RAC Cars News


How Do You Tell What Trim Grade a Used Car Is?

By raccars Published

Many modern cars lack one key feature that we used to take for granted – the model designation badge.

Go back two decades and you would find a range of Ford Escorts all proudly wearing their model line badges on the bootlid, from 1.3 L and 1.4 LX to XR3i and RS2000. This made it easy to assemble a hierarchy in the company car park, and also helped other neighbours in the cul-de-sac assess just how impressive your new car buy really was.

Today, such badges are a rarity. Cars are still sold with varying model lines – they’re just not displayed on the car itself.

Which presents a challenge to the used car buyer who may not quite be sure what they’re buying – particularly if it’s an older car where even the owner can’t quite remember what model and spec it is.

Throw in the trend for same-size engines boasting differing power outputs and you’ve a recipe for some confusion. So, how do you tell what trim grade a used car is?

Making a badge breakthrough

The easiest is, quite simply, to check the V5 registration document. This document will outline all the specific model details of the car in question and tell you all you need to know.

You shouldn’t buy a car without the V5, of course – but sometimes, it’s not always immediately available. If the owner isn’t strict with their paperwork, they may not immediately have it to hand – meaning unanswered questions until they find it.

But if the V5 isn’t there, you can still carry out some model-detective checks. Some cars, for example, have a sticker inside the driver’s door, that contains trim and engine details for the car. Renault cars commonly have this.

Another option is to run a DVLA vehicle enquiry – this is particularly useful if you’re looking at, say, a BMW, where the owner has gone for the ‘badge delete option’. It will quickly reveal if you’re looking at a BMW 328i or a 323i, a 318i or a 316i…

This will tell you when tax is due, what engine size is, what fuel it uses, even how much CO2 it puts out. It won’t, however, tell you specific information about trim and engine power – use this as an engine size check, not a trim line check.

It is, of course, also a great way of checking whether the tax disc is genuine…

The best way to crack the badge code

There is, however, a much better way, that will tell you all you need to know – using the RAC HPI Car Data Check service.

Carrying out the full check costs £15.50 – but you can enter the registration number for free and get all the spec details called up. If you’re in any doubt, this will answer all your questions.

It is, however, still strongly recommend that you take out full vehicle check as will tell you everything about the car – not just spec, but whether there’s any outstanding finance, insurance claims or other undesirable black spots in the car’s history.

If you feel the owner is trying to pull the wool over eyes, it will be well worth it. The lack of badges on modern cars means some sellers may try it on – make sure you’re not caught out.

Better still, buy from the RAC Cars website, where all models are guaranteed to be exactly what they say on the advert listing…

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