Make us your home page

Decoding car acronyms for safety features

When Carol Grubb bought her new car, the salesman told her that the "BA" on the invoice stood for "Brake Assist," but he wasn't able to tell her much more about what brake assist actually does and why she needs it. The Kissimmee resident didn't even ask about "BFD" — for "Brake Force Distribution." Newer vehicles are available with a growing number of safety features. But they can turn into a confusing shorthand. And while a window sticker might spell out what the initials stand for, they seldom explain what it really means. Let's do some decoding:

SRS: This is an easy one, but why the term "Supplemental Restraint System" is used may not be clear. SRS essentially refers to airbags, but the "supplemental" is used to indicate that airbags supplement seat belts — that they can't protect you unless you are buckled in.

Airbags are designed under the assumption that the driver and passengers will be held in the seat during an accident, and if they aren't, airbags can cause more harm than good. And speaking of airbags, they are multiplying, even in comparatively inexpensive cars.

ABS: "Anti-Lock Brakes" became popular more than 25 years ago and gradually migrated down to even the least-expensive vehicles. ABS uses an onboard computer to sense when each brake is about to lock, and it lets the wheel roll very slightly to prevent skidding.

One of the things about ABS is that it makes other technologies possible, such as:

ESC: "Electronic Stability Control" is marketed under different names by different manufacturers. But they typically perform the same function: When onboard sensors detect that the vehicle is sliding sideways, the onboard computer can actually cut the power, and apply the brakes to one, two, three or all four wheels (it's tied in with that ABS computer) until the vehicle is under control.

For example, if you drift off the side of the road into the dirt, then try to steer back onto the pavement, a vehicle without ESC can easily spin. For big, ungainly vehicles — full-sized SUVs, for instance — stability control is a gift. ESC, ABS and SRS — those are the Big Three.

BA and BFD: "Brake Assist" and "Brake Force Distribution" are similar — again, thanks to those onboard computers, the vehicle can sense when you are making a panic stop. Brake assist can actually increase braking pressure, and brake-force distribution can distribute that pressure between the four wheels for maximum efficiency.

TC: "Traction Control" may also be marketed under different acronyms for different manufacturers — but they typically work the same. When you give the vehicle gas and one or both drive wheels spin, traction control reduces the power until the wheel, or wheels, find enough traction to handle the amount of power you are giving the engine.

TPMS: "Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems" can tell you when there is a problem with one of the tires.

Decoding car acronyms for safety features 05/19/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 19, 2011 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Toxic' times: How repeal of Florida's tax on services reverberates, 30 years later

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Long before Hurricane Irma attacked Florida, the state faced a troubled fiscal future that the storm will only make worse.

    Robertson says the tax debate is now “toxic.”
  2. Fewer Tampa Bay homeowners are underwater on their mortgages

    Real Estate

    The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners underwater on their mortgages continues to drop. In the second quarter of this year, 10.2 percent of borrowers had negative equity compared to nearly 15 percent in the same period a year ago, CoreLogic reported Thursday. Nationally, 5.4 percent of all mortgaged homes were …

    The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners underwater on their mortgages  continues to drop. [Times file photo]
  3. 'What Happened'? Clinton memoir sold 300,000 copies in first week


    Despite being met with decidedly mixed reviews, What Happened, Hillary Clinton's new memoir about the 2016 presidential campaign, sold a whopping 300,000 copies in its first week.

    The new memoir by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sold 300,000 copies in its first week.
  4. After Irma topples tree, home sale may be gone with the wind

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — To house hunters searching online, the home for sale in St. Petersburg's Shore Acres neighborhood couldn't have looked more appealing — fully renovated and shaded by the leafy canopy of a magnificent ficus benjamini tree.

    Hurricane Irma's winds recently blew over a large ficus tree, left, in the yard of a home at 3601Alabama Ave NE, right, in Shore Acres which is owned by Brett Schroder who is trying to sell the house.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  5. Unemployment claims double in Florida after Hurricane Irma


    The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped by 23,000 last week to 259,000 as the economic impact of Hurricane Harvey began to fade.

    Homes destroyed by Hurricane Irma on Big Pine Key last week. Hurricane Irma continued to have an impact on the job market in Florida, where unemployment claims more than doubled from the previous week.
[The New York Times file photo]