- Auto makers offer hundreds of optional features on most models — and charge extra for most of them.
- Some features provide excellent value, while others are merely bells and whistles that you probably won’t use.
- Safety and technology upgrades will retain their value more than cosmetic ones.
Some upgrades are just worth the money. While a lot of the extra features available for cars, trucks and SUVs today aren’t necessary or really worth the added expense (heated steering wheels and sunroofs, for starters), many add-on features are valuable and can enhance not only the convenience of a vehicle but its safety too. Here is a list of worthwhile features that you should consider getting in the next vehicle you buy.
11. Blind Spot Warnings
Let’s start with a valuable safety feature. Blind spot warnings can be hugely beneficial to drivers. It alerts drivers that a vehicle beside them is in their blind spot. The warning comes in either a visual and/or audio notification. It saves people from constantly having to look over their shoulder to see if there is another car alongside them (although you should still make it a habit to look).
Studies undertaken by Consumer Reports have shown definitively that blind spot warnings reduce injuries and crashes, and many insurance companies now provide discounted rates for vehicles that come equipped with built-in blind spot detection and warning systems.
10. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay aren’t going to save any lives, but if you have some extra money to spend, you could do worse than to spend it on one of these upgrades for your vehicle. These systems allow drivers to interface with their smartphones while driving, accessing the internet, navigation, messaging apps, and listening to music playlists.
They have the added benefit of encouraging drivers to put their phones down while in transit and interact with their vehicle’s built-in screen, letting them pay more attention to driving and less time looking down at the phone in their hand. Okay, we guess they might provide a bit of extra safety if drivers can get in the habit of asking Siri where the closest gas station is instead of fumbling with their iPhone in traffic.
9. Automatic High Beams
A great feature to have when driving at night, this system is built right into the vehicle. It will automatically turn on your high beams on when there is no oncoming traffic or vehicles ahead, then switches back to low beams as soon as traffic appears in the distance.
The automatic high beam system prevents you from accidently blinding other people by taking the responsibility for switching between high and low beam lights out of your hands. An automatic high beam system also promotes greater use of high beams overall (some people just never bother to use them at all), which makes for safer driving at nighttime. Worth the investment if you can afford it.
8. Wireless Charging Pad
Another excellent and much improved convenience in modern cars are wireless charging pads. They use induction to directly charge a smartphone battery without it having to be connected to a USB outlet. This feature makes the list simply for being a huge upgrade over the traditional USB ports that are used to charge phones.
Whereas USB charging is generally slow, the wireless charging pads recharge a smartphone incredibly fast. And most of the newest smartphones available today can be charged this way. Older model smartphones might require a special case to take advantage of wireless charging pads. And, despite their speed, wireless charging pads are less of a drain on the vehicle’s battery than USB ports.
7. Forward Collision Warning
When a collision is imminent, drivers typically have only seconds to react – and that’s if they are even aware that an accident is about to occur. Studies show most drivers do not know a collision is going to happen until it is too late. This fact makes forward collision warning systems a feature worth upgrading to in your next vehicle.
The system provides drivers with a visual and/or audio warning that a collision may be imminent, giving them advance warning, time to react and potentially avoid disaster. This is the type of safety feature that was unthinkable a few years ago, but that can save lives and make roads and highways safer for everyone. Combined with automatic emergency braking (more on that later), and it makes everyone much safer.
6. Multizone Climate Systems
This is a feature that might be worth the expense for people with large families, or who take frequent road trips with friends. Multizone climate systems enable drivers and passengers to set their own temperature for their area (or zone) of the vehicle. Often the backseats can be included as a separate zone too.
In many vehicle models today, both front and rear-seat passengers can manage their own climate controls, raising or lowering the temperature to their own comfort. This can be a great feature for families that have some members who are always hot and others who are always cold. A potential stress reliever on long road trips, because no one likes arguing over the AC or heat.
