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In the automotive world there are a lot of terms that are tossed around. Many of us don’t realize we do that. But, to people who are car curious, the terms we volley around tend to linger in the air and need defining. One of those often used terms is, hot rod. Why is this term confusing? It is confusing because a hot rod can be a noun and a verb.

Hot rod, the noun

A blue custom hot rod with no hood and white sidewall tires.
Coffee Grinder Ford A Custom Hot Rod | Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In the simplest form, the term hot rod, used as a noun, is a reference to a vehicle that has been modified in some way to make it faster, handle better, look better, or sound better. It does not relate just to cars. Modified pickups and SUVs have also been called the same term.

Our friends at Rod Authority deferred to Goodguys award requirements for the definition. That definition centers around this thought,

“It makes noise, it is regularly street-driven, has a mean attitude, and screams the words “hot rod.” No cream puffs!” 

The term was born out of a time just prior to the World War II era. But, when the war ended, the term would take off. soldiers would come home and modify their cars, making them hot or desirable. Although many people still link the term hot rod to classic cars, the term is still used today to describe cars that have been “modded” up. For example, a Dodge Challenger Hellcat can be called a one if it has been modified in some form to make it perform, look, or sound better than stock.

There is a secondary meaning to the term hot rod when used as a noun. The term in this case describes a stolen vehicle. The meaning here comes from thieves finding a car too hot to handle for too long. A car, or its parts, need to be disposed of quickly. The longer the car or its parts stick around, the higher the risk of capture. Much like a hot potato, the car is a hot rod. 

Hot rod, the verb

The term hot rod can also be used as a verb. The term can be used in reference to a modification done to improve the car in some way. For example, “He put the supercharger in it. He’s trying to hot rod it.” In this context, hot-rodding a car is the equivalent of souping it up. In fact, when used as a verb, the term does not relate to just cars anymore. 

John Drummond, the editor of Goodguys Goodtimes Gazette, was asked to clarify his understanding of the term. He offered, “These days, if you put on a new set of rubber on your wheels, you can claim to have hot-rodded your car. The term “hot rod” has come to mean any upgrade to almost any item. For example, a musician changes guitar strings from round wire to flat wire, he can tell his friends that he “hot-rodded” his guitar.” In this case, the act of hot-rodding is the verb tense.

Enlightening for those that are curious

The automotive world is full of terms that might be confusing to people who aren’t acquainted with the motoring lifestyle or that maybe have English as a second language. So, some terms aren’t as familiar to some as others. The term hot rod is the perfect example. One can easily find confusion from the same term being used as a noun and a verb. Hopefully, however, the description above helps is enlightening those that are curious. 


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