- This could be the smallest currently manufactured car with 4 wheels legally allowed in the US, but is not
a microcar. The smart Fortwo would be classified as a subcompact
. It is short, but all other dimensions and weights are too excessive to be a microcar.
The definition of a microcar has varied considerably in different countries. Since there are usually tax and/or licensing advantages to the classification, multiple restrictions are often imposed, starting with engine size. The Register of Unusual Microcars in the UK says: "economy vehicles with either three or four wheels, powered by petrol engines of no more than 700cc or battery electric propulsion, and manufactured since 1945". The Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum (the world's largest collection of Microcars) says "Engine sizes of 700cc and less and 2 doors or less" and the US-based
Vintage Microcar Club simply defines it as 1000 cc or less.
Typical microcars usually have some of the following features:
- seats only the driver and a single passenger
- a 1-cylinder 49 – 500cc engine
- 1 wheel drive
- cable operated brakes on 2, 3, or 4 wheels (no longer permissible in countries such as the UK)
- simple suspensions
- 6″ – 8″ roadwheels
Many, but not all, microcars are also:
- Not fitted with a reverse gear (the weight of the car was light enough for parking to be achieved by lifting one end of the vehicle).
- May have all gears operable in reverse as well as in forward gear such as the Messerschmitt KR200.
- Fitted with lifting bodywork instead of doors.
- Less than 3 m in length (sometimes less than 8′, 2.440 m).
- Less than 85 cubic feet/2400 litres interior volume.
There are also a variety of microcar trucks, usually of the "forward control" or van style to provide more cargo room. These might be used for local deliveries on narrow streets where standard small pickup trucks would be inconvenient, and full-sized delivery trucks would be impossible. The Piaggio Ape is a three-wheeled example.
A motorised quadricycle is a four-wheeled vehicle that in some jurisdictions can be registered as a motorcycle. They are considered analogous to mopeds or light motorcycles rather than cars. Consequently, they may be driven by underage drivers (14-18-year-olds) or in some cases even without a license, and they may be free of car taxes. Their speed is usually limited to ca. 45 km/h either through a speed or power limit.