5. Auto-Dimming Mirrors
Another great feature for night driving is auto-dimming mirrors. These fancy mirrors help prevent driver distraction from bright lights in the rear-view mirror at nighttime. Auto-dimming mirrors sense headlights shining from behind, and automatically switch modes so that the glass in the mirror darkens and prevents glare.
This is particularly useful when driving on dark rural roads, and when a car traveling behind has its high beams on and is in proximity. If you do a lot of night-time driving (or simply find your eyes really strained by the headlights of other cars), auto-dimming mirrors are a great convenient option for your car.
4. WiFi Hotspot
While WiFi hotspots are hardly a necessity in any vehicle, they are one of the few features that might pay for themselves over time. This is because built-in WiFi hotspots allow passengers in the vehicle to use their mobile devices without eating up their cellular data plans, which can be extremely expensive.
WiFi hotspots are usually bundled with upgraded infotainment packages and are worth considering for the convenience and potential savings. However, it’s important to know is that most hotspot services are free for an introductory period, before people must pay a (yet another) monthly fee for data.
Some services offer unlimited data for a flat fee, which might end up less costly than an unlimited data plan from the major wireless phone carriers. These costs vary a lot from country to country (data is ridiculously overpriced in Canada, for example), so do your homework when considering turning your car into a mobile WiFi spot.
3. Rear Cross Traffic Warning
Another nifty safety feature worth the expense is a rear cross traffic warning system. The system works when the vehicle is in reverse, notifying the driver when sensors detect that a vehicle or object is approaching. That could mean a car speeding around the corner, or a kid riding his bike down the sidewalk.
Notably, these systems detect moving objects that can’t be seen in a standard rear-view camera, and might be tough for a driver to see even with their head turned and looking out the back window. Simply put, a rear cross traffic warning system will help to prevent dangerous collisions. This can be extra beneficial to drivers who find reversing as one of the most difficult and stressful aspects of driving.
2. 360-Degree Surround-View Camera Systems
Speaking of seeing behind your vehicle (and everywhere else, for that matter), one of the best features available for upgrade in a vehicle today is a 360-degree surround-view camera system. These systems use cameras located around the entire car (the grille, below the side mirrors, and a rear-view camera) to provide a complete picture of everything outside the vehicle.
The system give drivers a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle as seen from above. They also help drivers check for children and objects (bikes, garbage cans, baseball gloves, pets, etc) that are close by. A 360-degree surround-view camera is particularly helpful when backing up and parking, helping you avoid those tiny fender benders. It’s not surprising that these camera systems are one of the most popular add-on features with consumers.
1. Automatic Emergency Braking
The number one feature that is worth shelling out extra money for is automatic emergency braking. This is a built-in system that applies the brakes automatically when it senses that another vehicle (or person) is in the way. Automatic emergency braking systems can react long before a driver has time to, often preventing a collision altogether or at least reducing the force of an impact that cannot be avoided.
Many – though not all – automatic braking systems include pedestrian detection as well, which is also beneficial. Automatic braking systems are one of the most advanced safety features available today. They are proven to prevent accidents and save lives. Some analysts speculate that the system will eventually become a standard feature in future vehicles. Until then, consider paying to get automatic emergency braking in your next vehicle.
The Bottom Line
The most coveted optional features have legitimate convenience and safety aspects to them. Don’t get us wrong, it’s certainly nice to have Nappa leather seats, a moon roof, a 12-way adjustable driver seat with customizable lumbar support, or a 12-speaker Bose stereo system. But all those things come with a price. If you’re going to spend the money, focus on the items we listed above first.
If money is no object to you, then go ahead and trick you new car out with every single option you’d like. Order it “fully loaded” direct from the manufacture. Just don’t expect the massive up-front cost of your vehicle to hold up in value when it comes to sell it or trade it on. The used car market just doesn’t value some features as much as others, which is why you should focus on safety tech and convenience first — and the extra bells and whistles second.