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High-Tech Car Options: Splurge or Save

If it’s been a few years since you last shopped for a new car, brace yourself. Some of today’s vehicles have high-tech options that are straight out of the Jetsons. Cars aren’t flying yet, but some can drive and park themselves. And dashboards that used to house a radio and a few knobs now have digital touch screens the size of your first TV.  
Like just about everything in the world of cars, some new features are must-haves and others are may-as-well-avoids.

Remote Start

At roughly $250-$400 dealer price, this is largely a personal call. If cold winter nights are a problem, starting the engine from your office or a restaurant and allowing the car to heat up in January is priceless. Aftermarket remote starters can be bought and installed for about half the dealer price, but having the same remote for the door locks, trunk and ignition is worth the extra money. Verdict: Take it.

Navigation Systems

Why pay for something your smartphone already has? Another personal decision here, but also a geographical one. If you live or spend a lot of time in areas without cellular coverage, the factory nav system is the way to go. If not, use your phone. The software is updated more frequently – and for no charge. Verdict: Pass.

Surround-View Monitors

Now that backup cameras are mandatory, automakers are pushing cams that show the view from all directions. While a nice feature, it may only help drivers who need to routinely navigate tight corners and parking spaces. If that’s you, the $1,000 aftermarket price will beat most dealers. Verdict: Pass.

Blind-Spot Monitors

Another $1,000 option, but it’s worth it to know there’s a car in the lane you’re about to enter. Warnings vary from lights on your side mirrors, a vibrating steering wheel, a beeping sound, sometimes a combination. In heavy traffic, the constant warnings may become a nuisance, so give the system a test drive in those conditions before you pull the trigger. Verdict: Smart move.

Self-Parking Systems

Another option that boils down to personal preference, or maybe parking ability. Even early versions do a nearly flawless job of parallel parking. But experienced parkers can do it just as well and in less time. If you’re bad at parking and have to do it often, it may be worth the $1,000-$2,000 price tag. Verdict: Pass.

Rear-Seat Entertainment Systems

These have come a long way in quality, and there’s a certain cache to having a self-contained system built into the vehicle. But think about what you can buy for the roughly $2,000 price tag. How about two mobile tablets or two bargain laptops? Let the kids mess with the screens instead of the driver or front-seat passenger. Verdict: Pass.

Bluetooth® Voice Dictation

Texting while driving is always a bad move. Now you can use your voice to dictate a message, send it and even proofread it without your hands ever leaving the wheel. Prices vary widely for this feature, and so does performance, so try before you buy. Overall, consider this a major safety enhancement. Verdict: Buy it.

Wireless Data Connections

If you need a dedicated, reliable connection, these might be worth the money. The ability to use your ride as a Wi-Fi hotspot is great for road trips and an office on wheels. However, once the low- or no-cost trial periods expire, the monthly subscriptions and separate data plan fees start to pile up. Verdict: Pass.

Purchase or Pass?

There’s more to the options game than sunroofs, anti-rust protection and extended powertrain warranties, isn’t there? So, unless you’re a great negotiator and can talk your sales rep into throwing in any of the above options for free or close to it, remember you somehow managed to drive, navigate, park and listen to the perfect playlist before many of these features were ever offered. Safe driving, everyone.
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