Finding the right car at the right price is a complex issue, one dependent on personal tastes and the comfort, utility and economical requirements of every driver. Optional extras are one factor that experts and consumers alike have to weigh up when looking for that bargain. And whilst it’s tempting to chuck out everything you can possibly live without in pursuit of the most economical deal, optional extras aren’t actually that simple.
We all want to have the best car we can reasonably afford, and some features enhance our ride to the point where they are more or less indispensible. Furthermore, there are actually long-term benefits in paying for certain optional extras up front.
Optional extras – always worth a look
What would you say your views are on metallic paint? Love it? Think it’s ok? Mostly indifferent? Whilst many of you will fall into the latter category, I reckon you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who actually dislikes the stuff. Does that alone make it a worthwhile optional extra? Oddly, yes. The truth is that, since no one hates it and a few people like it, there are many who will pay extra for metallic paint at any stage of a vehicle’s life. Despite offering no practical benefit whatsoever, metallic paint can actually improve the resale value of your car. Along similar lines, leather seats and a popular, neutral colour (e.g. – silver) are other well-known depreciation busters.
Increasingly only optional on barebones models, air conditioning is a feature that most cannot live without. The comfort benefit should not be underestimated and it has practical benefits in cold weather.
Though you may want to skip the sensors if you’re in the market for a city car, parking sensors are an invaluable addition to larger cars and practically essential as you move further and further up the car size chart. Sure, you should be a good enough driver to have a feel for exactly how much space your vehicle occupies. But even the best drivers have lapses in judgement: taking the sensor option may save you money in the long run, and it’ll make you more confident about finding a parking space
Optional extras – useful but overpriced
Dedicated sat nav units are going through a rough patch thanks to the navigation apps in everyone’s smartphones. Honestly, we’re not convinced that smartphones provide a better alternative: they’re far too small and can be unreliable in terms of data usage and battery life. But if you get a satnav for your car, you’re probably best off buying a stand-alone one rather than one actually built into your dashboard.
Whilst having an onboard computer is where manufacturers are naturally headed (fulfilling all of your Knight Rider fantasies) many car makers are charging too much for something with terrible software. Worse still, there are plenty of horror stories out there about extortionate maintenance charges when they go wrong. There are exceptions out there, but things need to change before the potential of sat nav as a built-in option is realised.
Bluetooth is the standard for wireless communications and facilitates hand-free operation of just about every mobile phone on the market. The trouble is, manufacturers are still charging anywhere between £150 and £600 for a built-in system. Aftermarket kits cost a pitiful fraction of the cheapest extra and it’s not like they clutter up your dashboard like a satnav kit does. If you can get a good deal on this option, consider it a modern essential. Otherwise, it’s probably best avoided.
Whether you’re looking at a central-dashboard entertainment system or screens for the back of your seats, you’re possibly saving yourself from the “Are we there yet?” headaches of bored children. But you’ll pay through the nose for the feature, and there are alternatives. Portable games consoles and music players will keep them entertained, and if you absolutely must have movies, you can probably invest in an iPad for your passengers for a similar price. An onboard system does have benefits – you’re not relying on battery power – so it’s still worth considering the option if you have the budget.
Optional extras – caution recommended
Always an odd one – you’ll pay quite a bit extra for sports suspension but the benefit to handling is compromised by comfort. Definitely a ‘try before you buy’ proposition: some drivers love being able to tackle corners like a racing driver, but most will find themselves feeling like they’re driving a car which is a lot less refined and satisfying. Sometimes, spending less is more.
Purchasing cruise control should be approached with caution chiefly because operating it should be. Flipping to cruise control is good for taking the strain out of those longer motorway journeys. However, you shouldn’t assume that cruise control is good for maintaining constant speed and cutting out all your other driving hassles. Cruise control is inconsistent when heading downhill and you override it when you’re pressing down on the accelerator – so don’t expect it to keep you safe from speed traps.
Optional extras – completely unnecessary
Someone, somewhere, is probably still arguing that CDs sound discernibly better than digital audio (and that LPs sound ‘warmer’). We argue that anyone who can tell the difference is probably suffering from tinnitus and self-delusion. The choice is simple: you could lug around a collection of CDs and switch between a handful of them, or carry your whole collection around in a device which sits in your palm (or would do, if you weren’t driving). Oh, and some manufacturers (e.g. Audi) consider the use of writeable CDs as a breach of warranty if they get stuck. Strange but true.
Pursuing some kind of SAS automotive fantasy, night vision is the ultimate misguided gimmick, a more money than sense option for luxury vehicles. Headlights show you everything you need to see and they don’t require that you take your eyes off the road and look at a pokey little monitor either.
You should also read: The Car Expert’s Ten Golden Rules for buying a car