There are a few factors that determine what features a car is equipped with. Many of us think about the trim level, but what about other parts of the equation? What’s the best way to determine exactly what features a used car has?

Decode Your VIN

Trim Level: Where it All Begins

The trim level establishes how a car is equipped at the factory. Manufacturers design trim levels for each model, including what options are part of each trim level and what the different trim levels are named. It’s common for manufacturers to follow a naming pattern. For example, Honda typically uses a scheme along these lines: LX, EX, EX-L, Touring, where LX is the most basic trim level.

Some of the most significant equipment choices are dictated by the trim level, such as 4-cylinder vs. V6 engine, whether AWD is included, or cloth vs. leather upholstery. These are equipment options that can only be addressed at the factory due to their complexity.

But trim levels aren’t limited to big ticket features, and sometimes those big features can be had outside of a trim level upgrade. For example, it’s possible to have a sunroof or leather upholstery added by an aftermarket installer.

Some of the smaller features that show up in specific trim levels are convenience and comfort options, such as auto-dimming mirrors, heated seats, and steering wheel radio controls. But we’ll see that many of these features can be added after the assembly line.

Port Installed Options

The next opportunity for packages and equipment to be installed comes when a car reaches the US at the port, hence the name “port installed options.” Vehicles built in the US are frequently outfitted at regional ports, also.

Each car’s port installed options are already determined when it’s built at the factory and before it’s shipped to the port. Upon arrival, the options are installed at the port using factory approved parts and procedures. This means they are also covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

Many of these options are offered for sale in accessory catalogs and they can also be selected when placing a factory order for a specific vehicle. Examples include Bluetooth integration, mud flaps, or a rear spoiler. Because they are installed at the port, there is no additional cost for the buyer to pay, such as installation fees.

Dealer Installed Options

At the showroom, dealerships can add further options beyond what was installed at the factory or the port. The possibilities are endless here, ranging from factory approved accessories to aftermarket customizations. Dealer installed options may be added while a car is in stock or at the request of the buyer.

It’s important to recognize that aftermarket products are not factory approved and won’t be covered by a manufacturer warranty. Quality of components and installation can vary widely in the aftermarket world.

Because these options are added by the dealership, they won’t appear on the manufacturer VIN report or the factory window sticker. This brings us to one of the best sources of information on used car trims and packages.

Determine a Used Car’s Options & Packages

Reviewing the original window label(s) is one of the best sources of information to determine a used car’s trim and packages. The factory window sticker will list trim level and options added by the factory and port. Dealers will add a separate sticker (an “addendum”) for dealer installed options. If these original stickers are available, they’ll accurately reflect the equipment in place when the car was originally listed for sale.

Online VIN decoders are another useful resource, especially for confirming fundamental equipment such as four-wheel drive. These will report on trim level and options added by the factory and port.

Another clever approach is to reference the sales brochure. In many cases, the brochures for prior model years can be found online. Brochures spell out trim levels, packages, and accessories.

Combining these resources, you can:

  • Determine a used car’s trim level
  • Find out whether an option is aftermarket or factory equipment
  • Verify warranty eligibility for specific accessories
  • Easily compare a used car’s equipment with the original equipment

With so many opportunities for options to be added, it’s important to use all available information when finding a used car’s options. These handy sources can help you sell a used car, verify used car equipment, and learn when features were added to a used car.