Car classification

This article is about passenger car and pickup classifications. For commercial vehicle classifications, see Truck classification.

Governments and private organizations have developed car classification schemes that are used for innumerable purposes including regulation, description and categorization, among others. This article details commonly used classification schemes in use worldwide.

Classification methods

Vehicles can be categorized in numerous ways. For example, by means of the body style and the "level of commonality in vehicle construction as defined by number of doors and roof treatment (e.g., sedan, convertible, fastback, hatchback) and number of seats" that require seat belts to meet safety regulations. [1]

Regulatory agencies may also establish a vehicle classification system for determining a tax amount. In the United Kingdom, a vehicle is taxed according to the vehicle's construction, engine, weight, type of fuel and emissions, as well as the purpose for which it is used. [2] Other jurisdictions may determine vehicle tax based upon environmental principles, such as the user pays principle. [3] In another example, certain cities in the United States in the 1920s chose to exempt electric-powered vehicles because officials believed those vehicles did not cause "substantial wear upon the pavements." [4]

Another standard for road vehicles of all types that is used internationally (except for Australia, India, and the U.S.), is ISO 3833-1977. [5]

In an example from private enterprise, many car rental companies use[ where?] the ACRISS Car Classification Code to describe the size, type and equipment of vehicles to ensure that rental agents can match customer needs to available vehicles, regardless of distance between the agent and the rental company or the languages spoken by either party. In the United States, since 2010 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety uses a scheme it has developed that takes into account a combination of both vehicle shadow (length times width) and weight. [6]

Highway Loss Data Institute classification Definition
Regular Two Door Two door sedans and hatchbacks
Regular Four Door Four door sedans and hatchbacks
Station Wagons Four doors, a rear hatch and four pillars
Minivans Vans with sliding rear doors
Sports Two seaters and cars with significant high performance features
Luxury Relatively expensive cars that are not classified as sports (price in USD to curb weight in pounds more than 9.0 in 2010) (small cars over $27,000, midsize cars over $31,500, large cars over $36,000, etc.)
Very Large Shadow of 110 square inches and over or weight of 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) and over
Large Shadow less than 110 square inches and weight less than 4,000 lb (1,814 kg)
Midsize Shadow less than 100 square inches and weight less than 3,500 lb (1,588 kg)
Small Shadow less than 90 square inches and weight less than 3,000 lb (1,361 kg)
Mini Shadow less than 80 square inches and weight less than 2,500 lb (1,134 kg)
Micro Shadow less than 70 square inches and weight less than 2,000 lb (907 kg)


The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) separates vehicles into classes by the curb weight of the vehicle with standard equipment including the maximum capacity of fuel, oil, coolant, and air conditioning, if so equipped. [7]

NHTSA classification Code Curb weight
Passenger cars: mini PC/Mi 1,500 to 1,999 lb (680–907 kg)
Passenger cars: light PC/L 2,000 to 2,499 lb (907–1,134 kg)
Passenger cars: compact PC/C 2,500 to 2,999 lb (1,134–1,360 kg)
Passenger cars: medium PC/Me 3,000 to 3,499 lb (1,361–1,587 kg)
Passenger cars: heavy PC/H 3,500 lb (1,588 kg) and over
Sport utility vehicles SUV
Pickup trucks PU
Vans VAN

The United States Federal Highway Administration has developed a classification scheme used for automatically calculating road use tolls. There are two broad categories depending on whether the vehicle carries passengers or commodities. Vehicles that carry commodities are further subdivided by number of axles and number of units, including both power and trailer units. [8]

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has developed a classification scheme used to compare fuel economy among similar vehicles. Passenger vehicles are classified based on a vehicle's total interior passenger and cargo volumes. Trucks are classified based upon their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Heavy duty vehicles are not included within the EPA scheme. [9]

EPA car class Total passenger and cargo volume (cu. ft.)
Two-seaters Any (designed to seat only two adults)
Minicompact Less than 85 cu ft (2,407 l)
Subcompact 85 to 99 cu ft (2,407–2,803 l)
Compact 100 to 109 cu ft (2,832–3,087 l)
Mid-size 110 to 119 cu ft (3,115–3,370 l)
Large 120 cu ft (3,398 l) or more
Small station wagons Less than 130 cu ft (3,681 l)
Mid-size station wagons 130 to 159 cu ft (3,681–4,502 l)
Large station wagons 160 cu ft (4,531 l) or more

A similar set of classes is used by the Canadian EPA. [10] The Canadian National Collision Database (NCDB) system defines "passenger car" as a unique class, but also identifies two other categories involving passenger vehicles—the "passenger van" and "light utility vehicle"—and these categories are inconsistently handled across the country with the boundaries between the vehicles increasingly blurred. [11]

In Australia, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries publishes its own classifications. [12]

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