What is a Hatchback?

wiseGEEK Writer

A hatchback is a type of car or an auto design that has a back opening door, much like in a station wagon. The door usually opens from the bottom up, and the hatch space is used for storage. This is in contrast to automobiles with trunks, where the trunk is inaccessible to drivers or passengers from the front of the car, and most station wagons, which may even feature a third seat with a large door opening through which people can enter the car. The hatchback is often seen as an efficient use of space, since the back seats of a vehicle may nearly touch the top edge of the hatch. The storage space often juts out in an angled or curved fashion from the car’s hatch.

Man with a backpack
Man with a backpack

The earliest hatchback models were made in Europe in the 1930s and 40s, and there are a number of car companies that claim they pioneered the design. Early contenders include the Citroën Traction Avant Commerciale, the Austrian Holden 48/215, and the Kaiser-Frazer Vagabond and Traveler. Of these the Citroën was made earliest in 1938. The style of car became more popular in the early 1950s, with the Aston Martin DB2/4 and several other models.

As we know it now, you can see hatchbacks have undergone a number of changes, and most have a standard top hinge. In the 1960s, many European cars featured the hatchback design, and a few such cars were exported to the US. The style didn’t catch on in America until the late 1960s, with introductions of vehicles like the Pontiac Sunfire. Soon the hatchback became a fairly standard car option, and there were both 3-door and 5-door models. The uneven number of doors can be attributed to the back opening being counted as a door.

Many popular car models came in both sedan and hatchback styles so drivers could choose the model that most fit their space requirements. Efforts in the 1980s toward making cars more aerodynamic produced round hatchback models, which differed from their predecessors because the top hinge door did not jut out at a straight angle. This rounder style still remains popular.

There are a few cautions when driving a hatchback. When you place things like groceries in a trunk, you don’t need to be concerned if you have to make a sudden stop. Generally, provided your trunk is secure, unsecured items in the trunk will roll around but can’t enter the driving and passenger space of the vehicle. With hatchbacks, unsecured things can become projectiles and fly into the driver and passenger space if you make a sudden stop or are involved in accident.

For this reason, many hatchbacks now have a small shelf that fits over items you’d store in the hatch. It can be attached to the door, so that it automatically opens as you open the hatch door. This is a great safety device, but if you’re looking at used hatchbacks, you may find this item missing. If the car is still relatively recent in make, it’s very likely that the automobile manufacturer can allow you to purchase this protective shelf, which will keep you from being injured by loose items becoming projectiles. Additionally, because any passerby can see into the rear storage area, it is smart to keep any valuables hidden to avoid a break-in.

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