As a nonnative speaker, I have been curious about the difference between "what car" and "what kind of car". To me, these two seem exactly similar.

For example, when I go to the car dealership, a salesman asks, "what car would you like to buy?" or "what kind of car would you like to buy?"

What is the difference between these two questions?

  • "Exactly similar" is self contradictory. "Similar" is usually taken to mean "not exactly the same".
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 8:53
  • @NVZ I'm not sure how to raise this issue, so I thought I'd try you. I question the decision to migrate this question. While the OP indicated that he is a non-native speaker, the question he asked raised matters that clearly fall within the scope of ELU. For example, the discussion of what "What kind of car ...?" exposed clear differences between American and British English usage. It stimulated a good discussions among ELU users. In my limited time on ELU, I have seen many other questions much more clearly out of scope than this one. I request that this decision be revisited, if possible. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 16:42
  • which car/what kind of car.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 16:37

5 Answers 5


Yes, there is a difference.

What kind of car involves questions such as the following: Do you want to buy a Kia, an Acura, a BMW, or a Ford? Do you want to by coupe, a sedan, or an SUV? Do you want the car to have a manual or automatic transmission? Do you want two-wheel or four-wheel drive? Etc.

What car in your context may mean that you've taken a look at some cars, and the salesman asks you which car, out of all the cars you've seen, you want to buy. Or the salesman simply asks you from the start what car you'd like to buy. He may be assuming that you already know exactly what you want. I think it would make more sense for the salesman to ask, "How can I help you? What kind of car are you looking for?" :-)

  • 2
    You beat me to it again, +1. :) To me though, kind has more to do with coupe, sedan, manual, blah blah than a brand. Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 5:59
  • @alwayslearning Agree to disagree? :-) When a dealer with multiple brands (e.g., CarMax in the U.S.) asks what kind of car a shopper wants to buy, the shopper might well start with "I'm looking for a BMW or an Audi." Or, if you were to ask me what kind of car I have, I would say, "I have a BMW"; I wouldn't say I have a sedan. I take your point though; I thought about it while I was composing my answer. Time to call it a night. Until next time.
    – Richard Kayser
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 6:14
  • @Richard Kayser Yes, I'd go along with your answer for the most part (+1) but I have to agree with alwayslearning (+1) that the brand or marque of the vehicle would not spring to mind when asking, "What kind of car...etc". Petrol heads the world over would know what I mean and I think that the average punter would do so as well. What :make" of car, as commonly used in the UK, would make things clearer than "What kind..."
    – Peter Point
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 6:17
  • @PeterPoint It's becoming clear that context matters (as it often does). If I were to ask you what kind of car you have, what you say? :-)
    – Richard Kayser
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 6:22
  • @RichardKayser Good question. In the context of being a Brit and a self-appointed petrol head, I feel bound to tell you that I would certainly not understand this to refer to my preferred make or brand of car. My answer would allude to or specify many things relating to the "kind" vehicle that I had in mind, but certainly not a brand at this point in an exchange between a car salesman and myself, be it on site or on the phone.
    – Peter Point
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 6:31

what car would you like to buy is kinda a general question. that means just show me or name the car you want to buy! but when you ask what kind of car you want to buy, it wants some details such as what company do you have in mind or what color would you like it be and etc.

  • I want a Japanese car. I want a car made in Detroit. I want a fuel-efficient car. I want a used car with low mileage and no rust. These things answer the question What kind of car. Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 15:02

The first question asks what particular car (any make or model) would you like to buy, and the second question asks what kind of car (a specific make or model) would you like to buy.

This is summary of your sentences.

What car would you like to buy? = You would like to buy what car.

You | would like | to buy what car

Subject | verb phrase | noun infinitive phrase and direct object of the verb phrase

what is the direct object in the infinitive phrase, and car is the objective complement referring back to what.

What. prn.

: which thing or things


What kind of car would you like to buy? = You would like to buy what kind of car.

You | would like | to buy what kind of car

Same as the first sentence, except now the direct object in the infinitive is kind, which is modified by the adjective what and prepositional phrase of car.

Kind. n.

: a particular type or variety of person or thing



What car would you like to buy?

Is asking you to identify specifically the Model of car or actual car you want to buy.

"I want to buy an E300." or "I want that red one over there."

What kind of car would you like to buy?

Is asking what category/classification of car you want.

"I want a convertible." or "I want a BMW."


Yes but in everyday speech neither the salesman nor the driver would be the least worried about such a difference.

Right or wrong any distinction in the wording itself would be almost completely pointless. Real clarity would depend on whether a spoken accent on kind was stressed or not.

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