Car make and model: definitions and basics

You've probably heard the phrase "make/model" in reference to a car. But what exactly does it mean? Simply stated, make refers the brand of the vehicle, and model refers to the specific version of the individual vehicle. Using as an example the Ford Taurus, "Ford" is the make and "Taurus" is the model. Each of these attributes impacts the car's list price and insurance premiums.

Brand of the vehicleIndividual version

What's entailed in a 'make' or 'model'?

If you've purchased a car insurance policy, you may have started by telling the insurance agent, "I have a 2017 Mazda3." Unfortunately, that's not enough information to get accurate car insurance quotes. There's a fair amount of insurance price variability among seemingly similar 2017 Mazda3s. In fact, this make/model combination comes in six unique trim styles, meaning there are six different list values and six insurance premiums for one model of car. Trim is a descriptor of the car's features and equipment that allows an insurance company to assign premiums more accurately.

While every model may have different trim classifications, most insurance companies narrow it down to three trim types:

  • Standard
  • Sport
  • Luxury

Trim is not the only attribute that can affect a vehicle's premium. Body style is another. Common vehicle body types used by insurance companies:

  • Coupe
  • Sedan
  • Hatchback

While a hatchback seems completely different than a sedan, that's not always the case. For example, the Mazda3's hatchback and sedan body styles fall under the same model name.

Although it goes without saying, the model year of your vehicle also helps describe the "model" of your vehicle. Insurance costs vary considerably between a 2010 vehicle and its 2018 version.

Why does car insurance cost differ by make and model?

Car insurance premiums are designed to reflect not only the risk presented by you and your vehicle but also the cost of replacing your vehicle. Because your comprehensive and collision coverages are meant to cover damages to your car, the value of your vehicle goes a long way toward dictating your premium.

Let's look at the 2017 Acura MDX, with a base list price of $44,200, versus the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid Upgrade, with a list value of more than $52,100. The $7,900 gap in list price manifests in more expensive average annual insurance premiums for the Sports Hybrid Upgrade.

Average Insurance Costs by Trim Level: 2017 Acura MDX

Model with TrimList ValueAverage Annual Premium
Sport Hybrid Upgrade$52,100$1,901

How to get car insurance quotes by make and model

The best and most accurate way to get a car insurance quote for your specific make-and-model combination is to use the Vehicle Identification Number. Commonly referred to as the VIN, this unique 17-digit code applies to each vehicle produced after 1981. Your vehicle's VIN supplies insurers any and all information pertaining to the vehicle’s history. In order to find the VIN, look on the driver’s side dashboard, where it meets the windshield. If the VIN is not listed there, it may be available in the vehicle’s title.

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More information

If you're interested in learning more about insurance rates for particular makes and models, coverage options, and comparisons, see our articles below.

How to shop for insurance by car type:

Car type insurance comparisons:

Auto insurance coverage options:

Ava Lynch
Ava Lynch LinkedIn

Ava worked in the insurance industry as an agent for four-plus years. Currently providing insights and analysis as one of The Zebra’s resident property insurance experts, Ava has been featured in publications such as U.S. News & World Report, GasBuddy, and Yahoo! Finance.