Skip to main content

Car shopping can be challenging, but understanding the terminology shouldn’t be. If you have ever bought a new car from a dealership, you will know that there can be a bewildering array of terms that describe everything from the safety features to the fees and taxes. I mean, what exactly is a destination fee?

Another area where the car buying process and terminology can get confusing is in dealing with options, packages, and accessories. Going wild with the options list can be an expensive proposition, and in the case of the Honda Accord, the difference between a base model and a fully-loaded version is about $21,000. That’s enough to buy another car.

When we talk about options, packages, and accessories, what are we actually referring to? What is the difference between them, and how do they affect your purchase? Today we’re going to get to the bottom of this issue and arm you with some knowledge that may help save you money. Let’s dive in.

What is a car option?

A blue Volkswagon Touran on the assembly line in the factory.
A Volkswagen Touran goes through final assembly at the VW factory | Julian Stratenschulte via Getty Images

As a very general rule, an option is an added piece of equipment for a vehicle that a buyer chooses before purchasing. Options are typically installed at the factory when the car is on the assembly line. These might include a touchscreen infotainment system, a more powerful engine, a different transmission (manual versus automatic), and paint color. 

It is not impossible to fit some of these options after you’ve purchased the car, but they can be expensive to retrofit. A prime example of this would be in the infotainment and multimedia system. If you happen to order your vehicle with a small touchscreen and limited multimedia features, it can get costly to have a larger touchscreen fitted. There are usually additional changes to the car that go along with an infotainment retrofit, such as a different dashboard or wiring harness. 

The bottom line is this, when you are car shopping and thinking about options, consider them the add-on equipment installed by the manufacturer when they build your car. 

What is a package and how is that different than an option?

An interior shot of a Mercedes-Benz infotainment system.
Mercedes-Benz Infotainment System | Matthias Balk via Getty Images

When shopping for a new car, you may consider a number of packages. No, Amazon isn’t going to show up at your door with all the parts for your car in boxes. It refers to a group of options that typically work together.

Here’s an example of a package: BMW’s Dynamic Handling Package. This is a suite of options that BMW groups together for a specific characteristic you may want the vehicle to have, in this case, better handling. The Dynamic Handling Package includes adaptive shock absorbers, larger anti-roll bars, active steering systems, and reprogrammed computers. Each component is grouped into a package for the best and most harmonious result. 

You may want the adaptive suspension system, but it may be ineffective without the other options in the group, so a package would encompass everything you need for the best result.

Sometimes specific packages are available only on specific trim levels or in concert with other packages. A prime example of this happens in the case of the Mazda Miata. If you want the Brembo brake and Recaro seat package, you can only choose the Club trim. This package isn’t available for the Sport or Grand Touring trims.

Think of a package as a group of options that work together to achieve a specific result, whether that is improving handling, enhancing safety, or changing the appearance.

What are accessories and are they the same as options?

A detailed shot of a 2022 Toyota Camry wheel.
2022 Toyota Camry wheel option | Toyota

The simplest way to define an accessory would be to consider it a vehicle add-on that a buyer chooses after purchasing. These might typically include floor-mats, an emergency tire repair kit, a different shifter knob, or even splash guards and spoilers.

These would be small details that improve its experience, styling, or functionality for a buyer. A wireless charging pad for your phone won’t change how the car works or behaves but adds a little extra functionality. 

This also applies to the visual appearance of a vehicle. Subtle changes like adding a spoiler or window deflectors offer a bit of personalization. Much in the same way you choose accessories like a watch or necklace or bracelet. It’s not critical to your functionality but adds details that improve your experience. 

Manufacturers can muddy the waters on terminology

A detailed view of a 2022 Honda Accord climate control and USB port option package.
2022 Honda Accord climate control and USB port options | Honda

Unfortunately, there is no industry standard for differentiating between an option and an accessory. Various manufacturers seem to use these terms interchangeably, which can create confusion. 

Let’s use Toyota and Honda as an example. Toyota lists different style wheels as an accessory, whereas Honda refers to them as options. Honda offers a heated steering wheel as an accessory, and Toyota lists that as an option as part of a package.

Who is right? Is either manufacturer right, or does it not matter? In the end, it probably doesn’t matter how manufacturers choose to refer to different vehicle components. It does matter in how you may choose to equip your new car when shopping. In the case of the heated steering wheel, Honda’s referral to that component as an accessory suggests that you could pop into the dealership and have them install that for you at any point after buying the car. In the case of Toyota, you would need to select that option package before you buy, as it is not a retrofit component.

That can affect the price of a car by hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  

How do options, packages, and accessories affect buying a car and your wallet?

An exterior view of a Volkswagon dealership with cars in front.
Volkswagen car dealer | Ole Spata via Getty Images

In the simplest terms, accessories can generally be added to a vehicle at any time, either before purchasing or after. Options usually need to be chosen before you buy. It can be prohibitively expensive to have them added after the car is already built. 

Going back to the heated steering wheel example, if you chose to forgo that option on the Toyota, you might not be able to have that feature added after you purchase the car. In the case of Honda, you could decide a few months after buying the car that you would like that feature and have the dealership install it.

Selecting these options and accessories is also much more cost-effective when initially buying the car, as they are installed while the vehicle is on the assembly line. That allows you to avoid any labor charges that a dealership may charge for installation. 

Worrying about what the terms options, accessories, and packages mean may seem a bit silly. It has an enormous impact on the cost of your new vehicle. Understanding that after a purchase, an option can’t be added, but an accessory can, could end up saving you thousands of dollars and regret when shopping for your new car. 

Related: These Are the 5 Most Expensive New Car Options


Forgotten Hypercar Prototype Found in a Barn is Barn Find Nobility