The options on a new vehicle can be confusing and overwhelming, especially when they’re sold as part of a package. What do you really need? What’s nice to have, and what will you never use?
This isn’t about the big-ticket choices: All-wheel drive or two-wheel drive? Gasoline or electric? Sporty or practical? This is about those tempting little extras that the salesperson will tell you cost only a dollar a day over the life of the vehicle. Some are worth it. Some aren’t. Before you get carried away, let’s take a look at seven options that are worth the splurge and seven you’ll probably regret.
Spend your money: Heated seats and steering wheel. You’ll always appreciate heated seats in a Canadian winter, especially when they’re made of leather. Fabric seats don’t get as cold, and warm naturally more quickly. A heated steering wheel, leather-wrapped or not, is like a hot bath for your hands on a cold day.
Save your money: Heated rear seats. Who sits back there, and how often? Do they need heated seats, or can they just sit on a blanket when it’s really cold?
Spend your money: Active cruise control. This used to be a gimmick, using radar to recognize a vehicle in front and keeping you at a set distance behind. It was jerky too, when other vehicles would cut in or pass across. Now, however, it’s been calibrated to be smooth and natural, and means you may never need to touch the pedals while you drive.
Save your money: Integrated navigation. In-car mapping programs are nice to have, but you almost certainly have a mapping program on your smartphone, too, which makes one of them redundant. The exception is when you’re far away from cell coverage, but how often is that?
Spend your money: Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. This software turns your iPhone or Android device into an extension of your car’s digital display screen. It keeps many of the apps on your phone accessible by voice while driving, including text and navigation and phone calls, while safely tucking away the actual smartphone.
Save your money: Wireless charging. You’re too lazy to plug in the cable? If you have wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, then this is a nice convenience, but you probably don’t, and have to plug in your phone anyway.
Spend your money: Keyless entry and ignition. Just keep the key fob in your pocket or your purse. Within a week, you’ll forget what life was like before this.
Save your money: Display screens for rear passengers. These used to be essential for younger kids on long trips, especially in minivans, but now they have phones and tablets that they’d rather use anyway.
Spend your money: Blind-spot monitor. This often costs more, and uses radar to detect and warn against vehicles unseen in your mirror’s blind spots. Once you have it, you’ll come to rely on it for safer lane changes, every time.
Save your money: Digital rear-view mirror. It’s nice to have a clear, wide-angle image of what is behind the vehicle displayed in the regular windshield mirror, but only if your rear vision is obscured by something – people in the back seats, for example, maybe complaining about the cold leather. The driver’s eye normally focuses on objects outside the vehicle, but a digital mirror means it must focus on the mirror’s screen itself, and all that switching back-and-forth with your focus point can be a headache-inducing challenge. After the first few days, you’ll never use this option.
Spend your money: Automatic headlight control. No more blinding the drivers of oncoming vehicles, and no more wondering if your headlights are on full or dip. Just turn the lights to “auto” and forget about them.
Save your money: Swivelling headlamps. These are a costly add-on for already expensive vehicles. They physically move the headlamps in sync with the steering wheel for better visibility around corners. In practice, though, a good set of headlamps doesn’t need to be swivelled and they’re just one more thing to break.
Spend your money: Head-Up Display. HUDs give you important information, like speed and directions, directly on the windshield, which means your eyes stay on the road. But a caveat – many HUDs disappear when viewed through polarized lenses, which makes them pointless while wearing sunglasses. Try one on the brand you’re considering before paying the extra money.
Save your money: Night-vision imaging. This is an option found only on high-end cars, like Audis, Mercedes and Cadillacs. It sounds good: Use an infrared camera to display objects ahead hidden in the night darkness. But the headlights on such cars are already exceptionally good, and the image is displayed on a separate screen below your usual line of sight, which is not where you should be looking. The only reason you’ll even turn this on is to impress passengers, and they may sound impressed, but they’re not.