All cars are categorized into certain classifications for the purpose of taxation and for describing the type of vehicle that has been designed. Classification categories are abstract or vague because many different vehicles can be placed into various categories and many organizations develop classification criteria for different reasons.

Even though classifying cars is sometimes not easy there are still some basic categories that organizations and automobile manufacturers use for the purpose of describing vehicles.

types of cars at a dealerGeneral Classifications for Types of Cars

The Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration classify vehicles for toll tax purposes and for determining the different aspects of a vehicle. These vehicles are organized into the following categories and are commonly used for government and U.S. auto manufacturing standards.

Subcompact - Subcompact vehicles have a curb weight of less than 2,500 lbs. and are considered light passenger automobiles. They also have a length of 85-99 cu. ft.

Compact - Compact cars have a curb weight between 2,500 to 2,999 lbs. and they have a length between 100 and 109 cu. ft. Standard four seat automobiles are considered compact cars.

Mid-size - Mid-size vehicles are designed with lengths between 110 and 119 cu. ft. These automobiles can usually seat between 4 or 5 passengers, depending on design and they have an average curb weight between 3,000 and 3,499 lbs.

Full-size - Full-size cars have a length of 3,500 lbs. or greater and they are built to lengths of 120 cu. ft. or more. They can comfortably seat at least 6 or 7 people.

Station Wagon - Vehicles such as station wagons can be classified as compact, mid or full sized. Depending on size they can typically sit between 5 and 7 people. These vehicles also have an extended trunk area that can be accessed through the car and are able to carry small or midsized items.

Other Standard Types of Vehicles

SUV - Sport Utility Vehicles are also known as SUVs and they’re basically a cross between a station wagon and a pick-up truck with the passenger space of a minivan. SUVs like vans have a variety of classifications but most of them tend to lie in the compact to full size categories. They have comparable curb weights and lengths as other vehicles in these classes though SUVs tend to be slightly heavier.

Pick-up Truck - Pick-up trucks are defined as a light weight motorized vehicle that has an open-top rear cargo area located in the back. Pick-up trucks are designed for moving midsized to large objects though many people buy use them as luxury vehicles. Most pick-ups are designed to transport two people in the front but many manufacturers have created four and five seated areas for passengers. Pick-up trucks are larger sized vehicles and with the added cab space they can go well over the limit for full size classification. Most pick-up trucks are considered mid or full sized vehicles.

Van - Vans come in a variety of sizes which include minivan, standard or full size. Most vans can seat up to at least 7 passengers and some have the ability to transport as many as 9. Vans will also use standard curb weights and NHSTA length standards as part of their design.

Special Classifications

Sports Cars - Sports cars are performance vehicles that typically are designed for speed or maneuverability. They are slightly priced higher than the average vehicle and they designated as compact or midsized automobiles.

Luxury - Luxury vehicles can be any size but they usually are classified in the mid or full sized categories. A luxury vehicle typically has lots of room for a standard family of four and they have comparable curb weights and lengths to other vehicles in their class. Also, these vehicles tend to have a higher price.

Micro Cars - Micro cars by definition are typically classified as compact cars and they have weights and length as any other vehicle in their class. Also, these vehicles typically seat only two people.

Convertibles - Convertibles are typically mid or full sized vehicles that have detachable or retractable roofs. These vehicles have weights and lengths that are similar to most automobiles in their class.

Hybrid - Hybrid vehicles have two different types of engines and they use standard gasoline and or hydrogen or electricity. Most hybrids are mini or compact sized vehicles. A few manufacturers create mid-sized hybrids. Rarely will a hybrid be designed in the full size category.

These are but a few of the basic categories that are used for classifying cars. Other classification terms are designated by occupant space (two seat, four seat, est.), the number of doors a vehicle has and by the type of engine (4 cylinder, 8 cylinder, est.) that is used to operate the motor.

Remember, each organization has their own unique classification systems that are designed specifically for their particular purpose. So it is possible for a mid-sized vehicle to be classified as a mini automobile according to the type of standards that is used during the classification process. Also, each country has their own unique classification system as well and they do not necessarily follow U.S. standards and practices for vehicle design and taxonomy.

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