‘Coche’ vs ‘carro’

In short – ‘carro’ and ‘coche’ both translate to ‘car’ in English, but Spanish speakers from certain countries (and even cities!) normally have a strong preference for one over the other!

Even though some people might argue that one of these two words is “more correct” – If you wanna make a Chilango (a resident of Mexico City) flinch, then use the word ‘carro’ instead of ‘coche’ – the truth is that both are widespread across the Spanish-speaking world!

Let’s dig a little deeper into the key differences between the two!


KEY TAKEAWAYS


‘Coche’ and ‘carro’ are used as a synonym of ‘car’ in different parts of the Spanish-speaking world –

1. ‘coche’ (Spain, Argentina and some parts of Mexico)

¡Me encanta tu coche nuevo! = I love your new car!

2. ‘carro’ (most of Latin America and some parts of Mexico)

Voy a lavar el carro. = I’m gonna wash the car.


‘Coche’ also has the following meanings –

1. A ‘carriage’

Tiene una colección de coches antiguos. = He has a collection of antique carriages.

2. A ‘train car / carriage’

Vamos en el coche de primera clase. = We’re in the first class carriage.

3. A ‘stroller’

Necesitamos un coche para la bebé. = We need a stroller for the baby.


‘Carro’ also has the following meanings / uses –

1. A ‘cart’ / ‘trolley’ –

¡Llenamos el carro del súper! = We filled up the supermarket trolley!



2. A ‘tank’

Ese es un carro del ejército. = That’s an army tank.


3. To describe a vehicle used for loading and transporting goods –

El carro aguanta hasta una tonelada de peso. = The loading cart supports up to a ton of weight.




Coche‘ vs ‘carro

So why on earth are there two words for ‘car’ in Spanish?

Well, I think it’s time to dig up some roots (as in ‘origin’, no plants here I’m afraid!).

Before the invention of the automobile (i.e., the car as we know it today), ‘carro’ and ‘coche’ served to describe different types of vehicles.

  • ‘Carro’ comes from the Latin ‘carrus’ and it was usually used to describe either a ‘chariot’ (used in battle) or a ‘wagon’ that transported goods and heavy loads.

  • ‘Coche’, on the other hand, derives from the Hungarian ‘kocsi’ and was used specifically to describe a passenger vehicle.



With the invention of the automobile* both these words became ways to describe motor vehicles in general, but the preference for each one varied from region to region –

Most Latin America countries and Northern Mexico

¿Ya fuiste por el carro al taller?

Have you picked up the car from the repair shop?



Spain, Argentina and parts of Mexico

¿Ya fuiste por el coche al taller?

Have you picked up the car from the repair shop?

Erika’s top tip – ‘automóvil’ (or ‘auto’) is the Spanish equivalent of ‘automobile’, so there’s a third option for you!


This issue gets even more complex when we look at the use of both ‘carro’ and ‘coche’ in particular regions, cities, and towns.

To give you some examples, if you visit the state of Veracruz in Mexico, people refer to the bus as a ‘carro’.

A ‘carrito’ (the diminutive form of ‘carro’) usually refers to a supermarket car in Mexico, whilst a ‘cochecito’ is used as a synonym of ‘baby stroller’ in Central America.

In Cuba, a ‘coche’ is a ‘carriage’ pulled by horses.

Most Latin America countries

Estoy ahorrando plata para comprar un carro.

I’m saving money to buy a car.


Most Latin America countries

La novia llegó a la iglesia en un coche, como si fuera una princesa.

The bride arrived at the church in a carriage, as if she were a princess.


En un supermercado en México

¿Crees que quepa este árbol de Navidad en el carrito?



At a supermarket in Mexico

Do you think this Christmas tree will fit in the trolley?


Mexico, Spain, and Argentina

¿Cuánto cuesta el coche que quieres?

How much does the car you want cost?


Some people may argue that ‘coche’ is a better option when referring to cars since it was originally used to describe vehicles that were specifically used to transport passengers, but even the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language admits that both are correct –

¡Me compré un carro / coche / auto nuevo!

I bought a new car!

So, even if ‘carro’ is the safest bet in Latin American countries, and ‘coche’ your go-to in Mexico, Spain and Argentina, rest assured that if you use them interchangeably or choose ‘auto’ instead, people are sure to understand!


Related vocab

Finally, there are many specific words / terms for different types of vehicles that vary according to country.

Here’s a brief overview of some of the most common –

Bus

Autobús (official Spanish)

Camión (Mexico and Central America)

Pesero (Mexico City)

Colectivo (South America)

Guagua (Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean)

Subway car

Vagón del metro (Mexico)

Vagón de subterráneo / Vagón de subte (Argentina)

Carro (Chile)

Van

Camioneta (Mexico and Central America)

Furgoneta (Spain and South America)

Van (Mexico)

Combi (Mexico and Central America)


Final thoughts

Hopefully this article has cleared up any lingering doubts you may have had about ‘coche’ and ‘carro’!

There are LOADS of Spanish-speaking countries (it’s the official language of no less than 21 countries!), so learning local terms and colloquial expressions is no small feat.

My advice? Don’t worry too much if you don’t use the most colloquial term when talking to locals and just HAVE FUN learning new words!

And speaking of new vocab, how about tucking into our article on all the different ways to REPLY TO ‘GRACIAS’. Trust me it’s a good’un.

¡Hasta pronto!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

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