Car Buying

Buying a Car: Why Can't You Ever Find Cars Available for the Base Price?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro May 2016

If you're interested in buying a car, you may have found yourself getting excited about a vehicle's base price -- only to become disappointed later when you aren't able to actually find the car for sale for that figure. So why is it so hard to find a car available for the base price? Is it even possible to purchase a vehicle for that figure? We have the answer.

What's the Base Price?

The base price is a car industry term that refers to a vehicle's starting price in the lowest trim level without any options or extras. For instance, while some Ford Fusion models creep into the high-$20,000 and low-$30,000 ranges in upscale trim levels (as well as with a wide array of optional features), the base price of an entry-level Fusion S with no options is around $23,000 with the destination charge included.

It's worth noting that the destination charge can sometimes alter a vehicle's base price considerably. For instance, the Fusion's starting price is actually $22,120, which is the figure you'll usually see in advertisements. But the destination charge, a separate fee, is over $600 extra -- and that alone ensures most vehicles will never sell for their base price.

Can You Actually Buy a Car for That Number?

If you factor in the destination charge, can you buy a car for the base price? Believe it or not, we have a different question: Would you really want to?

Base-level versions of vehicles are often notoriously devoid of features and extras. A base-level Jeep Renegade, for instance, starts from a highly reasonable $19,000 with shipping, but it doesn't even include air conditioning. A base-level version of Hyundai's popular Elantra compact sedan doesn't even have vanity mirrors on the sun visors. And while a base-level Dodge Dart starts at an attractive $18,000 with shipping, you'll have to pay extra for power windows, power locks and air conditioning.

Those models -- and many others -- don't seem quite so appealing when you consider what you have to give up in order to get one in base form.

Our Take

To us, the idea of buying a car in its lowest-level, base-model trim isn't very appealing. Yes, it's possible if you look hard enough (or if you convince your local dealer to order one for you), but if you have to stretch your budget dramatically just to afford a base model, you might be better off considering a certified pre-owned vehicle that's a year or two older and includes a few extra features. You may also prefer a lower-level model (such as a Corolla instead of a Camry), which will allow you to get a few more features within your budget.

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: Why Can't You Ever Find Cars Available for the Base Price? - Autotrader