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What Is a Vehicle Trim Level?

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We define this oft-used but rarely understood automotive term

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If you’re a typical car buyer, you’ve probably spent a generous amount of time deciding what model you want to buy, and in your research, you’ve come come across information on “trims” for that vehicle—whatever that means.

The term “trim” is frequently used by automotive websites and salespeople but is rarely explained to the average shopper. Here’s what you need to know to make an educated decision on your next car purchase.

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Definition of Trim Level

A trim level (also sometimes referred to as a trim package) is a version of a vehicle model that comes equipped with a set combination of features. Higher trim levels come with more/better features at a higher price, while an entry-level trim comes with just the basics at a lower overall cost. To differentiate trim levels, each package is given a moniker that follows the model name (example: the Toyota Camry XLE). You can often find this designation emblazoned on the vehicle’s rear end, near where the model name is displayed.

While in the past, trim packages have typically been purely aesthetic—only adding non-functional touches like chrome accents and upholstery stitching—many automakers today actually include sets of higher-end technology features and/or performance upgrades in trim packages, which sometimes results in as much as 6-10 different trim levels being offered.

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Trim Package Vs. Accessory Package

Trims are different from accessory packages in a couple ways. First, accessories are sometimes offered item-by-item, while trims come in a set package that cannot be modified. Second, some accessory packages can be added to a model regardless of what trim level it is.

The biggest difference is that the trim level is determined when the vehicle is manufactured; once the vehicle comes off the assembly line and is shipped to a dealership, the trim isn’t going to change. What it is on the lot is what you’re going to get. Accessories, however, can typically be added after-the-fact when the vehicle is purchased, involving a simple after-market installation rather than reupholstering seats or tearing out the current motor.

Hopefully this information will make your next car-buying experience far less confusing.