Car make & model explained

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Whether you’re getting insurance or registering for a parking spot at your place of work, school or the place you live, you’ll need to be able to name your car make and model. So what does that mean? And does it impact your life beyond when you’re filling out forms?

Short answer: yes. Insurance providers use your car’s make and model to determine your premiums. In other words, the car you drive directly impacts how much you pay for your coverage.

Want to get informed about your car make and model and how it affects the cost of your car insurance policy? Keep reading.

What is a car make?

Fortunately, this is pretty simple. Your car make is the company that manufactured your car. Think: Ford, Nissan, Honda, GMC, Tesla — you get the idea.

An easy way to remember this terminology is that whenever you’re asked for the make of your car, you simply need to name the company who makes it. Write that company’s name down and you’re good to go.

What is a car model?

Think of your car model as the product the manufacturer sold you. It’s the name of the car you’ll hear in commercials or see in print and digital ads. In the case of a Honda Civic, the make is Honda and the model is a Civic. With a Tesla Model S, Tesla is the make and Model S is the model.

Seems pretty simple, right? Actually, here’s where things get a little trickier. While you might have the same car make and model as your neighbor up the street, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to pay the same for your coverage, even if you have identical driving records.

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Are all car models the same?

Absolutely not. While make and model play a significant role in your insurance rates (it’s almost always going to cost more to insure a Model S than a Civic, for example), they’re not the only things about your car that your insurer considers.

Here are a few other factors that differentiate between cars of the same make and model:

  • Year: When was your car produced? Obviously, a 2019 Chevrolet Suburban you just drove off the lot is going to be worth more than the beloved-but-aging Chevy Suburban from 1980. And the more your car is worth, the more you’re going to pay to insure it.
  • Trim level: When you’re car shopping on a budget, you look for the most cost-effective version of the model. That probably means skipping the upgraded sound system, the heated seats, the moonroof and a bunch of other bells and whistles you don’t really need. And car manufacturers refer to those add-ons as different trim levels. For example, if you’ve ever heard the term “base model,” that’s a trim level that doesn’t include any additional features. Let’s take the Toyota RAV4, one of 2019’s top-selling cars, for example. You can buy a 2019 RAV4 with the trim level LE, LE Hybrid or XLE. And Toyota’s site even gives you a grid to compare features by trim level. The more bells and whistles your car has, the more it’s worth. And, again, the more it’s worth, the more it costs to insure.
  • Body styles: And the differences don’t even stop there. Some car models come in multiple different body styles. Take the Mazda Mazda3, for example. It’s available as both a hatchback and a sedan. The sedan has four trim levels (base, Select, Preferred, Premium), while the hatchback has three (base, Preferred, Premium).

How does car make and model impact insurance rates?

Your car’s make, model, year, trim level and body style are all factors your insurance provider uses to determine how much your car is worth. And they care because the more your car is worth, the more it costs to repair or replace after an accident. And insurers pass that extra cost along to you in the form of higher premiums.

How much do all of these factors matter? It depends. Make is a big player in the premium-setting game. Obviously, insuring a Ferrari is going to be more expensive than coverage for a Subaru.

Model matters, too. In their 2019 The State of Auto Insurance report, The Zebra showcases the difference between the cost of insuring different models from the same company. Covering a 2018 Toyota RAV4 costs $1,556 while insuring a 2018 Toyota Camry costs $1,692. The difference between getting insurance for a 2018 Honda CRV ($1,692), Civic ($1,801) and Accord ($1,624) isn’t too significant. Still, if you want a sedan, choosing the Accord over a Civic could keep over $150 in your pocket each year.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some of the most common queries about car make and model and how they impact what you’ll pay for your car’s coverage.

How can I tell the make and model of my car?

In most cases, it’s pretty simple. Identify the logo on the hood or grill of your car. That manufacturer is your car’s make.

Many manufacturers make it easy to find the car model, too. If you have a word or string of characters on the back of your vehicle, usually embossed and metallic, it’s most likely your car’s model.

Does my car’s VIN tell me anything about its make and model?

Sometimes, especially with older vehicles, finding your car make and model isn’t so easy. But don’t worry. You just need your VIN (vehicle identification number) to identify your car.

Find your VIN by looking for it printed on the dash on your driver’s side, in the front of your engine block or printed on the metal part of your driver’s side door. Open up the door and check the edges.

If you car was manufactured after 1981, your VIN will have 17 characters. Here’s a quick guide to how to read it:

  • The first three characters are your vehicle’s world manufacturer identifier (WMI), which includes your car’s make.
  • The fourth through eighth characters describe your vehicle, including its model and body type.
  • The ninth character is one the U.S. Department of Transportation generates based on a formula they’ve derived. It’s a check that helps them determine if the VIN is real or fabricated.
  • The tenth character denotes your car’s year. VINs use an alphanumeric code to name the year so don’t get confused if it’s a letter.
  • The 11th through 17th characters tell more about the plant your vehicle was manufactured in and identify your unique vehicle.

Or you can use this VIN decoder from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

How much will my car make and model cost to insure?

Insurance providers are all about mitigating their risk. So they weigh the car make and model plus other factors (trim level, year and body style) together to make sure they’re charging you an appropriate amount for your insurance. But that doesn’t mean you have to shop blindly. The Zebra has a fairly comprehensive list of average insurance rates by car make and model.

Armed with this information, you can confidently fill out your parking permit form. What’s more, the next time you need to buy a car, you can factor in the cost of coverage so you make the right decision for your long-term budget.