What's the difference between those terms in relation to a road or air accident?



  1. (Aeronautics) to cause (an aircraft) to hit land or water violently resulting in severe damage or (of an aircraft) to hit land or water in this way
  2. (Automotive Engineering) to cause (a car, etc.) to collide with another car or other object or (of two or more cars) to be involved in a collision


  1. a collision, as between vehicles

  2. (Aeronautics) a sudden descent of an aircraft as a result of which it hits land or water CED


noun An automobile or railroad collision or accident: witnessed a wreck on the highway.

verb To cause the destruction of in a collision: wrecked the car by hitting a tree. American Heritage® Dictionary

Please, compare the following examples:

His parents died in a car/plane crash.

His parents died in a car/plane wreck.


I crashed the car by hitting a tree.

I wrecked the car by hitting a tree.


The helicopter/truck crashed into their home.

The helicopter/truck wrecked into their home.


He witnessed a terrible crash on the highway.

He witnessed a terrible wreck on the highway.

  • Cracked up is 1990s slang. I don't think you need to worry about it today. Feb 2, 2016 at 20:35
  • @PeterShor OK. I'll update the question accordingly.
    – Elian
    Feb 2, 2016 at 20:46
  • FWIW, this question is the first time I have ever seen "crack up" refer to anything other than uproarious laughter (native to U.S. Great Lakes - Midwest Region)
    – cobaltduck
    Feb 2, 2016 at 20:58
  • 1
    @cobaltduck How about "cracked up to be" as in, "The pizza is not what it's cracked up to be"? idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cracked+up+to+be
    – Elian
    Feb 2, 2016 at 21:04

4 Answers 4


You normally wouldn't use "crackup" for a plane, nor would you ever use "cracked" in this sense. And "crackup" is informal and implies a less severe wreck, so it normally would not be used to describe an incident resulting in death.

"Crash" and "wreck" are almost interchangeable in this sense, though, eg, "wreck" is more idiomatic for an incident involving a train.

(The subtle difference between "crash" and "wreck" is that saying you "saw" a "crash" tends to imply you actually saw the incident occur, while seeing a "wreck" does not so much.)

  • 2
    This is a really good answer. The only thing left out of it is that there are regional differences in usage in the US: When referring to automobiles, "crash" is more common in NE - Southern and Mid-western areas use "wreck" instead. The lines of demarcation run similar to proofed/carded", license plate/tag and soda/pop. (Not sure about the West.)
    – Oldbag
    Jan 29, 2016 at 15:29
  • Tying to the subtle difference noted, "wreck" has a sense to also refer to the artifact left over: the smashed vehicle is a wreck. A "wrecker" is an alternate term for a tow truck.
    – user662852
    Feb 2, 2016 at 20:45
  • I don't think "wreck" works intransitively, BTW, the "wrecker" is often spelled and prounounced "rigger" in the upper Potomac valley - possibly elsewhere.
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 2, 2016 at 21:00
  • 1
    @Rob_Ster - It might be said that, say, a stock car racer "wrecked" in his latest race (though "crashed" would be closer to the norm, and I don't doubt that stock car racers have their own jargonistic terms as well).
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 2, 2016 at 22:00
  • I could be wrong, but I think plane crash is typically when it hits the ground or a building; mid-air would almost always be referred to as a collision, right?
    – Tim Ward
    Feb 3, 2016 at 15:13

Although I'm coming from a British English background, I would suggest that a vehicle can (sometimes*) be recovered and repaired after a crash but definitely not after a wreck. A wreck suggests permanency and irrecoverableness (e.g. a shipwreck).

(* e.g. plane crashes tend to be permanent)

Collins English Dictionary: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/wreck



  1. To involve in or suffer disaster or destruction




  1. to cause (an aircraft) to hit land or water violently resulting in severe damage or (of an aircraft) to hit land or water in this way

  2. to cause (a car, etc) to collide with another car or other object or (of two or more cars) to be involved in a collision

  • No, definitely not. What a mechanic or other technically qualified person might say about the subject of the crash/wreck is irrelevant. Planes crash and then are repaired and fly again. Ships wreck and then are repaired and sail again. You can crash your car, have the wreck towed to a mechanic, and then ask the mechanic, “is it totalled or not?” (Is it a “total wreck” or can it be repaired?) Feb 3, 2016 at 14:58

It seems, generally, that 'crash' is the actual incident. "I crashed into a tree."

Wreck is the result of the crash. "And, it left my car a wreck"

I crashed late last night over at a friend's house, and this morning I'm a wreck.

  • So "wreck" is not a verb, and you cannot say "I wrecked my car"?
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 3, 2016 at 15:53
  • 1
    OMG - u wrecked havoc on my answer.
    – SRQ Coder
    Feb 3, 2016 at 20:40

I'm from New York and we always say accident. When I lived in Virginia and Florida (the South) the word is always wreck, even if it was only a small accident.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.