How Can I Figure Out What Features Are On A Used Car?

Illustration for article titled How Can I Figure Out What Features Are On A Used Car?
Photo: Getty (Getty Images)

As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and a professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve picked a few of your questions and will try to help out. This week we are discussing deciphering options on pre-owned models, and how to prevent wheel theft.


First up, how do you know what options/packages are on a pre-owned model?

“It’s easy to figure out what options/packages are on a new car because you can build them online to see what trims have certain features. However, when buying a used car how can you verify which options are actually on the car you’re looking to buy and how can you tell what options were actually available on a given car in a given year?”

This can be one of the more frustrating aspects of used car buying because it is a bit more work to determine if a car has the features you want. Getting that data depends on the car and who is selling it. Most European brands have accessible build sheets through the dealer network. For example, if you are buying a certified pre-approved Audi that dealer can usually provide you with a copy of the window sticker or build sheet.

Most domestic brands have VIN decoders and window sticker access through various sources. These used to be much easier to find, though sometimes domestic dealers can access window stickers on used cars sold within their own brand.

Cars from Japan or Korea, typically the trim levels from certain model years are pretty consistent in their equipment. So if you look back and find out what a 2016 Honda CR-V EXL had for standard equipment, you can be fairly confident that every 2016 CR-V EXL is going to be the same.

Next what is the best way to prevent your wheels from being stolen?

My husband and I came outside this morning to discover that all four of our rims and tires had been stolen. We have a 2018 Honda Accord. I’ve been reading old Jalopnik pieces on how commonplace this sort of thing is these days—but I’ve been wondering if you or anyone you know has any more current advice about how to prevent this theft from happening again.

We have a parking pad that is reached through a rarely-traveled alley, so I’m worried that we’ll get hit right away after we get the car fixed. There is no street parking on our block, and live in a part of the city that doesn’t have parking garages, so we’ll continue to be vulnerable to this kind of thing.


Unfortunately, wheel theft is a prevalent problem with the Honda Accord, especially the Sport Trim models. If a determined car thief wants your rims they are probably going to succeed, but there are a few things you can do to make your car a more difficult target so the would-be thief will move on to something easier. First, get two sets of wheel locks. Each set requires a special key to unlock them. If you buy two sets from different brands it makes it twice as difficult to get the rims off; it also makes changing your tire a pain, but as long as you have the keys you should be fine. Second, if you can street park, get as close to the curb as possible; the smaller the gap between the car and the curb the more difficult it is to jack it up. If that is not an option for you perhaps there is a wall nearby that you can snug up against. Third, there are also wheel alarms that will go off if the car is disturbed while parked. These are not cheap, but thieves do not want to draw attention to themselves, so if an alarm goes off they are likely to go elsewhere.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at!

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (



1st question: You really have to do your homework if you want specific options on a used car. I wanted a previous generation (2014-2018) Mazda3 hatch with adaptive cruise and automated emergency braking. For that generation, it was part of an option package that was only offered on Grand Touring models. So I used that package as a search filter to bypass the GT cars that didn’t have it.

Unfortunately, the search information is only as good as what the seller enters. Anyone who has tried to filter only manuals or only automatics can tell you that cars get entered with the wrong transmission all the time. I noticed some vehicles listed as having the package I wanted that clearly didn’t, as the pictures showed the steering wheel adaptive cruise buttons weren’t there. That made me suspect I could be missing cars where the seller missed checking the box for the equipment package. After that, I defined my search only for the GT trim level and used the pictures to look for the buttons on the steering wheel. It made the process more time consuming, but in the end I found what I wanted.