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9 June 2021

Car options explained

Buying a new car can be as bewildering as it is exciting. This guide will navigate you though the optional extras worth considering.
Daljinder Nagra
Car features explained

Even the most basic of cars now often come with a lengthy list of options. These can vary from must haves like air conditioning and parking sensors to the latest in car technology, such as night-vision cameras and fingerprint ignition.

While it’s often tempting to add as many toys as you can afford, it’s easy to go overboard and see the purchase price balloon – doubling the cost of the car in some cases.

Choosing optional extras wisely means you can get exactly what you need without significantly inflating a car’s purchase price. You could potentially even improve your car’s future resale value.

Discover the models we recommend by viewing our Best Buy car reviews.

Car options that help boost resale value

Regardless of the type of car you’re looking to buy, there are a number of options  most buyers would consider essential. The following are all worth paying extra for if you can afford it, and may help boost your car’s value when the time comes to sell.

Air conditioning

For many of us, air conditioning is a must-have car option. Not only is it invaluable on scorching summer days, it can also help to keep your windows frost- and mist-free in wintry weather.

Vehicle valuation specialists CAP told us air conditioning and climate control are among the handful of optional extras that help to boost cars’ resale values - some compact hatchbacks can even be worth a few hundred pounds more with it fitted.

Metallic paint

Buyers expect metallic paint on all types of car nowadays, from the most basic city cars through to luxury limousines. According to CAP, it is one of the most commonly purchased options and its effect on resale values can be far reaching. Used prices for performance and luxury cars are more sensitive to the addition of metallic paint, with the difference in price often running into thousands of pounds.

Colour choice is critical in this respect, and it’s often wise to play it safe. An eye-searing hue may be just the thing to make you stand out on the road but it may put off potential buyers and make your car more difficult to sell.

Built-in sat nav

Traditionally, integrated sat nav units were an expensive luxury, and the preserve of high-end luxury models. Now, though, they are increasingly being offered as standard, and even optional or upgraded units are typically much cheaper than the £1000+ you’d have paid for one less than ten years ago.

A built-in sat nav can help a car retain its value, particularly in executive models where it is often seen as a must-have. It’s worth bearing in mind that is can often be more expensive to update maps than with a standalone GPS device, but some manufacturers now offer free updates with their integrated systems for fixed periods.

Leather seats

If they’re available on the car you’re hoping to buy, leather seats are generally worth paying extra for. They look good, are comfortable and will usually last longer than fabric alternatives. Leather seats are also a worthwhile option if you suffer from allergies, as they harbour less dust.

What’s more, leather seats are renowned for improving the resale values of used cars, regardless of the type of model they are fitted to. Heated leather seats can command an even greater premium.

Automatic gearbox

Cars with automatic gearboxes are usually more expensive but they hold their value well. This is particularly true of luxury cars, which can be worth significantly less with a manual transmission. Automatics are often less desirable in smaller cars and are generally less refined, so you can avoid the additional expense unless you absolutely need it.

Parking sensors

Parking sensors are incredibly useful (especially on large cars) and can help to improve resale values. Some models also come with both front and rear parking sensors (normally an optional extra), which will give an audible and/or visual warning of approaching objects.

Front, rear and ‘around-view’ cameras are all also becoming increasingly common on mainstream models, having once been the preserve of flagship models from premium marques.

Additional options worth considering

Most optional extras, however, will have little effect on a car’s resale value, though can be worth the expense for the added convenience they bring. The following are worth considering if you’re planning to keep your car for a long time but if you plan to change your car in the next three or four years, they’re probably best avoided.

Upgraded stereos and entertainment systems

Premium entertainment systems are good if you have kids or spend a lot of time in the car, and there are now a multitude of options, including DAB digital radio and MP3 connectivity, which have largely replaced the traditional CD multi-changer.

However, an upgraded stereo can often come with a four-figure price tag, which you’re unlikely to recoup when it comes time to sell.

It’s worth remembering that with many cars you won’t be able to hear the quality of an upgraded stereo before you commit to buying.

For cheaper, standalone alternatives, see our Which? expert reviews of the best digital radios and the best MP3 players with FM transmitters.

Upgraded mirrors and seats

The story is the same with electric door mirrors and electrically adjustable seats. Though undoubtedly nice to have, these often expensive options are unlikely to add value to your car.

They’re particularly unnecessary if you are your car’s sole driver as the seat and mirrors are likely to remain largely fixed in one position.

Electric sunroofs

An electric sunroof is great on a summer’s day and can be added to most cars as an option for around £600-800. Though you won’t get your cash back when it comes to selling your car, a sunroof might give you the edge over other sellers.

Mobile phone technology

Many cars now offer Bluetooth connectivity and mobile phone kits as options. They’re useful, and increasingly desirable, but because technology moves so fast there’s a risk they could become dated before you come to sell your car.

Cruise control

Cruise control is one of the most useful car options available, taking the strain out of longer journeys and preventing you accidentally exceeding the speed limit.

While it might not necessarily boost the long-term value of your car, it’ll help to make it more attractive to buyers.

A spokesperson for vehicle valuation specialists CAP told us: ‘Though some of these options are desirable and may convince a customer to purchase a car with these over a car that doesn’t have them, they are unlikely to want to pay extra for them.’