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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).
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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.