Most buyers know a base model vehicle is cheaper than a loaded up trim level of the same vehicle. While buying a base model can save you a few bucks, the missing technology, safety, performance, and convenience features might not be worth the price difference. Some buyers will attempt to add these features to a base model in an attempt to get what they want at a better price. Is it worth it? Can you save money by upgrading the base model with navigation, heated seats, and premium wheels yourself, or does this route cost more?
Today we’re going to look at a few popular models in Carvana’s inventory and compare base models versus loaded models. With that price difference in mind, we’ll look at adding content, and what each piece of technology/luxury costs to have installed. Here’s how to know if you should buy loaded, or take the savings and do it yourself with the base model.
The Toyota Camry is still the best-selling car in the U.S., although the RAV4 is Toyota’s highest seller here. On the base end, the LE rounds out the base model Camry trims, along with the hard to find L. At the other end, the XSE V6 is the loaded model with lots of extra equipment. We found the LE and XSE in Carvana’s inventory, both three years old and showing mid-30,000 miles on the odometer. However, the Carvana price on the LE is $14,700, while the XSE V6 is listed at $18,400. With a difference of $3,700 burning a hole in your pocket, here’s your upgrade shopping list:
- Since all trim levels of the Camry come with a backup camera, you’ll want to keep that as you add navigation to your base model. The most affordable nav system with a camera is found on everything-audio megasite Crutchfield. You’ll want the Boss BN965BLC for $269.
- Sound System
- The JBL sound system is a bit on the pricey side when buying a new Camry, but Amazon has everything you need to replicate it, including speakers, amp, and install kit, for $370 and free two-day shipping.
- Satellite Radio
- Since the base stereo head unit won’t understand satellite radio input, you have to swap out the head unit for a double-din touchscreen that looks factory. A Pioneer unit is available at Amazon for a surprisingly affordable $219.49. However, this causes a problem, as it takes the place of the Boss navigation system we installed earlier. Meaning you can’t add both navigation and satellite radio like the factory offers. You’ll have to pick one.
- Moon Roof
- The moon roof is a rather technical installation as it involves cutting the exterior roof, and powering it to open and close. The Camry is a common platform for sunroofs, but an aftermarket unit will still start around $1,500 installed.
- You can buy the XSE spoiler directly from Toyota for $219. After having it shipped to you, and installed and painted by an affordable body shop, that’s another $250.
- The LE has standard 17 inch wheels, but the XSE is wearing some nice looking silver and black 18s. There are new sets on eBay for $279 each, adding up to $1,116 a set. Then you’ll need tires. Tire Rack has original factory equipment as the 225/45/18 Bridgestone Turanza, at $177.40. Times four, that’s $709.60 before mounting, balancing, and fees, which a local tire shop will want to charge around $150 to do the job.
- One last note on the Camry, the base has a competent and thrifty 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 178 horsepower, but the XSE’s V6 is a powerful 3.5-liter making 268 horsepower. You could go the upgrade route here, but an engine swap alone will cost more than your $3,700 budget.
The calculator says your fancied-up base model Camry has almost all the equipment of the XSE, for an additional cost of $4,803. Upgrading a base model costs over $1,100 more than buying the higher end model. That price accounts for you installing the navigation, sound system, and satellite radio. A professional installing everything brings the total cost closer to $5,500. And you still don’t have the V6 engine or XSE badge ($36 on eBay).
So the Camry was a money loser when upgrading a base model, but what about a truck? The F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., and there are a lot of upgrades available. The XL is your basic work truck, identified by an unpainted black plastic grille on the front. The King Ranch isn’t the highest trim model, but it’s up there right behind Limited and Platinum, and is easier to find. The price differences here are enormous. A three-year old F-150 XL with 20,000 miles is $27,200, priced lower than a four-year old King Ranch with 35,000 miles at an even $34,000. Yup, the newer base XL with a year’s less mileage is $6,800 less expensive.
While that is a good chunk of change to source and install parts, the King Ranch is loaded with upgrades. You will need to source and add the luxury package (leather steering wheel and shift knob, and chrome dash pieces), keyless start, a power sliding rear window, Bluetooth capability, a CD player (that’s right, base doesn’t always have that), something called Crew Chief Telematics, parking sensors, navigation, SiriusXM, Sony premium sound, and Sync infotainment. Then there’s also two-tone paint, HID lighting, that previously mentioned expensive moon roof, awesome heated/cooled leather dual power seats, and premium 20-inch chrome wheels with Pirelli all-terrain tires. Suddenly that $6,800 difference doesn’t look like enough. Crunching the numbers, it’s about $2,600 short, before accounting for the massive performance differences between the 2.7-liter/6-speed and the King Ranch’s 3.5-liter/10-speed.
While it is theoretically possible to create a high end trim version out of your base model, it’s not a cost effective solution. Manufacturers buy components in bulk at a lower price than you can source, and installation during assembly is a one-minute job. Your best deal can be had by selecting a certified used vehicle with the options you want already installed, and get it for a great price with a 7-day Money Back Guarantee.