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Vehicle vs. Automobile: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 10, 2023
"Vehicle" is a broad term for any means of transport, while "Automobile" specifically refers to a road vehicle powered by an engine.

Key Differences

"Vehicle" and "Automobile" are words associated with transportation, but they vary in scope and specificity. "Vehicle" is a more general term, encompassing any means of transport, whether it's on land, water, or air. This means that bicycles, boats, airplanes, and even sleds can be considered vehicles. In contrast, "Automobile" is a term specifically referring to a motor-powered road vehicle, typically with four wheels, and designed primarily to carry passengers.
In daily usage, when someone refers to a "vehicle," they could be talking about a vast range of transport means. This versatility makes "vehicle" a more encompassing term. "Automobile," on the other hand, narrows down this range to motorized road transport. So, while all automobiles are vehicles, not all vehicles are automobiles.
Grammatically, both words serve predominantly as nouns. However, "vehicle" can also figuratively describe a medium or agent through which an aim is achieved, like "a vehicle for change." "Automobile" doesn’t typically have such metaphorical uses.
Conclusively, while both "Vehicle" and "Automobile" denote modes of transportation, their range of reference differs considerably. The former is vast and versatile, while the latter is specific to motorized road transport.

Comparison Chart

Primary Meaning

Any means of transport.
A motor-powered road vehicle.

Range of Reference

Land, water, air.
Road only.

Grammatical Nature

Mainly noun, can be metaphorical.
Predominantly noun.


General term.
Specific to motorized road transport.


Bicycles, boats, airplanes.
Cars, trucks, SUVs.

Vehicle and Automobile Definitions


Any means of transport or conveyance.
The bicycle is a popular vehicle in many countries.


A vehicle with an internal combustion engine.
The rise of the automobile changed urban planning.


A conveyance moving on wheels.
He parked his vehicle outside the store.


A car, especially one for passengers.
She took a drive in her automobile.


A medium through which something is achieved, expressed, or accomplished.
Music is a vehicle for expressing emotions.


A four-wheeled motor vehicle.
Electric automobiles are becoming more popular.


Something in which something is embedded or enclosed.
The artist used oil as the vehicle for his pigments.


A self-propelled road vehicle.
The city has a high number of automobiles.


A means by which goods or individuals are moved.
The delivery service uses various vehicles to transport packages.


A motor vehicle designed to transport passengers on roads.
He bought a new automobile last year.


A device or structure for transporting persons or things; a conveyance
A space vehicle.


A self-propelled passenger vehicle that usually has four wheels and an internal-combustion engine, used for land transport. Also called motorcar.


A self-propelled conveyance that runs on tires; a motor vehicle.


Of or relating to automobiles; automotive.


A medium through which something is transmitted, expressed, or accomplished
His novels are a vehicle for his political views.


A type of vehicle designed to move on the ground under its own stored power and intended to carry a driver, a small number of additional passengers, and a very limited amount of other load. A car or motorcar.


The concrete or specific word or phrase that is applied to the tenor of a metaphor and gives the metaphor its figurative power, as walking shadow in "Life's but a walking shadow" (Shakespeare).


To travel by automobile.


A play, role, or piece of music used to display the special talents of one performer or company.


Self-moving; self-propelled.


An inactive substance that is combined with an active medication to facilitate administration.


A self-propelled vehicle used for transporting passengers, suitable for use on a street or roadway. Many diferent models of automobiles have beenbuilt and sold commercially, possessing varied features such as a retractable roof (in a convertible), different braking systems, different propulsion systems, and varied styling. Most models have four wheels but some have been built with three wheels. Automobiles are usually propelled by internal combustion engines (using volatile inflammable liquids, as gasoline or petrol, alcohol, naphtha, etc.), and sometimes by steam engines, or electric motors. The power of the driving motor varies from under 50 H. P. for earlier models to over 200 H. P. larger models or high-performance sports or racing cars. An automobile is commonly called a car or an auto, and generally in British usage, motor cars.


A substance, such as oil, in which paint pigments are mixed for application.


To travel in an automobile.


A conveyance; a device for carrying or transporting substances, objects or individuals.


4-wheeled motor vehicle; usually propelled by an internal combustion engine;
He needs a car to get to work


A medium for expression of talent or views.
Supporting actors in a Steven Spielberg vehicle


Travel in an automobile


A liquid content (e.g. oil) which acts as a binding and drying agent in paint.


(pharmaceuticals) The main excipient (such as an oil or gel) that conveys the active ingredient of a drug.
An ointment with a petrolatum vehicle


An entity to achieve an end.
Mission service as a vehicle for development of better-rounded worldviews


(Buddhism) A mode or method of spiritual practice; a yana.


(Hinduism) An animal or (rarely) a plant on which a Hindu deity rides or sits


That in or on which any person or thing is, or may be, carried, as a coach, carriage, wagon, cart, car, sleigh, bicycle, etc.; a means of conveyance; specifically, a means of conveyance upon land.


That which is used as the instrument of conveyance or communication; as, matter is the vehicle of energy.
A simple style forms the best vehicle of thought to a popular assembly.


A substance in which medicine is taken.


Any liquid with which a pigment is applied, including whatever gum, wax, or glutinous or adhesive substance is combined with it.


A liquid used to spread sensitive salts upon glass and paper for use in photography.


A conveyance that transports people or objects


A medium for the expression or achievement of something;
His editorials provided a vehicle for his political views
A congregation is a vehicle of group identity


Any inanimate object (as a towel or money or clothing or dishes or books or toys etc.) that can transmit infectious agents from one person to another


Is a boat an automobile?

No, but it is a vehicle.

Can the word "vehicle" be used metaphorically?

Yes, e.g., "a vehicle for change."

Can a bicycle be considered a vehicle?

Yes, but it's not an automobile.

Does "automobile" only refer to cars?

Primarily, but it can include other motor-powered road vehicles.

Are all automobiles vehicles?

Yes, but not all vehicles are automobiles.

What powers an automobile?

Typically, an internal combustion engine or electric motor.

Which word is more general in terms of transportation?

"Vehicle" is more general than "automobile."

Can a skateboard be a vehicle?

Yes, it's a type of vehicle but not an automobile.

What's the primary difference between a vehicle and an automobile?

"Vehicle" is a broad term, while "Automobile" is specific to motor-powered road vehicles.

Are electric cars considered automobiles?

Yes, they are a type of automobile.

Which word has a broader scope in daily language?

"Vehicle" has a broader scope than "automobile."

Are all vehicles motor-powered?

No, only automobiles specifically refer to motor-powered road vehicles.

How do vehicles differ in functionality?

Vehicles can be for land, air, or water, while automobiles are specifically for roads.

Why is "automobile" often associated with cars?

Because it specifically refers to motor-powered road vehicles, of which cars are the most common.

What's the primary use of an automobile?

To transport passengers on roads.

What's the origin of the word "automobile"?

It's derived from two words: "auto" meaning self, and "mobile" meaning movable or capable of moving.

Can an airplane be termed an automobile?

No, but it can be termed a vehicle.

Are motorcycles automobiles?

No, but they are vehicles.

Can a truck be called an automobile?

Yes, as it's a motor-powered road vehicle.

Does "vehicle" always refer to a mode of transport?

Predominantly, but it can also mean a medium or agent for something.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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