What Is a Car Feature?

What Is a Car Feature?
••• FabrikaCr/iStock/GettyImages

Whether you're shopping for an economy car or a luxury vehicle, you'll need to carefully decide which car features you'd like. While some features come standard since they're necessary for you to drive safely in various conditions, others are for your entertainment and comfort or can help you have an easier driving experience. When selecting car features, you'll want to keep in mind that your preferences can impact the vehicle price or trim level you buy and may limit your car options in some cases. Take a look at some common car features along with what you should know about them.

Overview of Car Features

When shopping for a new car, you can expect to get certain convenience and safety features regardless of the model or trim level you choose. For example, federal law requires front airbags and seat belts for drivers and passengers to help keep those inside the vehicle safer in case of an accident. Cars must also have anti-lock braking and stability control systems to help reduce car accidents due to losing control or not being able to stop or steer in hazardous conditions. You'll also find standard features like tire pressure monitors and headlights that can run both during daytime and nighttime.

While standard features shouldn't come with extra costs, many car features are optional and vary by vehicle make, model and trim. These include things like in-car entertainment and navigational systems, comfort features like heated seats and advanced climate control, cosmetic items like luxury seating and upholstery and driving assistant tools like cruise control and alert systems.

You can add some of these items after you purchase the car, but others can require researching vehicles that feature them, requesting a custom-made car from the manufacturer or going up to the next trim level for premium features. Since adding several features can become pricey, manufacturers often offer bundles of certain features to save you money. However, you may have to choose from pre-defined feature groups with this option.

Benefits of Adding Car Features

One appeal of adding car features is that your car can become safer and more enjoyable to drive. Adding cosmetic features like premium seats can improve your car's appearance, while comfort features like heated seats can keep you and your passengers from feeling too cold in the winter on long rides. Technology features like entertainment systems can make driving more enjoyable as you could play videos for passengers, use apps for communication and navigation and even keep your phone charged for emergencies. Safety features can help prevent car accidents and protect you if you do have one.

Depending on the ones you choose, car features can also increase the resale value of your vehicle. For example, Investopedia mentions that practical features like power windows and locks usually raise your car's value as they're something drivers usually seek. However, adding unusual rims to your car might turn off buyers who would need to replace them with something more typical.

If you're wanting to save on insurance, NerdWallet mentions that even standard features like electronic stability control and airbags can help lower your premiums. Security features like anti-theft devices and emergency communications systems can appeal to insurance companies to see your car as less of a risk too. However, keep in mind that your insurance company will ultimately decide whether any feature impacts your rates.

Disadvantages of Adding Car Features

Something important to consider is that choosing more car features both raises the initial price tag of the vehicle and can disadvantage you later if something breaks. Desiring features only on high-end vehicles might mean choosing a vehicle that you struggle to afford since you have limited options; this could also mean buying a more expensive new car rather than an affordable used one. Accidents, wear-and-tear and technical problems can warrant thousands in expenses to repair or replace car equipment too.

Some features can even lead to distractions that make it more likely for you to have an accident. For example, entertainment systems that play media or read off your emails and text messages can make you focus less on driving or even take your eyes off the road briefly. Even safety features like camera systems could make you pay more attention to what's on the screen than what's in your mirrors or actually outside your car. In some cases, these features may not work perfectly and lead to driver overconfidence and errors.

Luxury Rims and Seats

When it comes to cosmetic features to add to a vehicle, some popular choices include luxury rims that have chrome plating as well as seats with leather upholstery rather than cloth. Chrome-plated rims can offer durability perks and help you avoid rusting, while leather upholstery can offer improved comfort alongside a luxurious appearance. Both leather seats and chrome rims need regular maintenance and cleaning.

While you can buy a car that comes with these features, you can also add them after your purchase. For example, you can find companies that offer leather upholstery kits and tire shops that will install chrome rims.

Cruise Control Features

While a car you buy today probably won't drive itself, choosing a vehicle with cruise control can take some of the work out of driving and provide benefits in terms of efficiency and safety when done right. Regular cruise control is very common on many makes and models these days and allows you to set your car to continue accelerating at a specific speed so that you can focus on steering and braking. You can still control the acceleration while cruise control is in use.

Now, there's a luxury version of this feature that can actually adapt to current road conditions. This works through a camera and sensor system that can detect traffic nearby and determine when to change the speed for safe driving. As with standard cruise control, you're still responsible for steering and making any emergency moves.

