, it’s the size of your tires. It’s a seemingly random string of characters printed on the side of the tires. The last two digits are your rim size in inches, in my case 15 inch.
Engine Oil Viscosity & Capacity
This one’s pretty self-explanatory too. Both of these can be found in your owner’s manual, and sometimes under the hood, probably printed on the oil filler cap. Oil viscosity is another case of a seemingly random string of numbers. My car uses 5W-30 oil, all oil viscosities use that same format.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating & Towing Capacity
Gross vehicle weight rating or GVWR is the maximum combined weight of your vehicle and its load, including a trailer, that’s safe on public roads, so you only need to know it if you plan on hauling large loads or towing trailers. Towing capacity is the maximum weight of trailer your vehicle can handle. Related to towing capacity is maximum hitch weight, which is the most weight that can safely rest on the vehicle’s hitch. All of these should be in your owner’s manual, if not you’ll probably have to go to the dealer to get their help, they should have some record of it somewhere. My car is ill-suited to carrying large loads and probably can’t even have a hitch installed, so I don’t know any of these capacities.
Edit: I forgot one place you may find GVWR; a sticker on the door frame. Mine says the GVWR is 1515kg.
This one seems easy, but it’s not as easy as you think. Unless you have a hybrid, you may have a manual, automatic, or continuously variable transmission. The most distinctive characteristic of a manual transmission, at least that you can see in the cab, is the third pedal which operates the clutch. The only reliable ways to determine if you have an automatic or continuously variable transmission are to consult the dealer spec sheet (if you have it) or your owner’s manual (if only one was offered), or ask the dealer or a mechanic who has worked on your car.
Licence Plate Number & Jurisdiction
These ones you probably already know, but in case you don’t, the licence plate is semi-permanently attached to the front and/or back of the car. The plate number is a mostly random string of numbers and/or letters, unless you have personalised plates. The jurisdiction is most likely printed on the plates as well, but may also be a decal on the back of your vehicle and is either a place name or common abbreviation, usually where you live.
I’ll finish with the easiest one of all, what kind of fuel your car uses. You should have found this one out when you bought the car, and if you didn’t you probably destroyed your car by now anyway. Gasoline and diesel are the only fuels in common use but ethanol and biodiesel are gaining ground.