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Old 27th September 2009, 09:32   #1
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Lightbulb Level zero basics - how do we identify cars

The other day my girlfriend asked me to identify a parked car (Every time its me who asks her this question). It was a silver Ikon 1.4 Flair. She wanted to know how exactly I identify cars. I tried to explain that its the car's shape and that size which tells me the make and model of the car (talking about cars we see everyday on our roads). Normally its the headlights and tail lamps which are distinctive for every car. But its not only the lamps. The car can be easily identified even when lamps are not seen, provided its daytime, and the car is at a comfortable distance from the eyes. She was not convinced. Her next question was, how will I differentiate this Ikon from an Esteem if a same colored Esteem was parked besides the Ikon. I had to work on my grey cells, and told her in simple words that the Ikon is fatter than the Esteem. But that was not convincing either. She wanted an answer in length, width and height. Now c'mon guys both these cars are sedans, and their side profile is similar. We cant make out the difference between their lengths standing 10 metres away. I finally gave up and admitted that I never thought at this basic level Whenever my eyes see a car, the car is recognized by default, and i try to think whether its a petrol or diesel version, or try to guess the engine size.

Now my simple question to you all is, how exactly do we identify cars from a distance? Please answer in simple non petrolhead language which any common man (or woman) can understand.
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Old 27th September 2009, 12:51   #2
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Great question, and interesting food for thought.

(Also do check out this thread for the more advanced version : click here)

I think there are many elements that work together :

This starts off with the general body-styling or silhouette, and then can eventually focus on the front grille, headlamps, waistline, flared fenders, and even alloy wheel design that give away more information.
All car designers make sure their cars fit the "family style" and have similar elements between them, so as to be recognized as being from the same lineage.

I'd say this is the key one for petrol heads. For eg. if you saw an Aston Martin that you had never seen before -- you'd still know it was probably an Aston Martin, just by the styling.

The same way as your girlfriend might be able to tell that a certain bag was bought from Burberry and not Gucci.

This might not be the most accurate pointer - but it does play a part.

If you saw a Bentley next to a similarly sized Kia, you'd probably be able to tell which one cost more than a Cr.
Elements like Xenons, bigger wheels, bigger brakes, top quality interior w/ lots of wood + sat-nav etc are pointers to this, and therefore by a process of elimination you can narrow down on what make/s the car is, or is not!

Thats cheating. No true petrolhead looks at the badge!

This would help more in terms of identifying models rather than makes.

If you know the styling says its a merc, and you see the car is as small as a Santro, you'd probably figure it was an A-class.

I'm sure this can be expanded on even further, but thats all i got for now.

How does someone tell the difference between a Picasso and a Hussain?
How does someone taste the difference between a Cadbury and a Hersheys?
How does someone tell if they're listening to the Beegees or the Beatles?


Last edited by Rehaan : 27th September 2009 at 13:09.
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Old 27th September 2009, 14:01   #3
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look at the grilles
  • No grille=i10,i20
  • wide grille with two horizontal straight lines= Zen,Esteem,Versa,SX4,Getz,Accent,DZire
  • NARROW grille with straight lines=Xing
  • Honeycomb +twin reflector headlights=Fiesta
Please add
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Old 27th September 2009, 14:29   #4
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I can sometimes tell the car with the head lights / foglights when I look at them approaching in my rear view mirror ! I am sure most of you can !

Brings a smile to my face when I am correct
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Old 27th September 2009, 20:59   #5
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Originally Posted by vigsom View Post
look at the grilles
  • No grille=i10,i20
  • wide grille with two horizontal straight lines= Zen,Esteem,Versa,SX4,Getz,Accent,DZire
  • NARROW grille with straight lines=Xing
  • Honeycomb +twin reflector headlights=Fiesta
Please add
Thanks guys for throwing some light on this topic. Its tough to think on these lines, but here are some I could think of:
  • Skodas have vertically partitioned grills.
  • Tatas have their distinct smily-face grille.
  • Boxy headlamps + grill positioned below the lamps = old Zen Estilo
  • Vertically split grille with the logo in between -Logan, Lancer Cedia
But some cars are so unique that it doesn't take any effort to identify them.. like the VW Beetle and our very own desi Amby
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Old 27th September 2009, 22:32   #6
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Can I give a Slight Twist. How does one recognise different Fiat 1100 Models with just a Glance?? For more info, There is a thread called Indian Assembled classics, please refer to that. I am too lazy to type it all here
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Old 27th September 2009, 22:49   #7
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Simple reason: an abiding interest in automobiles and familiarity with the cars in question. Try asking your wife how she can identify all those Hindi film and TV serial actresses. (Hairstyles, dress sense, accent, mannerisms, body language?) My wife can identify many of them onscreen and off-screen, whereas I can't. Why? Not because I'm unobservant by nature, but because I'm not interested in movies/TV shows and never watch any of them. However, I *am* interested in cars and railway locomotives, and can thus identify many of them.

With cars, I notice the overall size first. This is enough to tell (broadly) whether it's a hatch, C-segment, D-segment or luxury. Then come individual features such as headlights and tail-lamps, "cut" lines, sticker jobs, grilles etc. Some vehicles have specific expressions -- the Volkswagen Beetle looks perpetually embarrassed, the Ford Edsel looks as if it's sucking on a lemon, the Standard Pennant looks mournful, the Jeep looks scared. And any change from the norm, however slight, will be obvious to a seasoned observer. Even the colour is a hint. A bright yellow sedan automatically conjures up images of the Mitsubishi Lancer or a Skoda. A second look confirms which one it is -- or neither. A certain shade of green brings to mind an OHC. See a flash of pink? It has to be an Estilo or (rarely) a Honda CRV. A certain shade of rich, dark brown? The obvious guess is a Verna. Of course there are exceptions, but that's the next step.

In your example (Ford Ikon vs Maruti esteem), I suppose I find the Ikon to have a taller, narrower stance (and not fatter as you said). The Esteem seems closer to the ground, with "undistinguished" features -- this is probably the result of seeing it on the roads for nearly two decades..
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Old 27th September 2009, 23:07   #8
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In much the same way as we can recognise different people even though everyone has the same two eyes, one nose etc., the profile of an Esteem is distinguished from the Ikon. Same colour is analogous to similar clothes. That's how we do it!
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