En español | Car buyers face many more choices than deciding on a car's color. Manufacturers offer packages of sophisticated add-ons that can make autos safer, easier, more comfortable and more entertaining to drive. But the options — which don’t come standard with basic models — can quickly add up, boosting a car’s price by thousands of dollars, so it’s important to shop for what's important to you. AARP's free Auto Buying Program is one option for finding the car and features that are right for you.
Before buying piecemeal, check the automaker’s packages of features. Options sometimes are automatically included as part of a vehicle’s trim level or style. Or the dealer may group them together at a discount as “value packages” or “equipment groups.” Just be sure you’re not spending extra for something you may not really want (headlight washers, for example).
Prices vary considerably, depending on whether you buy these features as packages or individually, and depending on what the dealer might offer. With that in mind, here are some add-ons worth considering:
Safety: Thanks to radar and computer controls, cars are getting smarter and safer than ever. While features differ between makers, look for blind-spot detectors, collision warning with automatic braking, and automatic cruise control, which will modify your car’s speed to match traffic, says Tom McParland, a car buying consultant and writer for the auto news site Jalopnik.com. While these technology features add to the expense, they can reduce the risk of accidents.
USB ports: A port makes it easy to keep your phone powered up and connected to audio systems. Whether it’s for charging your phone or listening to music, many people consider this option a must-have convenience.
Seat warmers: These can make a big difference on cold mornings, and many drivers (and their passengers) find them well worth the typically small investment. Most brands offer this option even for cars with cloth seats.
Self-parking technology: Largely limited to luxury cars, this option particularly appeals to those living in a city or neighborhood where parallel parking is a way of life. “It might be worth it from a time and safety perspective, particularly if you aren’t as confident in your parking abilities,” says Richard Reina, product training director for CARiD.com, an aftermarket automotive retailer.
Automatic headlights: A sensor to detect light conditions and oncoming traffic turns your headlights on automatically when you start your car in the dark. It also will activate the high beams on dark stretches of road, and then click them off when a car approaches. It’s one less thing you need to think about.
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto: This feature seamlessly integrates cellphone digital assistants like Siri with your car. It can read and send texts, and places popular phone apps, including podcasts, music streaming and maps, on your dashboard screen.
Teen monitoring: If your kids or grandkids will be driving, you may want to look at options that can monitor and limit driver behavior. While systems differ, most allow you to keep radios from blasting and set a top speed cap. Lauren Fix, a race car driver who calls herself “The Car Coach” and writes at LaurenFix.com, particularly likes Ford’s My Key, which does both of the above as well as keep audio off until seat belts are on. “This is great for new drivers," Fix says. Smart safety features are becoming popular with other brands, too.
Keyless entry: Much more than a remote control, this system detects a key fob in your purse or pocket and automatically unlocks the doors. “This may not sound like much, but when you’re arriving at your car with your arms full of groceries, it really comes in handy,” says Jim Milan of Auto Accessories Garage.
Bluetooth connectivity: The wireless feature lets your phone talk to your car — and you talk on your phone — without taking your eyes off the road. You may also be able to get voice-to-text software allowing you to send text messages on the go.
Back-up camera: Driving in reverse no longer means having to turn your head. The back-up camera, which beeps when you come close to another object, has proven so valuable that it’s federally mandated standard equipment on all cars manufactured after May.