• Buying Guides

Car Trim: What Does It Mean?

By Michael O'Connor | February 14, 2023

What is Car Trim?

Trims are essentially accessory packages that are bundled together to create different variations in performance and aesthetics. A vehicle’s trim level dictates differences in appearance, power, and tech within the same make and model.

Depending on your needs and what you are looking for in a vehicle the trim level you choose can make a big difference in how well a car suits you. With a good understanding of different trims and what they have to offer, you can avoid making mistakes with your purchase.

Trim level is not only important for buyers, but it is also important for people looking to eventually resell their vehicle. Cars with a higher trim level will usually retain their value for longer and have more to offer on the secondary market. Knowing why trim matters and what it determines can help you make the right choice and ensure that you can drive away with everything you want out of a car.

Why Car Trim Matters

Buying a car can present a lot of different choices that you have to make. Choosing a make and model is one of the most important decisions but once you have settled on a vehicle, there are other variations that you have to take into consideration. Most automakers offer a variety of different trim levels that will determine things like the kind of engine it has, whether it comes with AWD or FWD, and what the interior looks and feels like.

Car trim may also affect the features a vehicle comes with and can affect the safety and versatility of the car. If you want features like a big infotainment touchscreen, backup cameras, or adaptive cruise control, you may have to opt for one of the higher trim levels. However, in some cases, these features can also be purchased on their own if one or more of them are more important to you than others.

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What is a Base Trim Level?

Oftentimes, you will see the term “base trim” when searching for a new or used car. This means that the vehicle is the lowest possible level of trim with the most bare-bones features and components. Generally, a base trim car will have the lowest horsepower and smallest engine as well as the most basic interior. These vehicles will usually have cloth seats instead of leather and will have fewer tech features and smaller infotainment touchscreens.

If you opt for a vehicle with a base trim level, that car will have fewer convenience features and a smaller, lower-powered engine. However, it will also be the cheapest option for that particular make and model. If you only need the most basic features and aren’t concerned with getting the exact look you want for your vehicle, a base trim could be a great option.

How Trim Level Affects Price

If price is important to you when purchasing a car, paying attention to the trim level is incredibly important. Whether you are buying a BMW, Toyota, Hyundai, or Kia, the different trim levels will affect the final price. Things like sunroofs and leather upholstery cost more to produce and install, so they will bring the final price of the vehicle up significantly. Knowing what you want out of your car will help you make the most of the trim level and get everything you need from your new car purchase.

The price difference between the base model of a car and the highest trim level will usually be fairly large. For example, the most basic trim level of the 2022 Ford Mustang is called the EcoBoost and has an MSRP of $28,845. Conversely, the highest trim level, the Mach 1, has a sticker price of $57,645. The Honda Civic is similar in that the base Sport Sedan starts at $25,745 while the most high-end variant, the Sport Touring Hatchback has an MSRP of $31,645.

Trim vs. Accessory Packages

In some cases, car makers will allow you to purchase options and features that are parts of different trim levels without getting the entire package. For example, if you want a spoiler for your vehicle without the other features that might come with a particular appearance package, you may be able to order it separately. Some automakers will also offer particular option packages that allow you to add elements to any trim level for an extra fee.

Trims and accessory packages differ in that a trim level features a set of features that are not available for modification. Accessory packages will allow you to get particular upgrades for any trim level. Some of these packages may include a performance package, technology package, navigation package, or towing package. These packages may come with particular details like different steering wheels, bumpers, upgraded stereos, decals, leather seats, and more.

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Trim Level and Resale Value

If you are looking to purchase a new vehicle that you are eventually going to sell on the used market, your best bet will almost always be to get the highest trim level possible. Any features that are desirable in a new car will be just as desirable for a used car. A nicer interior trim will give your car the edge when trying to sell it to the car-buying public. The same goes for vehicles with better functionality due to a higher trim level and extra features.

Sometimes, car makers will offer special editions of their vehicles as an individual trim level. These special editions are usually offered during an anniversary of the model and will have special badges and color options that are usually only available in small quantities. When these special edition vehicles are sold out, they will be considered rare on the used market. This can drive up your asking price, especially if collectors or enthusiasts are looking for those particular trim packages.

What to Look for in Car Trim Levels

The trim level you choose for your new car will depend heavily on what you need out of it. Not everyone will need heavy-duty towing capabilities or a comprehensive navigation system. Knowing what you should be looking for in car trim levels can help you make the right choice without paying a lot of money for things you don’t need.

Different trim levels will sometimes include variations in the displacement and cylinder count of the engine. Sport editions and grand touring editions will usually have the most powerful engines offered on that particular model while the base trim level will usually have a smaller engine that puts out less horsepower. Sometimes, an automaker will also offer a hybrid trim level that includes electric motors to hybridize the base trim level engine for extra horsepower and better gas mileage.

Tech is a big part of what sets different trim levels apart. Oftentimes, a higher trim level will come with a larger touchscreen infotainment system or a digital gauge display. Higher trim levels may also come with extra features like wireless smartphone charging, a Wi-Fi hotspot, or higher-end stereo systems from well-known brands like Harman Kardon. They may also include extra safety features like backup cameras or head-up displays so you can keep your eyes on the road and get better visibility.

The interior will usually be one of the most affected areas of the car when it comes to the trim level. Automakers will offer things like leather seats and stitched dashboards on the higher trim levels as well as features like heated seats and dual-zone climate control. If comfort and luxury are important to you, you may want to look at some of the higher trim levels of a particular model and see what is included in the interior and whether it will be worth the extra money.

Appearance is another important consideration to make when choosing trim levels for your vehicle. The exterior may look different depending on the trim you get and there may be color options that are only available with certain trims. Some editions may also come with different sizes and styles of wheels as well as different lights and other accessories that can drastically change the look of the car.

For some vehicles, especially trucks and SUVs, different trim levels will come with variations in their capabilities for towing and payload. A higher trim level may have a larger towing capacity or the ability to carry a bigger load in the vehicle itself. If you are planning on towing a large trailer or using the vehicle for work, you may want to consider investing in a trim level that has more capabilities in regards to what it can handle in the bed or on the tow hitch.

What is a Monroney Sticker?

When shopping for a new car at a dealership, you may notice a sticker on the window of every individual vehicle. This is called a Monroney sticker and it is the result of the 1958 Automobile Information Disclosure Act, which was written by a Congressman and Senator from Oklahoma named Almer Stillwell "Mike" Monroney.

This legislation mandated that all vehicles have a visible sticker that lists all the relevant information about that car. This includes things like its MSRP, fuel economy information, and standard features, such as anti-lock brakes, a radio, cruise control, and airbags.

By looking at the Monroney sticker, you can determine what a particular vehicle offers under its trim level. This is an easy, quick way to figure out what trim level a car is and what that means when it comes to its features and specs. If you are trying to purchase a used car and want to know what it has to offer, you can use that car’s vehicle identification number, or VIN, at MonroneyLabels.com to see the original Monroney sticker.

Final Thoughts

Buying a new vehicle can be very exciting and it can open up a lot of opportunities for fun and adventure. Making the right choices every step of the way will help ensure that you get everything you need and nothing that you don’t. Understanding what car trims are and how they can affect the capabilities of your vehicle will allow you to get the right car for your needs and help you spend your money wisely.