When you buy a car, you’re offered a bunch of options. You can do without some of them (do you really need heated seats in Florida?), but the rest go a long way in terms of safety and convenience.
Here are five options and features you shouldn’t pass up.
1. Get a bird’s eye view of your surroundings
Backup cameras have been standard since 2018 and go a long way in helping you see what’s behind you when you’re moving in reverse. However, there’s an even better way to see what’s happening around you, which covers all sides of your car.
Bird’s eye, or surround view, systems mount an array of cameras around your car, including bumpers, side view mirrors, trunk/tailgate and grille. Together, they stitch an artificial 360-degree view of your surroundings above your vehicle.
This is great for parallel parking or easing your car out or into tight spaces. With some systems, you’ll even get visual guidelines showing your car’s current orientation and its expected path of travel based on the steering wheel angle.
Some cars require upgrading to a larger or more feature-rich infotainment system to get a surround-view camera. For example, Toyota charges about $1,000 for the Highlander’s 12.3-inch touchscreen, which comes with Toyota’s Bird’s View Eye Camera system.
With the Nissan Murano, you need to go for the SL trim at the very least to get the Intelligent Around View Monitor system. While you may pay up for this feature, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. Ask for a test drive to try it out.
2. Blind spot monitoring
Blind spot monitoring systems use sensors around to alert you of a car or other object on the sides and rear of your car. You may see a little light appear in your side mirror or hear a ping if someone is in your blind spot. This is especially useful when merging onto the freeway or changing lanes. It could save you from colliding with another vehicle.
While this safety feature is standard on many new vehicles, you may not find it on more budget-priced ones. The Kia Forte, for example, only offers Blind-Spot Collision Warning on the top-spec GT Manual, which is $700 more expensive than the next model, the GT.
3. Automatic braking
An automatic braking system can prevent a collision with another vehicle, person or object and is an essential part of modern safety technology. It can reduce speed or stop your vehicle entirely if need be.
A series of sensors, including radar, video, infrared or ultrasonic, scan for objects in front of the vehicle and apply the brakes automatically. In some cars, it works in reverse as well.
Let’s say you’re backing out of a parking spot at a supermarket. Someone with a shopping cart walks behind your vehicle. If you have automatic braking, your car will stop on its own and avoid hitting them.
Automatic braking is usually combined as a package with other tech, such as adaptive cruise control or pre-collision systems.
4. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make your phone and car one
Let’s face it. Car companies don’t invest as much time and money into their navigation systems as Apple and Google do. If you love your Waze, Apple Maps or Google Maps apps, the easiest way to integrate them into your car is with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
You get an interface between your phone and car that gives you access to your phone’s apps on your car’s infotainment screen. Your phone essentially becomes one with your vehicle, and you can control it using your steering wheel buttons and car microphone.
Aside from using your favorite navigation app, you’ll have access to music and podcast apps, your smart assistant, messenger apps and more. You won’t be able to use anything too distracting, such as mobile games. And that’s a good thing!
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are becoming more popular as standard features, but you may need to upgrade your infotainment system for some cars. The Honda Civic has both features available as standard across the model line, but if you want it on your new Nissan Sentra, you’ll have to go above the base S trim.
5. Automatic start/stop technology will save gas
It may feel strange for your automobile to shut off and then restart its engine whenever you come to a complete stop, but this feature has one significant benefit, especially considering the current gas prices.
AAA conducted a study in 2014 and concluded that start/stop technology could save up to 7% in fuel costs, or $179 per year. The test was based on driving 15,000 miles a year in a vehicle that averages 20 MPG with fuel prices of $3.65. This number comes closer to $250 saved per year by today’s prices and accounting for inflation. That’s not bad at all.
In full-size trucks, saving just a couple of MPG can make a big difference compared to more fuel-efficient cars, bringing savings even higher. The base model Ford F-150 XL comes with auto start-stop technology. If you’re looking at Ram pickups, the 1500 line all comes with start/stop tech, while the Classic models don’t offer it.
The button to turn the feature on or off usually looks like the letter A with an arrow circling around it. We recommend leaving it on.
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