Value Versus Frivolity

By Chelle Cordero

September 2, 2015 4 min read

Buying a new car is expensive. Buyers can get mired in debt even before driving the car out of the showroom. And those eye-catching add-ons make a consumer drool for the latest and greatest. Is it wiser to just say no, or are some of those temptations actually must-haves?

According to a recent report by Consumer Reports, there are options that are absolutely worth the expense and other options that are less desirable. Consumer Reports advises thorough research before purchasing gesture/character recognition on touch screens; iPod/iPad/HDMI audio/video adapter (Bluetooth adapters are often more versatile); CD/DVD player and rear entertainment systems (iPods and many smartphones offer music and movie capabilities); start-stop systems turn the engine off at stoplights to save gas (the gas savings is minimal); built-in navigation (most smartphones offer up-to-date navigation); car-based Wi-Fi (most cellphone plans offer mobile hot spots without an additional data subscription); turbochargers (they don't show a proven record of a fuel economy, but they can increase repair and maintenance costs); optional cooled seats (this is a preference); and lane-keeping assist (this is instead of the lane-departure alerts, which allow the driver to retain full control).

Dealers often try to sell features such as undercoating, fabric protection and paint protection. New cars come with a clear-coat finish, which protects the paint and helps to keep it from fading; if the car is already a few years old, then cheap do-it-yourself paint protection can be applied like a wax. Mike Quincy, a Consumer Reports Auto Test Center specialist in Connecticut says, "Most carmakers advise against waxing or sealing the paint on a new car."

In the 1990s, GM told customers that undercoating wasn't vital and could actually void warranties. Today's cars are typically using less steel (translating to less rust) and already have rustproofing applied. Unless you are driving gravel-ridden or heavily salted roads, most cars will stand up to the ride without additional undercoating; however, if your conditions indicate the need, make sure that you use a reputable company as an improperly done job can cause more damage than no undercoating. If you will be using your car for transporting pets, fabric protection is helpful, but you can use over-the-counter spray protection for a few dollars per can.

Extended warranties need to be thoroughly investigated before making a decision. The Better Business Bureau published a document in 2011 about the vehicle service contract industry. Often misrepresented as extended warranties, the service contract is most often a third-party agreement to cover maintenance and basic repairs. The contract can be insured by yet another party to guarantee coverage. A warranty is offered by the manufacturer and included in the purchase price. If considering a service contract, it is wise to know who the provider and the insurer are (as well as their home states), exactly what is and is not covered, who has to make repairs, what parameters are used to qualify coverage (does it void coverage if you change your own oil, etc.), and cancellation and refund procedures.

Some options recommended by Consumer Reports include driver-side power memory seats for multiple drivers, forward and rear collision-warning systems, backup cameras, blind-spot monitoring, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, keyless entry, automatic high beams and a spare tire.

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