Useless car extras revealed

Don’t get taken for a ride with expensive or unnecessary new car options.
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 
 

01 .Introduction

Illustration

In brief

  • Some options, such as rustproofing, are unnecessary for typical car owners
  • Accessories such as roof racks can be pricy when dealer-supplied.
  • Factory-fitted safety options are definitely worth having

If you’ve ever bought a new car, you’ll have experienced the hard sell from the dealer, pushing you to add options to the vehicle. Some options are just a matter of taste and budget, such as premium paint colours, alloy wheels and spoilers. Decisions about those are easy — if you want it and think the price is right, go for it.

But for many other options, there’s more to consider. How about an extended warranty? Extra rustproofing and paint protection? Or even a safety package, such as extra airbags? Are any of these worth the money? Some are — others, not necessarily.

CHOICE verdict

Dealers often ‘throw in’ a few options to sweeten the deal, so it’s good to know the dollar value of what they’re offering. Before you go shopping for a new car, check the manufacturer websites. Most list the available options with prices and let you experiment with configuring a car in different ways.

Look at brochures from auto stores so you can compare prices for accessories. Armed with this information, you can negotiate a better deal when you hit the showroom.

Please note: this information was current as of August 2008 but is still a useful guide today.


 
 

Sign up to our free
e-Newsletter

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

 
  • Extended warranties can sound great in the showroom, but the devil is in the detail. Dealer extended warranties often require you to have the car serviced exclusively by the dealer who sells you the car, and missing a scheduled service can void the warranty. They can also be very restrictive in what they cover.
  • Extended factory warranties are usually less restrictive than those from dealers, but you still need to read the terms and conditions carefully before signing. In most cases the standard three- or five-year warranty is good enough.
  • Rustproofing and paint protection raise the question: isn’t the car already rustproofed? The answer is yes. New cars are treated at the factory and any rust problems should be covered by the warranty. Unless you live next to the sea or like to drive along the beach, don’t opt for extra rustproofing.
    Paintwork is also covered by warranty for major problems and shouldn’t need anything more than an occasional clean and polish. Dealers often charge several hundred dollars for paint and rust protection; if you really want this extra treatment, you can get it aftermarket (or even do it yourself) for much less.
  • Fabric protection might consist of nothing more than the dealer treating the car seats with a can of fabric protector from the supermarket. You can do that yourself for a lot less and with just as good a result.
  • Alarms are of questionable value. It’s likely to be ignored if it goes off, and you could even be fined for noise pollution if it goes off without good cause. All new cars have engine immobilisers, usually with central locking, and that’s all you need. If you want a fully featured alarm system, compare the dealer price with aftermarket options; you might get a better deal elsewhere.

Some accessories can be useful and appealing additions to your car, but you’ll probably get them cheaper — sometimes a lot cheaper — at auto stores rather than through the dealer. There are some extras, however, that must be factory-fitted, or you might just want the convenience of having the dealer supply and fit the option for you. Also, dealer and factory-fitted accessories are usually covered by the vehicle warranty. It’s your call.

  • Floor mats help keep the carpet clean, but do you really want to pay anything from $70 to more than $100 for them when you can get aftermarket car mats for $40 or less? The same applies to seat covers and boot liners.
  • GPS navigation Factory-fitted dash-mounted systems offer bigger screens and integrated functionality and are less easily stolen than portable models (although car thieves sometimes target these high-end systems and cause extensive damage to the dashboard in the process). You might also be forced to get your software and map updates from the car manufacturer.
    Some manufacturers and dealers also offer portable GPS systems, but they’re usually cheaper elsewhere. For example, Ford offers a Garmin Nüvi 760 for $799, while the same model is available from retailers for about $640. See our test on GPS systems.
    Headlight and bonnet protectors are really only useful if you often drive on unsealed roads.
  • Nudge and bull bars aren’t necessary for typical city driving. But if you opt for one, a factory-fitted bar has the advantage of having been tested with the vehicle’s airbag system — the bar affects the vehicle’s behaviour in a collision. If you go for an aftermarket nudge bar, ask the supplier if it’s compatible with the airbags in your car.
  • Premium sound systems can make travelling much more pleasant, but have a listen to the car’s standard system first. It might be all you need, especially if it already has a CD player and MP3 player connection.
  • Roof racks and roof luggage boxes are almost always cheaper aftermarket. A set of roof racks plus roof luggage box would cost about $1270 from Holden or Ford; you could get comparable roof racks plus a luggage box from Rhino Rack or Thule for about $700 to $800. See our test on car roof boxes.
  • Special suspension, such as sports (firmer springs and lower ride) or country suspension (with increased ride height), is useful for some drivers, but test-drive both the special version and the standard suspension so you know what you’re getting before you commit yourself to this option.
  • Towbar Get quotes from a couple of independent towbar installers to compare with the dealer price. As with other options, the dealer price will probably be higher.
  • Window tinting is already standard on most cars. Do you really need even darker windows?

Safety options are always worth having, and usually have to be factory-fitted, so you need to choose which ones you want before buying. See our report on ANCAP crash tests to see the difference safety features can make.

  • Airbags If side and curtain airbags aren’t standard in your chosen model, they may be available as options for only a few hundred dollars extra.
  • ABS An anti-lock braking system is usually standard on new cars, but can be optional on cheaper models.
  • Stability control (also known as Electronic Stability Program and Dynamic Stability Control) is an anti-skid technology that applies braking to individual wheels to stabilise the vehicle when it detects a situation such as fishtailing.
  • Full-size spare tyre Space saver and temporary-use spare wheels are common, even in big cars. They’re only for emergency use, to get you to the nearest garage. If you regularly drive long distances, especially in country areas where the distances between garages are great, a full-size spare is a better option.

Did you know?

You won’t always have the choice of picking and choosing individual options. Some manufacturers, such as Mercedes-Benz, offer a range of packages instead, in which different sets of options are bundled together.