We’ve referred to the make and model of a car several times, so it only makes sense that we finally take the time to thoroughly explain what these terms actually mean. To put it simply, the make of a vehicle is its brand and the model is a specific vehicle or set of vehicles in that brand’s lineup. However, brands can be owned by the same manufacturer and models can have several variants that affect the overall vehicle cost, so it’s important to understand how these concepts can differ before you start the car-buying process.
How Are Brands Owned by the Same Manufacturer Different?
It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to own several individual brands. This could be the result of a previous acquisition or merger, as is the case for General Motors, which acquired Cadillac, Buick and Chevrolet in the early 1900s. Though some of these brands have “sibling” models that appear similar in nature, such as the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave, they do differ in some capacity and still get sold separately under each individual brand.
Additionally, a manufacturer may have separate brands to target different audiences. For example, Ford Motor Company sells its more affordable models under the Ford brand, while it sells its higher-end models under the Lincoln brand.
How Are Cars of the Same Model Different?
A model can come in more than one body style, usually has at least a few trim levels and almost always undergoes annual updates. We’ll explain each of these identifiers using the 2020 Honda Civic as our example.
A vehicle’s body style describes its general shape, size and the best way to utilize it. Using our example vehicle, 2020 Honda Civic, you can choose between three different body styles: The sedan, which has four doors, the coupe, which has two doors, and the hatchback, which ditches the classic trunk for a rear hatch. Despite sharing the same model name, these three body styles all have distinguishable differences.
A vehicle’s trim denotes its tier level within the model. Trim levels are used to add a specific set of upgrades and options for performance, technology and/or styling. Common trim level terminology you might see includes “Base” to denote the lowest level trim with no upgrades or options, “Sport” to denote improved performance specs and “Luxury” to denote upgraded interior, technology and performance specs.
In the case of the 2020 Civic, you’ll find six different trim levels:
- LX: Starting at $19,850
- Sport: Starting at $21,550
- EX: Starting at $23,600
- EX-L: Starting at $25,000
- Touring: Starting at $27,250
- Sport Touring: Starting at $28,150
We won’t go into the specific features that each trim level adds (feel free to see the full 2020 Honda Civic trim data), but you can see that the price increases as you advance from the base LX trim to the high-end Sport Touring trim.
A vehicle’s model year denotes when it was initially released, which typically occurs in the second half of the prior calendar year. For example, our trusty 2020 Honda Civic was initially released in October 2019.
Models usually undergo changes each year they’re released, but they can range from smaller updates, like adding new features to a specific trim, to a full-on redesign of how the car looks, feels and drives. One addition to the 2020 Civic versus its 2019 predecessor is an available six-speed manual transmission on the top-level Sport Touring trim. Visit Cars.com to see the rest of the 2020 Civic’s updates.
How Do I Find the Make and Model of a Car?
Vehicles typically have badging and decals on the rear end that indicate make, model and trim level information. You can also find finer details about a specific vehicle by looking up its vehicle identification number (VIN), which can be found on the driver’s side dashboard or in the driver’s side door jamb.