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Make vs Model of a Car

A photo collage of a make versus model car.

For people who don’t know a thing or two about cars, describing a car might be based on physical characteristics or styles. When you see a white pickup truck, you may just refer to it as, well, a white pickup truck. When you know more than the basics about automobiles, however, you’ll likely identify cars based on their make and model.

When you think of the name of a vehicle, you probably think of its make and model. Since I know about cars, I can call a Ford Escape or a Subaru Legacy when I see one. I don’t struggle to describe the basic characteristics, the color, or the parts of the car and hope that my listener will get it. 

Identifying cars doesn’t have to be a strange guessing game–once you know the make and model of a car, it’s a fairly straightforward process. Oftentimes, when people state the make and model of a car, they say them together. If someone tells me they have a Buick, I won’t be able to positively ID that car in a parking lot or as a carpool.

That can lead to some frustrating conversations and awkward encounters. If, on the other hand, they let me know that they have a Buick Encore, I’ll be able to pick them out in a crowd. As you can see, knowing the make and model of a car is an important basic aspect of learning about cars. 

What’s more, knowing the differences and similarities between the terms “make” and “model” will make conversations around cars make a lot more sense to you. When you can distinguish between the words make and model, you’ll be able to buy and sell cars with confidence. You’ll be able to let car dealers know exactly what you are seeking.

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If you plan on selling cars yourself, you’ll be able to make more accurate listings and match buyers with exactly the type of car they want. 

What does the “make” of a car mean?

Black Chevrolet Tahoe in city street in cropped image.

Essentially, the “make” of a car is the manufacturing brand who “made” the car. It’s like any other brand identity. To make an analogy, the “make” of the car is how the brand is to food.

If Twinkies are produced under Hostess, then Hostess is like the “make” of the “model” Twinkies. While there are a decent number of car manufacturers around the world, the most common makes for cars include Chevrolet, Buick, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Ford.

When it comes to cars, every make produces more than one model of car. Some produce a wide range of products. Major car manufacturers might roll out new cars every few years to keep car fans interested while others continue improving the tried-and-true models that work for them. 

Every car make has some cars that are more popular than others. Like any business, the market’s response dictates which cars stay in production and which ones get cut after the initial rollout. The most popular Ford models include Ford Escape, Ford Explorer, Ford Ranger, Ford Kuga, Ford F-150, Ford Focus, Ford Mustang, Ford S-Max, Ford Explorer Sport Trac, and Ford Fiesta.

As you can see, since all of these cars are from the same make, they include the Ford name in them. If you called some of them by their model, such as the Mustang, true car fanatics would understand exactly what you are talking about, though. Usually, the makes of cars do business internationally.

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A who;e view of a mustang sports car at the motorshow.

Still, most make a place their headquarters in a specific nation. The make Toyota keeps its home base in Japan while Volkswagen is, as the name indicates, a company that stems from Germany. Ford is an All-American car company.

The debate between Ford and Chevy fans gets heated because both companies are based in the United States. In some cases, the makes of cars fall under the umbrella of a parent company. These parent companies tend to also be makes in and of themselves.

As an example, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is composed of two makes that fall under a parent company of other makes. Fiat is a make and Chrysler is a make, but the parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is behind other makes such as Dodge and Jeep. Some makes will branch out into creating other makes that target a different demographic of customers.

For example, the popular luxury make Lexus falls under the parent company, Toyota. Another luxury make called Acura falls under the Honda company. When makes spawn off into other makes that serve different client bases, they usually do so because their original make tailors to a certain kind of customer.

This customer would be confused if their favorite make began producing cars that were completely different from their original models. It’s like when famous authors write under a pen name when they switch genres or when household goods companies create brands that fall under the umbrella of the original company to allow their new products to stand on their own.

What does the “model” of a car mean?

Top shot of an orange Nissan Rogue driving down a street.

While the model of a car is usually discussed in addition to the make of a car, it sometimes stands on its own. For example, if someone is well-versed in the car department, they might abbreviate the make and model to just the model.

