Speed-racing, fast-flying, metal-clunking, oil-charged … these useful little machines called cars have a lot more to do with the English language than one might imagine. There are so many popular idioms and expressions that were inspired by these furiously fast vehicles. Whether for a compliment or a “total wreck,” this language has you car-lovers covered.
Below is a list of some expressions that were inspired by cars or driving. Most of these can be used in a literal driving context but also in a figurative way. It’s not a complete list at all, and there are many more expressions out there. Still, these are some that, in my life, seem to be the most commonly used. So let’s get the motor runnin’!
Oh, and I’ll be writing more lists about this topic in the future if you want to know even more phrases related to cars. So, stay tuned for that!
Total Wreck / Totaled
Let’s go ahead and start with one that I just used. A total wreck, whether for a car or in general life, is a complete disaster. Something has been destroyed and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be any coming back. If you total a car, it’s totaled, and this has the same meaning as a “total wreck.” It’s “totally” destroyed … totally, man!
This word is used more specifically for cars, but can be used for other things if you want to get creative. A complete wreck is another option with the same idea.
Messed up car, messed up life
- My life is just a total wreck right now!
- Did you see? Max totaled his Audi the other day.
Getting things hot
Revving up an engine is to get it started, get it hot. You press your foot on the gas and get ready to run (as in driving, of course). It’s similar as a figurative expression, where it means to get really excited, get “fired up,” and start an activity with lots of power and energy. It’s also used as an adjective in the same way.
Passion from within
- Cars are so noisy when they rev up their engines.
- Be careful with Charlie. He gets all revved up at football games.
Take a pause …
Has someone ever been talking to you and you just wanted to stop them and change the topic? Well, you could have curbed them, which is doing exactly that. It usually means to stop something in order to change its course. Think of a car’s wheels hitting a curb.
An abrupt stop
- Joey’s car got scratched when he curbed it last week.
- Guys at bars always come at me with terrible conversations. I wish I could just curb them and move on.
That’s doing too much
This means going really fast, simple as that. It works in cars as much as in life situations. It generally has the context of doing more than one should or more than needed.
Breaking the limit
- Is it okay to speed in Germany?
- All his speeding through life is going to catch up with him someday.
In The Rearview
A look back
As in, in the “rearview mirror.” When looking in their “rearview,” someone can see what’s behind them. Outside of driving, something in the rearview or looking in the rearview has to do with being in the past. Usually we say it when something gets put in the past or when someone is focusing on their past.
Checking what’s past
- Make sure to check in the rearview while you drive.
- I used to work as a waitress, but that’s all in the rearview now.
No fuel for the fire
This is can also be expressed as “running on E.” On E literally means on empty, which happens when a car has no more gas in the tank. This is helpful to express when a car has an empty gas tank, or when a person has no more energy in their metaphorical “tank.”
Running on 0%
- I got this new rental car, but the tank was already on E.
- Messi looks so tired out on the field. He must be running on E by now.
When talking about cars, full throttle means the vehicle is moving at full capacity or is driving very quickly. Well, that’s about the same as someone doing something at “full throttle,” or with lots of enthusiasm, energy, and speed.
Full speed ahead
- She loves to drive with her convertible at full throttle through the desert.
- If you choose to do something in life, make sure to do it full throttle.
Like A Deer In Headlights
Caught you looking
Sometimes people say “headlamps,” but it means the same thing. Often said as a deer caught in headlights, this phrase intends exactly what comes to mind when you read it. Someone usually makes this look when they are caught doing something they shouldn’t be. They can be very shocked or even embarrassed.
Scared deer, scared baby
- Have you ever actually seen a deer caught in headlights?
- When Sean’s mom caught him stealing cookies from the cabinet, he was like a deer in headlights.
Hit The Brakes / Hit The Gas
Just press go … or stop
Hitting the gas or the brakes in a car means to push your foot on the gas or brake pedal to make the car go or stop. These expressions sometimes get used in other situations, like when you want a person to speed up or slow down. Pumping the brakes or the gas is another alternative, as well is pushing the brakes / gas. Although, the sensation is a little less “rushed.”
Advice for driving, dates, and driving dates
- Never hit the brakes too suddenly. But when the light turns green, you need to hit the gas.
