Car Buying

Buying a Car: What's a "Base" Model?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2016

If you're interested in buying a car, you've probably heard the term "base" model to describe certain vehicles. So what exactly is a base model? How does it differ from other models? And, perhaps most importantly, should you get one? We have an explanation.

What Is a "Base" Model?

In the car world, the term base model is generally used to describe a car's bottom-level trim, which often goes unnamed. For example, say a car is sold in three trim levels, the Car, the Car LX and the Car RS. In this case, the plainly named Car would be considered the base model or, put another way, the most basic version of the vehicle you can buy (hence the term base model).

Some base models have an unnamed trim level, such as the Nissan Altima, which offers an unnamed base model, followed by an S, SR, SV and SL, while other base models have a trim-level name. An example is the Toyota Camry, which can be purchased in LE, SE, XSE and XLE -- making the LE the Camry's base model.

There are many ways in which a base model differs from a higher trim level. Of course, there's content -- base models usually have fewer features and gadgets. In many cases, however, it goes beyond standard equipment and reaches options. Many automakers don't offer certain optional features on base models, requiring you to choose a higher trim level for access to various optional extras.

Base models also tend to differ in appearance from other trim levels. Base models usually have plastic or rubber panels, while higher-end models have chrome or body-colored treatments, and base models often have hubcaps or steel wheels instead of fancy alloys. Base models also typically have a low-end engine, in comparison to more muscular powerplants installed in higher trims.

Should You Get One?

Of course, base models are usually cheaper than upper-level trims, so they might be tempting for shoppers on a budget. Should you get one?

Although we don't have any major problems with base models, we caution you against buying a car with virtually no options, if only for resale purposes. Sure, you might save some money now by going for a stick shift, choosing a lethargic 4-cylinder engine or leaving out air conditioning, but you may regret those decisions when it's time to resell your vehicle and there are few buyers interested in those features (or lack thereof).

Instead, we suggest buying what could best be described as a base model "with essentials." Even if you don't care if your vehicle has certain items such as air conditioning, an iPod connector or keyless entry, we strongly recommend getting them anyway, if only to make your car easier to sell when the time comes to buy the next one. And who knows, you might end up finding some creature comforts to be surprisingly useful.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Car: What's a "Base" Model? - Autotrader