10 Car Features with Hidden Costs


Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida was an Automotive Editor who produced buying guides and sneak previews, in addition to publishing daily news stories and tracking monthly deals, incentives and pricing trends from Toyota, Nissan and Lexus.

, Automotive Editor - May 29, 2013

Those fancy options may wow you, but they?ll end up costing you a lot more than you might anticipate.

We admit it: it's fun to scour through all the advanced features offered as part of options and trim packages when shopping for a new car, but if you're looking to save money over the long term, many of those fancy features may continue lightening your wallet long after their initial costs.

The fact of the matter is, as today's cars become more advanced and filled to the brim with technology, all those fancy features can and do malfunction or break as cars age. That means hefty repair bills stretching into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, all for something you may find you have little use for in the first place.

Here are the top 10 features found on today's new cars that often lead to unanticipated costs down the line. Study them, and before you upgrade to the 'Limited' or check off every option box on the list, consider if each is actually something you want, need, or will have use for.

1. Subscription-based infotainment/telematics.

Today's top infotainment and telematics/convenience systems are full of features that make driving easier, safer and more enjoyable, while keeping you connected on the go. But just be aware that in order to keep access to the top features the dealership salesman is so eager to tell you about, you'll often need to pay a monthly or annual fee. For example, to use Mercedes-Benz's full suite of mBrace2 services, drivers currently need to shell out around $700 per year. Combining a satellite radio subscription, a 3G/4G in-car data plan, personal concierge, and other subscription-based features adds quite a bit out of pocket every month. Carefully consider if it is worth it to you, as these systems costs hundreds or thousands extra to start with.

Active safety features - Cameras and sensors

2. Active safety features - Cameras and sensors.

A back-up camera is very nice to have for large trucks and trailers, and can even help with parallel parking in smaller vehicles. But ask yourself if you really need lane-keeping assist, driver alertness monitoring and all the other electronic 'nannies' that are now billed as essentially safety features. These systems rely on cameras and sensors that can become damaged even in the slightest of parking lot collisions, as well as extra electronic and mechanical components. That's more to break, and more to pay.

Oversized wheels/low-profile tires

3. Oversized wheels/low-profile tires.

Do you really need 20-inch wheels on a standard family sedan? Probably not. What you might not know is that upgrading to the larger wheel and tire package costs much more than just what you'll pay extra at the dealer. Tires become exponentially more expensive as they get larger, low-profile tires found on large wheels wear quicker and are more prone to damage, and premium wheels often require premium oddball tires sizes only made by a handful of manufacturers ($$$). Plus, with more unsprung mass to push around and higher friction from their extra width, larger wheels and tires mean a penalty on fuel efficiency.

Extra-cost performance add-ons

4. Extra-cost performance add-ons - High-output engines, carbon-ceramic brakes, etc.

The BMW 328i, which at 240 horses has far more usable power than most drivers will ever need, starts at around $7,000 less than the 320-horsepower 335i. Add in an M-Sport performance option or two and that figure could quickly balloon to $10,000 or more, for what amounts to mostly the same car as far as what you can see, feel and touch. True gearheads dream of TwinPower inline-sixes, but if you just want a very nice car, the extra prestige that comes with expensive engine packages and things like Brembo carbon-ceramic kits not only means a higher car note, but also lower efficiency and ridiculously expensive brake pads and rotors.

On-board navigation

5. On-board navigation.

With the smartphone in your pocket now serving as an excellent navigation system whenever you need to call upon it, the in-dash units still provide real benefits, but just be aware that you'll pay for it in several ways. Depreciation applies to the total price of the car, but the problem is, extra features costing thousands don't pay for themselves when it's time to sell or trade in. Some nav systems require paying after the fact for updated maps, premium features or for monthly data access in order to use their top advertised features.

Air suspensions

6. Air suspensions.

Used to be about the only vehicles with air suspensions were ultra-luxury cars and high-end true SUVs. Now the technology, great for providing an even, self-leveling ride over all types of road surfaces, has made its way to more and more cars. Before you make the call, just know that self-leveling air suspensions are exorbitantly expensive to maintain and repair, where a basic shock/strut setup is much more mechanically simple and economical.


7. Convertibles.

Who doesn't like taking a ride in a convertible once in a while? Found in soft-top and power-retractable hardtop varieties, the feeling of wind rushing past all around you on Pacific Coast Highway can't be described. But convertibles carry far more costs than just the extra purchase price. They're heavier and often less structurally sound than coupe models, and soft tops eventually need replacement, as often do the motors and pulleys that control today's complicated folding hardtop models. And then there's the issue of leaks...

Summer/Winter tires

8. Summer/Winter tires.

Performance car nuts may do a ton of research on Summer tires with their multitude of tread patterns and purported handling benefits, but unless you truly drive your car at-limit, a set of quality all-season tires for the whole year will be just fine, thank you. As for Winter tires, they can have a life-saving impact on stopping distances and handling in very harsh snowy and cold climates, but in most areas, drivers don't really need them.

Roof racks

9. Roof racks.

Do you currently own a vehicle equipped with a roof rack? How often do you use it? Although they can be had inexpensively as dealer-installed accessories or from the aftermarket and can really help when it's time to move Junior off to college, that unsightly money-eater sticking up from the top of the vehicle wreaks havoc on your car's aerodynamics, lowering efficiency. That means a small, but over time very noticeable, extra cost for every mile driven. Pro tip: if a roof rack provides extra utility in your lifestyle, take it off when you won't be using it for prolonged periods.


10. AWD/4x4.

This is a big one. Car companies have played on our desire for extra safety and performance by proliferating all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive technology to all kinds of new models, from family sedans to city-dwelling micro-crossovers. While a good 4WD/AWD system's safety benefits in poor weather and on bad roads are indisputable, most drivers will do fine with a FWD or RWD version of the same car, and will rarely miss the costly technology. You'll pay at least $1,500 or so extra at the time of purchase, but more importantly, the fuel efficiency penalty will cost you tangible money for as long as you own the vehicle.


, Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida was an Automotive Editor who produced buying guides and sneak previews, in addition to publishing daily news stories and tracking monthly deals, incentives and pricing trends from Toyota, Nissan and Lexus.

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