- Jake tried to kiss me on our first date and I was like, pump the brakes! Now it’s been two weeks, and I wish he would push the gas!
Bring it in, sit it down
Parking, we know, is to pull your car over to the side of the road and leave it. Or, you can leave it in a parking lot. When someone says to park it, they usually are asking you to sit down. Sometimes it can mean to stop what someone is doing, too.
Pull over and leave it there
- When you learn to drive a car, you must learn how to park it.
- Hey, Jimmy! Come park it next to me.
- He knows he was wrong. He should just park it and apologize.
A swerve (action) or to swerve mean to make a sudden and unexpected turn while driving. This is usually to avoid an obstacle in the road, like a tree branch or something. Figuratively, one can swerve to avoid a situation or person, mostly because they don’t like them. I think it can also be used to talk about making a sudden change in life or in movement.
This is part of where all those “skrrt” sounds came from in Trap and Hip Hop music these days, since car tires make a skrrt sound when they swerve.
Going around, literally
- Why is this guy swerving? There’s nothing in the road.
- Yeah, man. When Gina called me, I had to swerve.
- Sometimes in life we have to swerve around and try something new.
Wheels and squeals
Car wheels roll, and that’s the idea behind this word. To roll can simply mean to drive, but it can also mean that someone is leaving or going, as if they were “driving” away. People also use rolling to mean that they are laughing really hard, as if they were “rolling” on the ground and holding their stomach.
- Do you want to roll in my truck tonight, or are we taking dad’s?
- After the party we can roll to my house.
- Oh my God, that movie was hilarious! I was rolling the whole time.
Read more: Rolling, Roll, Roll Out, & more
Some people love to just get in their car and enjoy the ride. Cruising is driving low and slow with nowhere to go, but just having a cool time. Outside the car, it usually means the same thing but in a more general life sense. It can also mean to move through some situation really easily and smoothly.
- Every Tuesday me and my cousins go cruising in our Chevys. Wanna come?
- Everyone says how bad airport security is, but we just cruised through the last time.
Safety first … or not
Well, everyone’s got a different opinion on whether to buckle up their seatbelts or not. Whether you’re an all-the-time buckler or a never buckler, one thing remains consistent. Buckle up is also used to tell someone to get ready, because something big is surely coming.
- Alright, Maddie. Let’s buckle up before we drive to school.
- Buckle up, boys. This year’s vacation is going to be insane!
Riding / Rider / Ride Or Die
On the road together
Riding in a car or any vehicle can be lots of fun. Outside of that context though, riding might have to do with going together with someone, or being there for someone no matter what. A true and loyal companion. A rider or a ride or die also have these noble qualities.
- It’s fun to ride in the back of a pick-up truck.
- I’m going to get some pizza. Are you riding?
- Yeah, Marcy is a rider too, but Janelle is my ride-or-die. We’ve been through it all together.
Read more: Ride, Rider, Ride-or-Die, & more
No matter how popular automatic transmission gets, there always seem to be enough manual cars to practice driving stick shift. When you change from gear one to two and so on, that’s shifting gears. Now that I think of it, you can “shift gears” in an automatic car too. Just change from park to drive and whatnot.
Okay, so shifting gears has a similar meaning in other contexts, too. Changing one’s situation or circumstance comes to mind.
- Shifting gears can be hard for beginner drivers.
- He was a great athlete before shifting gears and becoming an actor.
Pedal To The Metal
This is like putting your foot on the gas pedal as hard as you can, all the way to the floor. In a car, this means to drive as fast as you can. We tend to hear it a lot outside of cars too, since it can be used to tell someone to hurry up, give it all they’ve got, and put one’s full energy and effort into something.
Fast life youngsters
- Did you see how fast Sarah was driving? She really likes to put the pedal to the metal.
- Come on, son. Put the pedal to the metal and finish that homework. It’s almost midnight.
Also, here’s a resource I found useful for helping me write this article. They have plenty of cool car expressions!
**Thank you for reading. Great job coming to practice your English skills (or just for being curious)! Feel free to read similar posts here on the Blog, as well as share or comment. Can you think of other expressions that have to do with cars and driving? There are a lot out there. Well, drive safely, be careful, and happy learning! Peace.