When it comes to translation into Latin American Spanish, translators are well aware that linguistic variation can certainly pose a challenge. As it happens, the translation of such a simple word as “bus” can take trouble: if we translate it into Spanish from Argentina or Venezuela, we would preferably use the term “colectivo”, into Perú and Uruguay, we would use “ómnibus”, and into Spanish from Chile, “micro”. And what’s more, the same plain word may as well be translated into Mexican Spanish as “camión”, a term which in the above mentioned countries means “truck”, a vehicle quite different from the one designed for carrying passengers around.
Recently we came across a truly illustrative example of this. We were working on a project for the automotive industry, more specifically, on the translation of the product descriptions for a well-known car-care brand product portfolio. And so we came on these two automotive terms: “wheel” and “tire”. “Wheel”, a polysemic word which may refer to more than one vehicle component, in this case referred to the rim, and “tyre”, of course, to the rubber covering.
Well, what in America is a “rim”, also called a “wheel”, in Argentina and Chile is called a “llanta”, but a “llanta”, in Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, among others, is a tyre—just the opposite thing! And in those countries in which a tyre is called a “llanta”, a rim is a “rin”. But that’s not the end. In Chile, a tyre is a “neumático”, and this is a highly frequent colloquial word; on the contrary, in Argentina, as in many other countries, “neumático” is a formal term, and the most frequent words used are “rueda” o “cubierta”. En Puerto Rico, “goma” is the most recurrent term for tyre, and a rim is an “aro”.
To return to the subject of the car-care product portfolio descriptions and its translation, a tyre cleaner is not a rim cleaner, a rim protector is not a tyre protector, and a tyre repair kit is far from repairing a rim. So your translation choice is critical to the conveyal of a product’s purpose.
And as if that weren’t enough, you should also consider the idiomatic aspect, since for example the verb used to denote that you got a flat tire varies considerably among Latin America countries. In Mexico, Puerto rico, and Costa Rica, “ponchar” is used (Se me ponchó una llanta). In the Southern Cone Spanish-speaking countries, “ponchar” is virtually inexistent, and “pinchar” is used instead. Costa Rica also uses “estallar”, and Puerto Rico, “explotar” (Se me explotó/estalló una llanta), verbs which in other Spanish-speaking countries do not convey the idea of getting a flat tyre, but rather of a tyre explosion. Perú, on the other side, uses bajó (Se me bajó una llanta), which is not frequent in any of the other countries.