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If you’re talking about a Chevy Astrovan and you know that every Astrovan out there is produced by Chevy, you probably would just call it an Astrovan for efficiency. Also, if someone works in selling, fixing, or manufacturing a specific type of car, they may take for granted that all the models of cars they work around come from the same maker. 

A “model” of a car is used to narrow down the type of car that you have. Some companies produce cars that fit a wide range of characteristics, so it’s important to be specific. A Subaru outback has a very different look and use than a Subaru Impreza.

One is a large vehicle that is ideal for transporting several people and a lot of gear, while the other is more suited to small passenger counts with a limited amount of baggage. If you know the model of a car, it is usually pretty simple to find the make. After all, Nissan is the only company that produces a Rogue model of car.

If someone says they would like to buy, sell, or fix up a Rogue car, it’s safe to bet that they have a Nissan. It’s easier to identify the make of a car once you know the model. If you try to identify the model of a car knowing only the make, you’ll have a longer list of options to narrow down.

Typically, models are identified using either initials or names. Some companies label their models using a specific system. For example, BMW’s models only go by initials and numbers.

A photo of gray BMW 3.

For some, this may be a more confusing system, while it might be simpler to navigate for others. Some models are identified by catchy nicknames. Ford tends to use memorable names that capture the vibe that their cars embody, such as the Ford Escape or the Ford Mustang

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Some companies still use a combination of names and initials to identify their models. We see this in the case of Honda. Some of Honda’s cars go by initials, such as the crossover SUV from Japan called the CR-V.

Other Honda models go by names that have earned a popular reputation, such as the Honda Civic. Once you know the make and the model of the car, you can simply tack the year to the make and model, as well as the color if it’s a popular one. This will distinguish it from other cars.

If you drive a Chevrolet Malibu, you can put the year on it when you say what you drive. For example, you can say that you drive a 2003 Chevrolet Malibu. With models, trim levels distinguish models with different price points and the type of vehicles they are.

When cars have the same model, they can still be different. Some models have differences that are easy to spot with the naked eye. If two cars of the same model have different wheels or different paint colors, you’ll be able to tell them apart without much further investigation.

On a deeper level, most models come in specific body styles, trim levels, and appearance packages that can make them look completely different than the same models. While it might seem like you only need to know the basic model, knowing the trim of your car could help you sell, buy, register, and obtain car insurance for it. 

Brand new NIssan Rogue at the North American International Auto Show.

If you’ve got a car that is a certain model with a specific body style, it’s important to know the body style. The body style of a car is essentially its build. Some models are produced in more than one body style, so it’s a vital concept to grasp.

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Popular body styles include coupes, sedans, convertibles, SUVs, wagons, and hatchbacks. Some popular cars, such as the Honda Civic come in sedan, hatchback, and coupe styles. To avoid confusion, body styles tend to refer to how many doors there are on a car and some of the mechanical specifics.

With models, trim levels are another important aspect of identifying the model. Most models come in several different trim levels. Trim levels describe key exterior and interior features of the car.

Usually, models identify trim levels with certain initials. Sometimes, models use names to distinguish between trim levels. The Jeep Wrangler is a popular model with names for different trim levels.

The Jeep Wrangler comes in trim levels like the Rubicon, Sport, Sahara, and Freedom. Differences between trim levels can be subtle or major. It all depends on the make and the model. The model of the car will also include a model year.

Although this might intuitively seem like the year that the car was manufactured or released, a model year depends on other factors. Model years are more indicators of generations than manufacturing years. Each generation offers unique features and sometimes unrecognizable looks.

Typically, customers can buy models of cars for the next year in the autumn of the present year. As a result, you could purchase a 2022 Chevrolet Equinox in fall months of 2021. 

How do you find the make and model of a car?

All black Honda Crv for sale at the Honda dealership store at Brussels, Belgium.

Usually, the make and model of the car are indicated by symbols, logos, and names spelled out on the car. The Subaru Impreza contains the Subaru logo on the car and the Impreza name on the back of the car. Some cars might be harder to tell due to the size of the car compared to the name.

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A Honda CR-V might be tougher to identify at first because you’re trying to find three letters. Even so, when in doubt, you can find the make, model, and more when you find a 17-digit number called a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) where the dashboard and windshield connect on the driver’s side.