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What is the make and model of a car?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

When searching car lots for a new ride or registering the family station wagon at the DMV, the make and model of the car is important information to have on hand.

A car’s make and model also has an effect on the price of auto insurance. An agent will need to know this information before you can sign up for an insurance policy. 

Knowing what make and model is and how it affects your insurance can help you make good insurance and car buying choices.

What is make and model?

The make is the manufacturer brand, while the model is the specific product within that brand. For example, a Jeep is a make, and a Wrangler is a brand. 

Make won’t always be the company who makes the car. Jeep, for instance, is a brand of vehicles owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). So, although Jeep would be the make, the manufacturer is FCA.

Most car models can be further subdivided into trim levels, also known as trim packages or trim styles. A trim level is a specific version of a model, commonly used to describe the features that come with that level. For example, the Tesla Model S comes in a variety of trim levels, each with unique features. The Model S Performance and the Model S Long Range Plus are trim levels that include different specifications, such as in acceleration speed and battery range.

When a dealership refers to a car’s base model, they usually mean the most basic trim level of the model without all the bells and whistles. Sport is another common trim level used by many brands, usually signifying increased engine power and handling.

How to find your car’s make and model

On newer vehicles, the make and model is usually listed on the grill or on the back of the car next to the brand, but this isn’t always the case. Many vehicles also list the make and model at the base of the windshield on the driver’s side or close to the bottom of where the driver’s side door closes.

If the make and model are nowhere to be found on the vehicle, check the owner’s manual. If the owner’s manual is lost, a quick internet search should help. When searching the internet, use a trusted online resource, like the manufacturer website, to ensure the information is accurate.

There are many variations on makes and models, and it’s easy to get them mixed up.

What is a VIN?

A Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, is a 17-digit code that identifies a specific vehicle. Think of a VIN as a car’s social security number—no two will be alike.

Here’s an example VIN for a 1997 Dodge Grand Caravan:

1B4GP54R2VB378393

Let’s break down what each string of numbers and letters mean for the vehicle.

  • The first character shows where the car was built. Cars made in the U.S. start with 1, 4 or 5. Japanese cars start with the letter J.
  • The second character shows the car’s manufacturer.
  • The third character shows the manufacturing division when combined with the first two characters. 
  • Characters four to eight show the car specifics, such as brand, model, type, engine size and transmission size.
  • The ninth character shows the security code, which is used to ensure the VIN is authorized by the manufacturer.
  • The tenth character shows a letter that indicates the model year.
  • The eleventh character shows the manufacturer plant.
  • Characters twelve to seventeen show the serial number for the individual vehicle.

Differences between cars with the same model

Two cars of the same model can be different due to body styles, trim levels and model year. Manufacturers usually offer a wide variety of cars within each model type to give potential buyers more choices. 

Body style

A manufacturer might offer a model in many styles. For smaller cars, the sedan, coupe and hatchback are the most common body styles, and many models are offered in all three styles.

For larger cars, the SUV, crossover, van, minivan, truck and wagon are all common body styles. A single model might be offered in SUV, crossover and van style, while trucks are usually offered as their own model.

Trim levels

A Trim level signifies the features that come with a specific model, and they can vary. Some trim levels are fairly intuitive, like Luxury or Sport, while others are symbols that need to be decoded, such as “GT” or “XB.”

A car’s trim level might be used to separate it from the base model and signify additional features. Other trim levels are advertising the car model can be used for specific activities like off-roading.

Model year

Model years are important for differentiating models because one model name can be used over many years, and that model will change drastically over time. Knowing which model year a car is can make a big difference.

A model year will not always be the same as the year the car was made. Car companies commonly offer new model years before the year starts. The 2021 model of a car might be on sale in 2020, which means that although the model year is 2021, the car was manufactured at an earlier date.

How make and model affects your insurance rates

Even when a car’s model and model year are the same, insurance rates will still change depending on the make.

We received a quote from Allstate for three different models of 2020 Toyotas to show the difference. These quotes are based on general profiles, and the actual premium price will depend on the individual.

Year  and make ModelPrice
2020 Toyota Corolla SE sedan $291/mo (basic plan)
2020 Toyota Camry SE sedan$248/mo (basic plan)
2020 Toyota Avalon XSE sedan (4 cylinders)$288/mo (basic plan)

As shown above, the model changes the price of auto insurance, even if the make and model year are the same.

We used similar model types in our examples, so the price only fluctuates slightly, but when the models are more varied, the price of insurance will change more.

The takeaway

  • Cars of the same make can be different, depending on the model.
  • Cars with the same make and model can also change with the model year.
  • All of these factors affect the car’s value, which impacts the cost of insurance.

A car’s make and model are the prime factors in determining how the car works and the kind of customer it’s made for. Within a car’s make and model, trim levels will determine the features and price of specific cars.

Insurers pay close attention to the make, model, model year and trim level because they all go into determining how much the car is worth. A car’s value is one of the main things insurers consider when pricing policies.

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