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I am trying to translate to English a German sentence where a car is called a "Schlaglochsuchgerät" (literally: "Pothole detector"), which is an ironic name for cars small enough to fit into a big pothole, with small tires that make for a really bumpy ride on degraded roads.

"What makes you think five people could fit into your __________?"
"If the condition of that road degrades for another year or two, I may have to trade in my ________ for an AWD."

  • There isn't really a term for this in the US, where tiny cars are rare. Perhaps in England ... – Hot Licks Sep 1 '18 at 21:21
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    If it's clear from context why not translate it just as you have here? – S Conroy Sep 1 '18 at 21:29
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    My first car was very much a pothole detector. Good description. Such cars may also be called 'lurchers' (usually a breed of dog). – Nigel J Sep 1 '18 at 21:42
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    Toy car perhaps? – k1eran Sep 2 '18 at 22:43
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    Rattletraps. Originally not about cars. The word predates them. Generally has more to do with cheap build quality, poor maintenance, and age degradation. Doesn't really imply tiny. But it makes a nice parallel to pot hole detector, which I really like, btw. – Phil Sweet Sep 3 '18 at 4:14
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There are 5 that might work:

Pillbox (which was a term by father always used in reference to the VW Beetle): There's no way we can fit the whole team into that pillbox! We need something bigger.

Matchbox: If you really wanna impress your girlfriend, that comical matchbox won't do.

Roller skate: Did you see the car Chuck just bought? It's only got 2 seats. How's he gonna fit his Great Dane in that roller skate?

Pocket rocket (the emphasis being on the contrast between the fact that the car is small but powerful): Hey, don't knock my pocket rocket! Dynamite comes in small packages!

4-banger (this is the opposite of PR, in terms of power): He's got 4 kids now, but he's still driving that 4-banger.

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    I think these are all good for size +1, but miss out on the bumpy journey. – S Conroy Sep 1 '18 at 21:31
  • @SConroy Yah, I know. It's hard to find a useable term that unites both qualities. – Wordster Sep 1 '18 at 21:32
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    Roller skate, as in "pregnant roller skate", used to be CB slang for VW beetles/bugs. – Phil Sweet Sep 3 '18 at 4:19
  • I think Pocket Rocket and Four Banger don't apply to OP's question at all. What prompted you to include them? – Jim Sep 3 '18 at 19:29
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“Tin can” is the term I’ve heard and used myself. Such a car is small and light-weight but not necessarily old.

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For a low quality and cheesy car LEMON is a good word and for an old car CLUNKER but neither refer to the size. You might say cramped lemon/clunker You can find both in reliable dictionaries

  • Neither of these focus on size ? – k1eran Sep 2 '18 at 22:38
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Small and economical cars are called microcars. They can fit into a big pothole. Usually, they are one sitter or two sitter cars.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcar

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Roller skate, go-cart, pocket rocket. are common descriptions of cars like that. The cars shown above are called 'bubble cars'.

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