Heated Steering Wheels and Seats

Whether you live in a place with very cold winters or just do a lot of winter driving, your car's heating system might not warm you up enough for comfortable driving. You might consider buying a car with a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, though keep in mind you might need to splurge for a high-end vehicle to get both of these. If you want these features in an existing vehicle you own, you might be able to install heated seats aftermarket, but you might need to settle for a heated wheel cover if your car doesn't have the right wiring and setup for a heated steering wheel.

Car Entertainment and Navigation Systems

While cars used to just have a stereo system with a radio and CD player, you'll often find sophisticated entertainment and navigation systems in modern vehicles that can connect to your Apple or Android phone through Bluetooth and maybe come with a built-in wireless internet connection. These audio systems allow you to play your favorite songs and audiobooks through apps as well as the radio, and some even allow passengers to watch movies while you drive. It's also common for entertainment systems to include USB ports to charge your phone and other devices.

These systems can offer convenience since they give you directions, allow you to make phone calls and read your text messages so you can keep your eyes on the road. They can also appeal to traveling professionals who might need to use their laptops since the wireless hotspot on some vehicles would offer 24/7 access to email and work websites as well as allow for video conferencing on the go.

Keyless Locks and Startup

If you'd rather not have to stick your key into your door or trunk lock anytime you need to lock or unlock it, then a keyless entry system can be a very handy feature to consider. Along with being convenient for when you have your hands full or need to control locks from a distance, you can also get some safety benefits like having your doors automatically lock with these systems.

You can also buy cars that allow you to start them up remotely via a remote or mobile app as well as vehicles with a button you push to start the car up. This can come in handy when you want your car started and cooled or warmed up before you get inside.

Vehicle Camera and Warning Systems

When you shop for vehicles these days, you'll find that they usually at least have a backup camera alongside one or more warning systems that can help you stay better aware of what's near you on the road. A backup camera near your license plate especially helps when you're backing out of a parking spot and need to make sure there's nobody or any object behind you that you could harm, while more sophisticated camera systems can help you see around and even above your car so you can avoid harming pedestrians and overseeing traffic. Cameras also make tasks like parallel parking easier.

Vehicle warning systems may use cameras as well as sensors to advise you on driving and warn you when you're doing something risky or facing an oncoming hazard. For example, you'll find blind-spot monitors that can notify you of hidden vehicles, forward-collision warnings that let you know you need to hit the brakes to avoid an accident and lane assist systems that help keep you safely positioned in your lane and may even help correct poor steering.

Read More​: 9 Safety Features in Cars

Sunroofs and Moonroofs

If you want the option to get some more fresh air and light on days with good weather but don't want a convertible, then sunroofs and moonroofs are two car features you might like. These two differ in that while a moonroof is transparent like a window and slides open, a sunroof looks like a removable panel matching your car. Both options are great for seeing above you while your parked or driving, but you might experience tradeoffs such as less headroom in the vehicle and a high cost.

Automatic Emergency Braking Features

Commonly paired with camera and alerts systems, automatic emergency braking systems can help you avoid running into a person or vehicle ahead of you. Whether you get distracted and don't brake on time or you don't brake hard enough, this car feature can take over and stop your car right away. The accuracy of this type of system will depend on the vehicle since there are several variations.

The good news is that you can find this feature on popular vehicles from makers such as Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda, Kia, Chevrolet and Nissan as of publication. So, you have plenty of vehicle options to consider if this feature appeals to you.

Vehicle Security Systems

If you want to make your vehicle less of a target to thieves as well as take measures to disable or locate a stolen vehicle, you might consider adding a vehicle security system to the list of your must-have features. Basic security systems will include an alarm that you activate when you leave your vehicle, and it will sound if someone gets too close or touches the car. The car's manufacturer might also have something to deactivate the vehicle's ignition so that the thief can't drive away if they get inside.

Fully featured security services like OnStar go a step further to track your vehicle in real-time if it gets stolen, and you can even log in and track the car on a map on the service's website. The service will report the location so that the police can find the thief and then remotely slow the vehicle down when law enforcement is approaching.

Deciding on Car Features

Since you have so many car features to think about and a budget to follow, you'll want to come up with a list of the most important features and do some research to see the types of vehicles that feature them. If you have a small budget or want an older used car, you might need to compromise or find out if you can possibly add some features later, especially those that are cosmetic. You can visit a car manufacturer's website to build a hypothetical vehicle with custom features to learn about specific pricing as well as explore the options that local dealerships feature.

Read More​: How to Buy a Car