Beginner’s Guide to Car Types

There are lots of different types of vehicles on the road, such as sedans, coupes, trucks, and minivans.
Written by Cameron Thiessen
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Vehicle manufacturers are always innovating and creating new variations of familiar car shapes, but a basic knowledge of the most common vehicle types—such as sedans, coupes, trucks, and minivans—can go a long way if you’re in the beginning stages of searching for a perfect new vehicle.
Realizing that this lack of wisdom ailed more than just a few folks, naturally, there was only one thing for us to do! We've compiled a definitive list of common car types that you’re likely to encounter in the wild, so you’ll never be tripped up by the phrase “station wagon” again!
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A Sedan can be identified by its four doors and traditional trunk. Because it has four doors, it usually can fit more passengers more comfortably than a two-door.
When you think about a cartoon car design, what does it look like? We’re willing to bet it probably looks like a sedan. You’ll likely be familiar with common sedan models like the Volkswagen Jetta—the older models especially have a very defined sedan shape.
If you can’t recall what a Jetta looks like, perhaps you’re familiar with the
Nissan Altima
, the most popular car in America? Still no? Don’t worry, we’re right here with you, and we’re going to make sure you get this. If you still can’t figure out the defining characteristics of the sedan car type, check out other classics like the
Toyota Camry
or the Honda Civic.


If you’ve figured out what a sedan looks like, you pretty much already know what a coupe looks like! Just imagine the sedan, but instead of four doors, it only has two! Easy peasy! A coupe will still have that lowered traditional trunk.
For those seeking a more compact, lighter, and more stylish look, the coupe is the car type of choice. Many of the fastest and sexiest sports cars are coupes, and reducing the weight of the vehicle really gives the engine a lot of freedom to make the car speedy-fast.
Some notable examples of coupes are the smaller muscle cars, like
Ford Mustangs
Chevrolet Corvettes
, but you’ll also likely recognize the classic two-door design of the
Volkswagen Beetles
or the two-door version of that Honda Civic we mentioned earlier!
Key Takeaway If you’re not sure if it’s a sedan or a coupe, check how many doors it has! A sedan will have four, while a coupe will only have two doors.
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A convertible is any vehicle with a retractable or removable top or roof. There it is! Nothing to it! You’ll be an expert in no time, we’re sure of it.
Okay, so you probably already know what a convertible is, but now you have confirmation that it is in fact a car type classification. 
Some familiar examples of convertibles are the
Mazda MX-5 Miata
, but it’s possible you’ve seen convertible versions of some cars we’ve already mentioned, like the Ford Mustang or the Chevrolet Corvette!
And just remember, everyone looks cool driving a convertible, except when it’s snowing!


A hatchback is basically a sedan with one major difference: instead of the lower traditional boot hood, the hatchback sports extra vertical cargo space with a large, flip-up hatch that stretches the full height of the car.
For the more beginner learners among us, we may now be venturing into unfamiliar territory. Well, it’s an absolute pleasure to announce that this one really isn’t that tricky either!
Honda Fit
is one of the most defined hatchback shapes on the market, along with cars like the
Toyota Prius
, the
Ford Fiesta
, and the
Subaru Impreza


An SUV’s definition can be a bit nebulous, but it’s essentially a cross between a hatchback and a truck, designed for people who want the style and feel of a car with the utility of a truck, such as higher towing capacity and off-road capability. The SUV is the Jack-of-all-trades of the automotive world.
We can already hear the cries of horror singing out, “Oh no! An acronym!” Don’t worry, there’s nothing to be afraid of because hardly anyone ever refers to these vehicles by their non-acronymical designation, “Sport Utility Vehicle.” So even if you can’t remember that, just remember “SUV” and you’ll probably sound like you know what you’re talking about!
Still not confident? Well, if you can think about the defining features of a Jeep, you’re probably on the right track. Other favorites of this newer car type are the
Toyota Rav4
, the
Honda CR-V
, and the
Ford Explorer
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Pickup truck

Pickups are easily identifiable with their long, usually open cargo beds, extra-large wheels, and beefed-up suspension. They come in a large range of sizes, and the biggest ones can get considerably huge compared to other vehicles they might share the road with!
Pickup trucks are also their own type of vehicle! As opposed to other sorts of trucks, such as semi-trucks or other large commercial trucks, the pickup truck has maintained its notoriety as the quintessential blue-collar, hard-working, do-it-yourself person’s vehicle.
We find it hard to believe that you’ve never seen a pickup truck, but if you’re wracking your brain trying to think of the names of some of the ones you’ve likely seen in your everyday life, consider the most popular truck in America, the
Ford F-150
, or other favorites like the
Chevrolet Silverado
, the
Ram 1500
, and the
Toyota Tundra

Station wagon

An older and more traditional type of car, the station wagon has a flip-up door similar to a hatchback, but it usually is less vertically flat than a hatchback’s cargo door. Think of a vehicle that’s too long to be a hatchback and a vehicle with a higher suspension and bigger wheels, but is more stout than an SUV. Many of the older models look like small pickup trucks with closed cargo areas in the back.
The most obvious modern example of a station wagon is the
Subaru Outback
. Also, check out the
Mini Cooper Clubman
or that classic
Ford Crown Victoria
that your parents used to drive.
Van vs. SUV

Van and minivan

If you’re not sure what a van looks like, you should think of classic cars that may have been a part of your childhood, like the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine or the one from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Vans come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from the sportier minivans of recent years, all the way to the larger commercial and utility vans that you see driving around.
To be fair it is sometimes difficult to tell some of the minivans, hatchbacks, and SUVs apart these days.
Some of the most popular vans you’re likely to run into are the big
Mercedes-Benz Sprinters
, and on the minivan side, the
Honda Odyssey
Dodge Grand Caravan
are still wildly popular among soccer moms and dance dads alike.

Sports car

“Sports car” is kind of a strange term, because while it is a specific type of car that you’ll run into, a sports car will likely also be a coupe, convertible, sedan, or even sometimes a hatchback. Regardless, sports cars are identified by being the speediest, sleekest, most expensive, and sexiest cars on the road. They’re built for the binnacles of performance, and rarely at the compromise of style
If you’ve heard the names, Ferrari,
, Lamborghini, or McLaren, then you can probably get an idea of the sorts of beauties we’re talking about here, but even manufacturers like Chevy and Dodge have had their Corvettes and Vipers to contribute to the ever-growing list of unique sports cars.

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