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S hopping for a new car brings back childhood memories of deciding how to spend your shiny quarter for candy treats. The selection appeared daunting. Automotive choices--whether colors, features, or bodystyles--can be equally dismaying.
       Two option philosophies face buyers: those that add value, and those that meet an individual need. The two philosophies are not exclusive. You can do a little of both when you shop.

Some needs you may want to satisfy are safety, security, comfort, pleasure, or convenience.
       Options that increase value are important at trade-in time, but the older the car becomes, the less important they become. Options that add value to economy cars don't add extra value to luxury cars having the same features as standard equipment. To add value, an option has to be on the manufacturer's suggested retail price sticker. Options the dealer adds on a separate sticker add less value than those installed on the assembly line.
       Option "packages" are a common marketing approach today. This means several options you order together cost less than ordering them individually. However, that may force you to buy some extras you don't want. When negotiating price, especially on a car not in stock, be sure the dealer uses package option prices, if suitable, from the very beginning of the process.
       Advising you to consult a used-car value book before buying a new car may sound strange. But the NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) Official Used Car Guide and the Kelley Blue Book, the two most common guides at public libraries, will show you how much some options will add to the base value of a car you're shopping. In some cases, the lack of an option subtracts from the book value! Your credit union also may have pricing guides available for your use.
       Some features thought of as options a few years ago now are universal. Power brakes: You can't buy a car without them. Power steering: The story is the same, except for the least expensive economy cars.

Automatic transmissions are semiuniversal, unless for a sports car, sports sedan, or small economy car. The convenience is persuasive, and past fuel-economy penalties have all but disappeared. More than two-thirds of Ford Escorts have automatics. Even on the sporty Mustang, more than half have automatic transmissions. "A growing number of young people literally don't know how to drive manuals," says Joel Pitcoff, Ford Motor Co.'s Manager of Strategic Market Analysis, "but manual transmissions hardly are an endangered species at Ford."

Air conditioning is assumed, even in Montana, Minnesota, and Maine. People have found that, even in moderate climates, driving with the windows closed is much less tiring and noisy, so passengers feel better when they arrive at their destinations.

Automatic air conditioning can be tricky to purchase. It's easy to get less than you thought. Fully automatic systems control both airflow outlets and air temperatures. Automatic temperature control merely adjusts air temperature. You still have to select whether you want air from floor, dash, or windshield outlets.

Dual temperature controls are a domestic peacemaker between driving partners. Not an option, they're a system feature on some makes, and well worth considering for their value leading up to trade-in time.

Rear air conditioning is a choice only on vans. You can't adequately cool a van's large interior space in the rear seats with just a front air conditioner. With this option, although costly, a van cools off much more quickly.

Antilock brakes, despite some controversy about insurance claim reductions, are a valuable safety feature giving drivers better control. When they're optional, they add value at trade-in. That's not true for the rear-wheel antilock system still available on some pickup trucks. They don't enhance steering control like four-wheel antilock brakes do.

Traction control, for easier starting on slick surfaces, is an add-on feature to antilock brakes. Some people call traction control "poor man's four-wheel drive." It doesn't help in deep snow, but makes getting rolling on hard-packed snow easier.

Power windows add value as an option, but more and more they are standard equipment. Drive-in windows abound at fast-food stops, mailboxes, toll booths, and parking lots. Many people find it awkward to reach the manual cranks, usually located low and far forward.

Tilt steering wheels require careful shopping. Most have the pivot point just behind the steering wheel so the range of motion is significant. This design can ease getting into and out of the car. Others actually are tilt steering columns, in which the relationship between the wheel and the column is fixed. The whole works, though, pivots near the floorboard through a much smaller range of settings. There isn't a choice on individual cars. It's a matter of manufacturer philosophy. Be sure to get the one that best meets your needs.

Power seats are especially important for short drivers because the feature gives them a height-adjustable seat. There are a few cars with a height-adjustable mechanical (nonpower) seat. To save money on some cars, the power feature is available only on the driver's seat, where it's most important.

Cruise control makes long-distance drives more comfortable because the driver can shift leg position occasionally. Manufacturers often package this feature with a tilt steering wheel.

Power door locks today are more than just power locks. A remote control device on your key ring, which most people call a "clicker," allows you to open the trunk or doors as you approach the car. For security, though, you need a second action to open more than the driver's door. Unlocking turns on interior lights, too, so you can check the interior before entering. Some power lock systems also allow you to close the sunroof or windows if you've forgotten about them.

Leather upholstery is a value-plus on upscale cars, even though many people prefer the comfort of cloth seats that breathe better. Still, leather means luxury, even if it isn't always practical.

Heated seats, seldom available with cloth seats, are important only if you prefer driving in winter without a bulky outer coat. (You still have brought along that outer coat for emergencies, haven't you?) For the coatless, though, heated seats are the automotive equivalent of an electric blanket at night. It makes the thought of venturing out on a cold morning semibearable.

Third-row seats in a minivan are a must for resale value, even if you prefer the extra cargo space. Bob Viall, lease manager of Hub Leasing, West Allis, Wis., says, "Store it if you don't want to use it, but buy it! It costs $300, but it's worth $800 at trade-in."

Power mirrors make life more pleasant when more than one person regularly drives a car. Otherwise, some drivers ignore adjusting that important right side mirror. Parents with power mirrors on the family car can monitor teenagers who fail to adjust both mirrors. They have no excuse for not taking the time to adjust both mirrors when they get in the car.

Rear defrosters, still an option on many cars, are useful even in regions without frost. When it's raining, you bring moisture on your clothing into the car, where it evaporates and condenses on the cooler glass. That fogs the windows, but the rear defroster works with the regular defroster to solve it quickly. It's a safety feature to help you see better.

Compact disc (CD) players have displaced tape players as the way to march to your drummer. Value guides assume you have a tape player with your AM/FM radio, so only a CD helps trade-in value. AM-only noisemakers? They're still available on some pickup trucks!

Antitheft systems are a reality today. They protect more than the car from being stolen. The best protect contents from theft, too. Look for a system that's more than just an alarm. For better protection, it should disable the starting system.

Other new technology features are available, especially on luxury cars, but their value, if any, at trade-in hasn't been established.
      One thing is certain, however. You spend a lot of time in your vehicles--about 40 hours every 1,000 miles--so you need to balance comfort and enjoyment against value. Sometimes it's great to feel pampered, and the car makers keep coming up with new ways to do that.

John Fobian is an automotive writer and former director of automotive engineering for the American Automobile Association.

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