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Car Make and Model: What Does it Mean?

By Autolist Staff | May 14, 2019

Car make and model are both terms used to identify and describe vehicles. Make is essentially a short term for an automaker, which means the company that makes the vehicle. Toyota, Ford, Chevrolet, and Honda are all examples of automakers or car makes. So what is the model of a car? Model is the specific type of vehicle produced by the automaker. For instance, a Camry is a model of Toyota, and a Civic is a model of Honda. Other terms to describe cars include the model year, body style and trim level.

Understanding Car Makes

The manufacturers and large companies that produce different car makes are typically multinational corporations with more than one location. Nevertheless, they are strongly associated with their home countries. For example, Nissan, Honda, Subaru, Mazda, and Toyota are often referred to as Japanese automakers, despite having many satellite branches around the globe. Similarly, Hyundai and Kia are associated with Korea, which is their home country. Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler are examples of American car makers. Volkswagen, Fiat, Porsche, and BMW are examples of car makers located in Europe and strongly associated with Europe, despite being popular around the world. Some consumers have a strong preference for particular automakers and will only buy from that brand.

Another thing to remember is that sometimes car makes will be made by the same company. For example, Acura is the luxury brand of Honda, and Lexus is the luxury brand of Toyota. These vehicles are luxury cars and differ from the car models found under their parent company brands.

Understanding Car Models

Car model, on the other hand, refers to different types of cars found within one car brand. Car models have distinct names within the brand to differentiate them from other vehicles in the lineup. Sometimes car models have specific proper names such as a GMC Yukon. Other times, the car model might just be a number or letter or a combination such as the Audi Q3. Some of the more famous car model names include the Mustang, Corvette, Prius, Explorer, and Beetle. Car model names are important to distinguish vehicles as sometimes car makers release very similar vehicles. For example, the GMC Yukon and the Chevrolet Tahoe are very similar vehicles and, despite the different brands, are owned by the same company.

Differences Between Car Models

Despite car models being a more precise way to identify a vehicle besides just the car make, it may not be precise enough in many applications. Depending on the year and trim of a car model, it could be radically different and treated differently in terms of buying or selling, shopping for car insurance or even registering the vehicle. For example, various trims and model years of vehicles may have different options such as safety features, engine size, and transmission among others. This affects the value of the vehicle and can change the type of quote you get for car insurance.

Car Model Body Styles

The same car model might also include different body styles under the same name. For example, a single passenger car model might offer a sedan, convertible, wagon and coupe version with the same name. An SUV crossover might also be referred to as a hatchback. The body style refers to the general shape and function of the vehicle. Identifying a Toyota sedan, for example, would narrow it down to cars with four doors. A Mitsubishi coupe is likely to be used to distinguish a two-door vehicle under that brand name.

Trim Levels For Car Models

Along with body styles, most car models also have at least a few different trim levels. For example, the 2019 Dodge Charger has the following trim level options: SXT, GT, R/T, SXT AWD, Scat Pack, and SRT Hellcat. Trim levels can be used in a tiered method where the lowest trim is the vehicle with the least amount of options while the luxury trim is at the top with the most options. However, sometimes trim levels are used to distinguish a vehicle's different use category. In the example used above, the SRT Hellcat is a top-level sportscar trim. In another case, the Rubicon is a Jeep Wrangler trim designed more for off-roading. Some car makes logically distinguish trim levels while others have to be decoded. Mercedes-Benz is one of these that uses a combination of letters and numbers. The C 300 and the AMG C 43 are both C Class car models but are different trims.

Car Model Year

Car model years are another important way to distinguish vehicles and assess their value. Car makers often completely redesign car models and the year is a meaningful way to know this. However, it's important to remember that the model year does not necessarily indicate when the car was manufactured. For example, cars from the 2019 model year were available to purchase back in 2018. So if a redesign of a specific car model occurred for the 2019 model year, it was most likely manufactured in 2018.

Car Makes By The Same Manufacturer

As previously mentioned, some car manufacturers actually have more than one brand under their label. However, these brands are distinct car makes, and it would be incorrect to call an Acura MDX a Honda MDX. They are also not interchangeable, so you can't refer to a Honda Civic as an Acura Civic. In some cases, like with General Motors, the other brands are due to mergers with other companies in the past. GM has acquired Buick and Cadillac in the past, and these are considered GM brands in the present. However, at one point they were their own brands. This is different from Toyota, which created Lexus for the luxury car market and Scion to target an economy market.

How To Determine Your Car's Make and Model

Car makes are identified by logos and by their name. You can always find both on your vehicle in one place or another. The emblem appears prominently on the grille for example. The car model is usually also indicated somewhere on the vehicle, but in the case that it's not, it will also be on the registration and owner's manual.