Car Make and Model: What Does it Mean?
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Car Make and Model: What Does it Mean?

By Andra DelMonico | May 20, 2021

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 carmakers.

What is the 'model' of a car? Model is the specific type of vehicle produced by the automaker. For instance, a Camry is a Toyota model, and a Civic is a model made by 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, Ram, Tesla, and Chrysler are examples of American carmakers. Volkswagen, Fiat, Porsche, and BMW are examples of car makers located in Europe and strongly associated with Europe, despite being popular worldwide. Some consumers have a strong preference for particular automakers and will only buy from that brand.

Another thing to remember is that sometimes vehicle 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

A 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 essential to distinguish vehicles as sometimes car makers release very similar car types. 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 beyond 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.

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.

Here are some of the most common body style types:

  • Sedan
  • Coupe
  • Convertible
  • Station Wagon
  • Sports Car
  • Hatchback
  • Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV)
  • Crossover
  • Minivan
  • Pickup Truck

Trim Levels For Car Models

Along with body styles, most car models also have at least a few different trim levels. For example, the Dodge Charger has several trim levels to create a range of vehicles that appeal to a broader car buying audience. They vary significantly in performance capabilities, technology, and creature comforts.

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. Manufacturers vary in how many trim levels they offer. There could be as few as one and as many as eight. Typically, there are around four to five trim options.

You will commonly see these three trim level options:

  • Standard: This is the base model with standard equipment and no upgrades.
  • Luxury: This is an upgraded model with more luxurious materials, technology, and creature comforts.
  • Sport: This model puts performance first with better tires, suspension, and drivetrain.

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 makers 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. Carmakers often completely redesign car models, and the year is a meaningful way to know this. However, it is important to remember that the model year does not necessarily indicate when the car was manufactured. For example, cars from a particular model year were manufactured the year before. So, if a redesign of a specific car model occurred for a particular model year, it was most likely manufactured the year before.

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 should not 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 a budget-minded 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 typically appears on the grille, the back of the vehicle, and the wheels’ center cap. The car model is usually also indicated somewhere on the vehicle, usually on the back. If it is not, it will also be on the registration and owner's manual.

You can also use your vehicle identification number (VIN) to find out information about your vehicle. Look at the driver’s side of your dashboard while looking through the windshield. You will see a small metal plate with a series of letters and numbers. A 17-digit system is the standard format used since 1981.

The first digit in the series is the numerical country code from where the vehicle was manufactured. The next digit is a letter representing the vehicle’s manufacturer code. The third digit is a number identifying the vehicle’s type. The next five digits are read together and will be a series of letters and numbers representing the vehicle’s brand, body style, model, and series.

The digit following this series is a security number check. It is followed by a letter for the model year and a number for the assembly plant. The final set of six numbers is the vehicle’s serial number.

Why Make and Model Matter?

Knowing the make and model is important when you want to buy or sell a vehicle. These classifying details help you determine the vehicle’s value so you can negotiate your purchase or sale. You also need to know the make and model when buying insurance.

Buying a Car

If you are in the market for a new car, then understanding a make and model’s reputation will help you narrow down your options. You wouldn't choose to buy a Honda Accord if you need to do a lot of towing. A Ford F250 will be a top choice instead. Similarly, that same F250 will be your last choice if you are looking for a sportscar.

Even narrowing your vehicle choice down to a particular year and model is not enough. The difference in sticker price between a base model and a top-of-the-line model can be as much as tens of thousands of dollars. A standard model could be well within your budget, while a top trim level could be well above it.

Selling Your Vehicle

The first thing you will want to do when selling your car is to determine its worth. You will need to know its make, model, year, and trim level. Some vehicles retain their value better than others. This means they are a better investment, and you can ask for a higher sale price than models that do not retain their value.

Buying Car Insurance

Your vehicle’s make and model affect pricing when purchasing auto insurance coverage. The insurers will ask for your VIN to obtain all of your vehicle’s information. You will then receive a quote for insurance rates based on your driving record and the type of vehicle that you own. Insurance companies use algorithms to determine risk. The greater the risk, the higher the insurance premiums.

Based on past accident statistics and repair costs, insurance companies can tell which vehicle makes and models are the riskiest. Typically, the more expensive the vehicle is, or the more powerful its performance capabilities, the more expensive it will be to insure.