Home » Learn » What’s The Difference Between a Car And a Vehicle?

What’s The Difference Between a Car And a Vehicle?

Many people use the words car, truck, and vehicle interchangeably in their everyday vocabulary. Sometimes, it leads to confusion about which one is the correct term for explaining what they mean. 

Technically, cars, trucks, and vehicles are different.

Generally, a vehicle is used to transport people, goods, or items. Vehicles are anything that moves these items, including buses, boats, trains, and airplanes. A car is a specific type of vehicle with at least three wheels, drives on roads, and is used to transport a small number of people. 

Car vs. Vehicle: Definitions and Differences

A man's hand pointing at the word DEFINITION.

Like many words in the English language, car and vehicle are quite often used interchangeably. 

It isn’t unusual to tell someone to jump in the car, even if the vehicle is actually an SUV or truck. 

To understand the difference between a car and a vehicle, you first have to understand the definitions of the words. 

A car is defined as an engine-powered vehicle with at least three wheels (usually four) that is steered by a driver. 

In most cases, a car is used to transport a single person, small groups of people, or a small number of items. 

Motorcars and automobiles are synonymous with the word car. 

The word vehicle has a much broader definition, and cars are just one of the many types. 

A vehicle is defined as a device for transporting individuals or objects that can be powered by machinery, by a person, or by animals. 

Vehicles can be motor vehicles like cars, trucks, vans, SUVs, motorcycles, buses, and even mobility scooters. It also includes watercraft like boats and aircraft like planes and helicopters. 

Cars and vehicles are like squares and rectangles. All cars are vehicles, but not all vehicles are cars. 

What Makes a Vehicle a Vehicle?

In very simple terms, a vehicle is a device for transporting stuff. 

Trains, planes, boats, and automobiles are types of vehicles that use mechanical engines to propel them forward. 

Other things like sleds, carts, bikes, and tractors are also vehicles. 

The main thing that makes a vehicle a vehicle is that it is something used to move stuff. 

In most cases, we think of vehicles as things with motors, but vehicles can be human-powered or animal-powered. Even kids’ toys that resemble cars and trucks are types of vehicles. 

Does the Type of Vehicle Matter?

A red train on a train track.

There are many types of vehicles, many of which we’ve already discussed. 

The type of vehicle you need depends on the situation, and you’ll need to ask yourself the following questions when you’re considering what would work best for your purposes: 

  • What are you using the vehicle for? 
  • What are the limitations of the vehicle? 
  • Do the attributes of the vehicle match its planned use?

Usefulness also extends beyond just the necessary. Vehicles are designed for specific purposes and specialized for certain tasks. 

If a vehicle isn’t designed for the task in mind – it’s not a good choice for you. 

A boat won’t get you anywhere on land, a car will just sink in water, and most planes need distance and fairly long runways to be effective. 

It’s the same way a bicycle is pretty much useless in snow, and a sled won’t do you much good on dry, rocky terrain.

Every type of vehicle is regulated differently as well. Vehicles fall into different classes, require different licenses, and are governed by different laws. 

The more dangerous a vehicle is considered, the more rules are implemented to limit obtaining it or operating it legally. Some vehicles might also seem closely related but, in practice, have different requirements. 

A pickup truck and a semi are certainly similar, both in design and use. But you need special licensing and training to drive a semi-trailer legally (and safely). 

The type of vehicle is important in determining its usefulness, purpose, and defining traits. 

What Isn’t Considered a Vehicle?

The definition of a vehicle is broad, and there are many things you can think of that may fit the description but aren’t considered vehicles.

Horses are a good example. You can ride them, have them haul goods, and they make good transport in remote regions. 

You could consider a horse a vehicle, but that depends on your definition of the word. A horse matches most of it, but it isn’t a device. 

We don’t consider horses a vehicle because they (and other riding animals) aren’t human-made devices developed for a specific purpose. People might breed horses, but they don’t create or build them. 

Now, if you hitch a carriage to a horse, it is considered a horse-powered vehicle. In fact, this setup is where the term “horsepower” comes from. 

It’s important to note that, in most places, riding a horse while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is, by law, considered as illegal as driving a vehicle under the influence.

Other things can be utilized to move you or other objects around. Rivers and wind are good examples of natural forces we can put to work. 

Neither of these are devices either, meaning they aren’t vehicles. Instead, we use vehicles to take advantage of those forces and move things around. 


A vehicle is a broadly defined term that includes any device used for transporting objects and individuals. A car is a type of vehicle that is usually used for personal transport. 

Anything someone made to move stuff around can be considered a type of vehicle, while cars are just one kind of these devices. 

It’s still okay to use the words interchangeably, but it’s important to understand the distinction.

Similar Posts