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From Side Air Bags to Run-Flat Tires: The New Car Options That are Worth It & Those You Should Avoid

There's a lot more to buying a car than simply picking out the model and the color. Automakers are coming out with an increasingly vast array of options aimed to make your car safer, smarter, flashier, more comfortable and more fun.

car safety features

Always put safety before comfort or entertainment when it comes to choosing options.

Sorting through all of these options is no easy task, particularly if you're on a budget. Often, consumers opt for options that increase comfort while forgoing those that could save their lives -- a big mistake, according to Consumer Reports.

A 2005 survey by the non-profit group found that some safety features recommended by Consumer Reports' car experts were not rated as very important by a large number of respondents.

"These findings indicate that car buyers need to be better-educated about key safety features that have been shown to be highly effective in reducing auto-related accidents and deaths," says Rik Paul, Consumer Reports' automotive editor.

New Car Option Necessities

When you buy your next car, here is the list of options that are must-haves:

Side Airbags: Most cars nowadays have air bags, but not all include side-impact airbags to protect you if you're hit from the side.

Anti-Lock Brakes: If it doesn't come with your car, be sure to get them. It will help you to keep your steering under control when you have to brake rapidly.

Curtain Airbags: These will protect your head in the event of a collision (an increasingly important option if you're in a smaller car, given the large number of SUVs and trucks on the road whose bumpers are around head-level of someone in a sedan).

Electronic Stability Control/Pre-Collision Systems: This kicks in automatically to prevent accidents (it can apply the brakes or reduce engine power, for instance). Also worthwhile are stability systems that help to prevent rollovers. The even newer pre-collision systems can alert a driver who's not looking forward when an accident might occur and can activate other options in the car to keep the occupants safe, such as closing windows, adjusting seat positions for air bag effectiveness and activating safety-belt pretensioners.

Rear Bumper Camera or Sensors: These will alert you if a child, pet or fixed object is located behind your car.

new car options

An option's value is often dependent on your lifestyle. Travel into uncharted territories a lot? For you, a navigation system may be worth its weight in gold.

Options to Consider

These options are not necessities, but if you've got a few extra dollars to spend could be worth having.

Run-Flat Tires: If you get a flat tire, run-flat (or zero-pressure) tires allow you to drive on the completely flat tire long enough to get to a repair shop. The downside is that they reportedly need to be replaced more often than regular tires, can cost twice as much and, with tire pressure monitoring systems to become mandatory on all cars by 2008, may not be all that necessary to prevent a blowout.

All-Wheel Drive: This can help you stay in control of your car, particularly if you live in areas that get lots of snow and ice.

Heated/Cooled Seats: A nice treat in the cold winter months or the hot summer ones.

Navigation System: If you are not good with directions or are constantly driving to new, unfamiliar areas, this can be a good investment.

Premium Sound Systems/DVD Players: If you spend a lot of time in your car and love music (or want to entertain your kids), this may be worth it to you. If you're only in your car for 20 minutes a day, it's probably not worthwhile.

Bluetooth Hands-Free Phones: A great gadget that lets you talk on the phone without taking your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel.

Next Generation Night Vision: This uses infrared technology to sense heat from people, animals and stopped cars, and allows you to see objects beyond the scope of your headlights. Some users have found night vision systems to be distracting, however.

Blind Spot Sensors: These systems use cameras or LED displays to warn drivers when there's a vehicle or person in their vehicle's blind spot.

Options to Avoid

When it comes to options, more is not always better. Here's a list of options that you're better off saving your money on.

Active Cruise Control: This automatically keeps you a certain distance from the car in front of you. Though it sounds useful, reports say that it may not work smoothly just yet.

Rustproofing, Fabric Protection, Sealant: These items have either already been done by the manufacturer, or you can do them yourself easily and inexpensively.

VIN Etching: Etching your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into the car's window is an option to help identify your car if it's stolen. If you want it, you can do it yourself with a kit for a fraction of the price.

What's the bottom line? A car's options are only as valuable as you perceive them to be. Buy the car that makes you happy, but if you're choosing between a limited number of options, be sure you always opt for those that will keep you safe over those for entertainment or comfort.

Recommended Reading

The Safest and Most Dangerous Cars and Trucks for 2007

The Health Risks of Long Commutes: Why Routine Long Car Rides Can be Hazardous to Your Health


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