Car Make and Model: What Does it Mean?

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A car's make is the brand of the vehicle, while the model refers to the name of a car product and sometimes a range of products. For example, Toyota is a car make and Camry is a car model. The make, model, model year, body style and trim level all have implications on the cost of a vehicle and its insurance rates.

Differences Between Cars of the Same Model

Cars of the same model can vary greatly in body style and trim level. Often, just knowing the car model might not be enough to correctly identify a car when:

  • Shopping for auto insurance.
  • Registering a car.
  • Buying or selling a car.

Body Styles

Auto manufacturers might make a certain car model with several different body style options. For example, you can buy a 2018 Honda Civic as a sedan, coupe or hatchback. Here are some of the most common body style types:

  • Coupe
  • Hatchback
  • Wagon
  • Sedan
  • Convertible
  • SUV

The body style often informs a vehicle's general shape, the number of doors it has and how it is set up mechanically—such as the engine, transmission and drivetrain. Body style can be the most important distinction for a vehicle because it has such a major impact on what a car is best used for.

Trim Levels

In addition to body styles, a car manufacturer might offer several trim-level options for a given model. These trim levels relate to the equipment and the styling on a particular vehicle. For example, the 2018 Honda Civic sedan has six different trim-level options: LX, EX, EX-T, EX-L, Si and Touring. Common trim levels are:

  • Standard: no upgrades.
  • Sport: upgraded engine performance and handling.
  • Luxury: upgraded interior and smoother suspension.

Some vehicles have alphanumeric naming conventions that can make it difficult to determine the difference between the model name and trim level of a vehicle. BMW, Mercedes and Lexus all practice these naming conventions. For these vehicles, you must decode the name of a vehicle to find the model name and trim package. For example, consider the 2018 BMW 540i. In "540i," the first digit indicates that the model is a 5 Series, while the 40i indicates the trim level.

Model Year

The model year of a car is one of the main ways that cars of the same make and model are differentiated. However, a vehicle's model year is not necessarily the same as the year it was manufactured. You can usually purchase a vehicle for a given model year a few months before the calendar year actually starts. For example, the 2018 Honda Civic was available for purchase starting in late summer 2017.

Differences Between Car Makes of the Same Manufacturer

Manufacturers can have several distinct makes—or brands—of vehicles that they produce. The Toyota Motor Corp., for instance, has had several different car brands, including Toyota, Scion and Lexus. When you are asked the make of your car, you should provide the car's brand name. So even though your Scion might be manufactured by the Toyota Motor Corp., it would be inaccurate to say that its make is Toyota.

Car companies sometimes have different brands because they have bought or merged with other auto manufacturers. For example, General Motors Corp. has, over the years, acquired Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac. These were all at one point stand-alone car manufacturers. Manufacturers also might create separate brands to target different markets. For example, the Toyota Motor Corp. created Lexus to focus on the luxury car market.

How to Find Your Car's Make and Model

A car's make, model and trim package are often indicated by badges, emblems or decals located on the rear exterior of the vehicle. This is the easiest way to determine your vehicle's make and model. If you are having trouble determining your vehicle's make or model by inspecting the exterior of the car, then you can find it printed on the vehicle registration certificate or in your owner's manual.

You can use your vehicle identification number (VIN) to find information about your car, like equipment specifications, the model year and even the factory where it was manufactured. Find your VIN on the driver's side dashboard. They've been 17 digits long since model year 1981. You can then use a VIN tracking tool to look up information about your vehicle.

When Does Your Vehicle's Make and Model Matter?

The vehicle model influences the value of your car, so you should know it if you're planning to sell your car or buy a new one. Cars from the same make with the same body style can have drastically different values, so just knowing you have or are looking for a Toyota sedan is not specific enough. For example, the listed manufacturer's suggested retail price of two 2018 Toyota sedans—the Camry XSE V6 ($34,950) and the Corolla L ($18,550)—differ by $16,400.

In addition to the model, the body style and trim level also affect the value of a vehicle. The MSRP of cars with the same make and model can vary by thousands of dollars depending on the body style and trim level. As you can see below, Honda Civics with similar trim levels can vary by as much as $1,950 across body styles. Furthermore, Civics with the same body style—but different trim levels—varied by as much as $8,600.

Model Year, Make and ModelTrim LevelBody StyleMSRPAuto Insurance Premiums Per Year
2018 Honda CivicLXSedan$18,840$1,688
2018 Honda CivicLXHatchback20,0501,727
2018 Honda CivicEXSedan21,2401,727
2018 Honda CivicEXHatchback23,1501,762
2018 Honda CivicTouringSedan26,7001,840
2018 Honda CivicSport TouringHatchback28,6501,850

Your vehicle's make and model also impact auto insurance rates. This is partly because the rates for comprehensive and collision coverage are based on the value of your car. When setting premiums, insurers will also consider how often drivers with your vehicle's model and body style file liability insurance claims. The more claims that are filed for a specific car, the more risky it is in your insurer's eyes. Fast and flashy cars that are more likely to have a higher rate of liability claims, like the Chevrolet Corvette, will often cost more to cover than more modest vehicles that have lower rates of liability claims like the Chevrolet Malibu. Your insurer will also look at how safe your car is for you and your passengers. Additional safety features will usually lower insurance premiums.

Methodology

We gathered quotes from State Farm for a 40-year-old man with a clean driving record living in New York City. The policy included discounts for having anti-lock brakes, an anti-theft alarm and daytime running lights. It also includes the following coverage limits:

  • $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident for bodily injury liability
  • $50,000 in property damage liability
  • Comprehensive (with glass) and collision with $1,000 deductibles

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