Examples of Popular Options
To stay within their personal budgets, many new-car shoppers choose a limited number of options. It can be helpful to group the vast array of available features into broad categories, as shown below. By studying these groups, you can narrow your choices to a manageable and affordable number of extra-cost items.
Comfort and Convenience Options
This is probably the most popular category. These features are often standard on higher-priced versions of a car but optional or unavailable on lower-priced models. They include:
- Seating layout and upholstery variations
- Power locks and windows
- Heated mirrors
- Upgraded climate-control systems
- Remote keyless entry
Entertainment and Communications Options
Advanced audio and video entertainment systems and other electronic devices are very popular. They include:
- CD players: Most midrange vehicles now come standard with CD players. A multidisc CD changer, typically able to hold six CDs, is the next step up the options ladder.
- Advanced stereo components: Automakers now offer high-powered amplifiers, multiple speakers and full audio systems from such high-end audio companies as Bose, Mark Levinson and Monsoon.
- Satellite radio: This feature has found its way into a large number of car and truck models.There's a monthly fee to access more than 100 music and talk channels.
- MP3 players: In keeping with the popularity of hand-held players, most models have added MP3 jacks to their options lists. For some, like the 2010 Chevrolet Impala, one even comes standard.
- DVD entertainment systems: Because of their propensity toward children passengers, minivans were the first vehicles to offer this option en masse. Now, nearly all new minivans have optional DVD systems. DVD players are also available in sport utility vehicles and even a handful of sedans and wagons.
- Navigation systems: Once among the most costly factory-installed accessories in the luxury segment, navigation systems have trickled down to the options lists of midpriced models. Many automakers offer communication systems in their vehicles that feature navigation services.
- Phones: Hands-free, factory-installed phones are appearing due to bans on cell phone usage while driving. A number of vehicles also offer communication systems with internet and email access that operate only when parked.
Dual front airbags are required on all passenger cars and most light trucks, but side-impact and side curtain airbags and head-protection devices are often available as either standard or optional equipment on models outside the luxury category. Other safety options include:
- Intelligent cruise control: This cruise control variant uses radar to determine the space between your car and the vehicle ahead, adjusting your speed to maintain a safe distance.
- Parking-assist systems: These systems warn drivers of obstacles to the rear while backing up. Several models even have optional rearview cameras that display on a small monitor on the dashboard or in the rearview mirror.
- Headlights: Xenon headlights have appeared either as standard or optional equipment on quite a few luxury and near-luxury models. Xenon lights offer a better view of the road, but they can also distract oncoming drivers.
Whether it's with fancy wheels, pinstripes, a flashy paint job or gold-toned exterior trim, people love to personalize their vehicles. To meet demand, a thriving aftermarket industry has emerged that specializes in post-purchase accessories. Car manufacturers are trying to capitalize on the interest in customization by offering these kinds of accessories right at the dealership.
Unique paint jobs are becoming more and more popular with consumers. Special wheels have also become hot items. Standard-size steel wheels and covers can seem lackluster, but polished aluminum or chrome-clad wheels capture attention.
Larger, more powerful engines are the most obvious choices in this category. Bigger engines typically consume more fuel, but not necessarily a lot more. The trade-off in increased acceleration and passing power often makes it well worth the price. While upgrading to a bigger engine may mean getting a more expensive model, Volkswagen, for example, offers as many as four different engines on some of its models. Flex-fuel engines that run of E85 are also available E85 is a combination of ethanol alcohol and gas, and has debatable environmental benefits. Most GM models can run on either gas or E85.
Performance extras also include firmer sport suspensions, wider and more aggressive tires, and trailer-towing hitches. Off-road equipment can be a helpful item on four-wheel-drive SUVs and pickup trucks.
Shoppers used to choose solely between an automatic transmission and a manual gearbox. But several new possibilities have entered the market. Continuously variable automatic transmissions, which have no gear ratios and accelerate without occupants feeling traditional shifts, are available on several models, including the 2009 Audi A4, 2009 Nissan Cube, 2009 Honda Insight, 2009 Nissan Muranoand 2010 Toyota Prius. Several automakers, including Audi, BMW, Mitsubishi, Porsche and and Volkswagen, offer sequentially shifting automated-manual transmissions on select models, which give performance junkies faster shifts than a regular automatic or manual transmission delivers.
Options vs. Packages
Even though you may desire a seemingly minor option on a prospective new car, automakers often compel consumers to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to obtain wanted features. How? By creating packages of related options.
In some options packages, the manufacturer lumps several available features into one jointly priced group. You might want heated mirrors and an alarm on your vehicle, for instance, but the only way to get them is to buy a $1,225 package that also includes an electric rear-window defogger, a luggage rack and a remote keyless entry system, among other accessories.
Many packages that are marketed today include unrelated items in contrast to, say, leather packages that were limited to upholstery-focused features. On the other hand, a safety package is likely to include such items as side-impact airbags and antilock brakes rather than frivolous accessories.
Car companies defend the practice by saying they are offering the features that most consumers want on a particular model — at substantial discounts compared with what they would cost individually. Even though this claim is often true, option packages also limit how much you can tailor your vehicle to your own tastes at an affordable price.