I owned a 2007 Dodge Charger for 7 years. In the years leading up to the point that I got in the car business if had you asked me the “trim level” of my Charger I might have said, “Uh…. 4 doors?” Had I known how important this is I would have probably memorized it better than my own social security number. It is both important in the buying process and the trading process. Let us explore why.
Since getting in the car business I have found that most people think every vehicle is the same plus or minus a few features that can be added, but the Escape for instance actually comes in 3 different trim levels with multiple features available on each one. They are S, SE, and Titanium. They are each so different (especially from SE to Titanium) that they are almost different cars. These can be differences in appearance (ex. an S only has black door handles whereas SE and Titanium have colored) mechanically (ex. the S only comes with a 2.5 liter engine when you can get a 1.6 Ecoboost and 2.0 Ecoboost on the SE and Titanium), and technology (ex. the hands-free liftgate is only available on the Titanium). Each trim level above the S model has different features that come standard on it and each successive trim level has all of the features of the lower model, plus it’s own standard features. On top of that, each trim level has specific packages and individual features that are only available on that trim level. Understanding this is important when buying a new vehicle for a few reasons.
The obvious reason is that there is a different starting price between each model (S: $23,600, SE: 25,745, and Titanium: $29,745). Another is that if you go to one dealership and they give you a price of $25,745 and you go to another and they offer you $23,600 you might think you’re getting a better deal, but you’re really just getting a lower trim level with less features. This can even be true within the same trim level if a certain package is available on one dealerships car and not the other. For example, the SE has a Convenience Package that adds $1,395 to the price. You might find an SE at another dealership that doesn’t have this package and think you’ve saved yourself $1,395. This is all very confusing. And it’s on purpose.
Recently, the Chevrolet commercials for the Malibu (trim levels: L, LS, 1LT, 2LT, and Premier) have caught my eye. They tell the story of all of the wonderful technology that is available and the real people not actors “oooo” and “awww” at all of the features available to them. Then they tell us that the Malibu is available “starting at $22,500.” One of the features Chevy often mentions is their new teen driver technology (which Ford has had since 2009; called MyKey), but that feature is only on the 1LT model and up and the starting price is $25,895. I use Chevy as an example because they have been very specific in trying to differentiate based on features, but all car makers do it. The auto-makers #1 goal is always to get you on the lot. They want you to see specific features and come into the dealership looking for them at the $22,500 price. Once you’re there the salespeople have to break the bad news to you that you have to spend $25,895 to get that feature. The hope is that you will either move up your price range or go ahead and buy the $22,500 one any way.
Where it is even more important is on the value of your trade-in. You want to make sure that if you’re trading in a 2013 Escape Titanium that you get the trade value of a Titanium and not the SE. If you don’t understand these differences then a dealer might able to give you less for your trade than it is worth. You will also need to know that your sunroof that is on your Titanium model is also more valuable than a Titanium model that does not have it (Note: specific individual features don’t always change trade value).
Buying a pre-owned vehicle makes tracking these differences even more difficult. For starters, you will want to make sure that you know the true value of a pre-owned vehicle you find on the lot. You don’t want to go home and research that vehicle and think you are getting a steal because you looked at pre-owned Titanium online but the one you saw on the lot is only an S. What complicates matters is that there is no true window stickers to compare the difference from one used vehicle to another.
As I said, this is all very confusing. You might want to read this more than once, because I cannot stress enough how important this is. If you have any questions feel free to call me at 660-342-3715.