Consumer Reports helps you navigate 'Trim Level' sticker shock

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Enter a car dealership with a price in mind and chances are the cost of the car you thought you could afford is probably a lot more. Consumer Reports calls it trim-level sticker shock, and we’re here to give you some advice.

Depending on the features you want, you should expect to pay more than the base price for a car. Features included in trim levels make up different versions of the same model car. Over the past 15 years, trim levels have doubled on some models, and that means more money out of your pocket.

Take the Ford F-150, which has a base price of about $28,000. At the highest trim level, it’s more than $61,000. Or the Subaru Forester for about $23,000 at the base level. Depending on the trim level, you could pay between $26,000 and $36,000.

To confuse matters, you can get specific features only with certain trim levels. That’s because with so many features available, manufacturers have to narrow down the choices.

Therefore, instead of buying features you don’t want to get the ones you do, first focus on the must-have safety features, even if you have to pay extra, rather than on trim levels.

Also remember to negotiate, and be sure to check out Consumer Reports’ used-car reliability ratings.

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