Driver And Driving

What Does SEL Mean On A Car?

Mike Cross
Updated Jul 4, 2021

One of the terms that sticks out at times about a car is SEL. But what does SEL mean? SEL stands for Special Edition Limited. It’s a certain type of trim that is included in most vehicle brands like Ford. If you think trim is just a design thing, you’d be surprised to know that it actually goes beyond that. In this article, we’ll dig into what exactly is the difference between an SEL trim and the other trims on a car.

So, What Does SEL Mean On A Car?

As mentioned, SEL stands for Special Edition Limited. Before we go any further, this shouldn’t be confused with special limited edition or the like. That pertains to rare cars or a limited amount of models of a certain car that was manufactured. SEL is considered to be a type of trim. While it may be a certain type of design, known what trim you have will depend on what’s under the hood.

For example, let’s take a look at the Ford Focus. More specifically, let’s take a look at the 2018 Ford Focus SEL Hatchback Model. The standard engine of this SEL model is a 2.0-liter Ti-VCT GDI I-4 FFV engine offering 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. Other Ford Focus models with a different trim will have engines with more or less horsepower and torque.

What Is A Trim Level?

A trim level is an identification system used by car manufacturers based on the level of equipments and special features that come with the vehicle. The equipment and features that are fitted on a particular vehicle will depend on the options package or any individual options that was ordered by the buyer. For most car models, a trim level indicates which equipment and features are considered standard. The buyer themselves can add this standard equipment using individual options or as part of a package deal. The trim that has the least equipment and features is known as the “base model”. Likewise, the trim that has the most equipment and features is considered to be the “fully loaded” model.

As mentioned, one of the main differences of each trend is what’s under the hood and the inner workings. A trim level can include mechanical differences such as engines, suspension, or all-wheel drive systems. Some car brands will use a different car model rather than consider it as a trim level. Which means that the difference between models and trim level can vary depending on the brand. One such example is Volkswagen’s Golf model. VW could have marketed the Golf GTi model as a standalone or as a trim within the Golf model itself.

The Trim Naming System

The trim levels are often based on a pair of letters. For example, SE or GT. The naming can even be a mix of letters or numbers such as Z28 or ZR5. It can even be a simple word or two like Executive Edition or Deluxe. One of the earlier designations can be dated back as far as the 1960s. For example, Ford used the letters GT for its 1965 Mustang model. Just four years earlier in 1961, Chevrolet included “SS” as part of their new Impala.

General Motors began designating trim level identification by using the alphanumeric coding for their models. These included the Camaro Z28, Oldsmobile 442, the Buick GS, and the Z71 on the Suburban and Tahoe. Nissan began using a name for a trim for the highest trim level of two of their models: the Cedric and the Gloria. That name would be known as “Brougham”. These types of models were sold throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Options Package

Manufacturers will sometimes sell options packages that will consist of a bundle of options. They will typically sell them at a discounted price. Buyers can even choose individual options that can comprise of their own custom package deal. These packages include, but are not limited to the following:

Trim/Appearance Package: This package can include special paint colors, interior upgrades, and exterior decals. Some of the packages that were offered in the past would include pinstriping, two-toned paint, vinyl roof covers, and bumpers painted the same color as the body itself.

Sports Performance Package: These include upgrades in the engine and handling system. This also includes a front and rear spoiler system, upgraded brakes, and a limited slip differential. These packages may often be found in SUVs or light trucks. At the same time, a package can also include racks with tie-downs for transporting off-road vehicles and other equipment.

Towing: In this package, this includes large cooling fans, heavy duty radiator, revised axle gearing, and extra transmission cooling provisions.

Safety: The safety package can consist of additional air bags. Also included in the package may be seat belt pre-tensioners, collision avoidance system or AEB, electronic stability control, and adaptive headlights.

Handling: This handling package may coincide with the sports performance package. The elements include stiffer springs, shock absorbers, and anti-roll bars. Larger, but lightweight wheels, or higher grip tires.

Navigation: This may include your GPS with turn-by-turn instructions or satellite navigation.

Is An SEL Trim Better Than Any Other?

Choosing the right trim may or may not matter to you. But it can depend on the certain type of features you want in your vehicle. If you’re in the market for a new car and find a model that interests you, see if there is an SEL model available. Remember, what is included in an SEL trim will depend on the car brand or model. It may even be the best trim of a model or it may not.


Now that you know what SEL means on a car, you can also familiarize yourself with the other trims that are offered by other car brands. This can also help you determine which trim is best for you if you’re dead set on buying a specific vehicle model. Remember, each trim has features and functions that are different from each other.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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2 comments on “What Does SEL Mean On A Car?”

  1. How do I reactivate my seatbelt chime? It doesn’t chime when moving and the seatbelts are locked.

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