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Get the car features you want and need

Follow these four steps to figure out which vehicle extras you want, need and can afford.

You’re ready to buy a new-to-you car. You’d like a blind spot detection system, great speakers, all-wheel drive and — why not — leather seats. But have you budgeted enough for these features, and will you really use (and enjoy) them? Use this four-step plan to sort out amenities and the best car safety features.

Step 1: Make a master list

At home, before you even think about a dealer visit or a scan of private car sales, rank vehicle features as wants or needs. Consider:

  • Driver assistance features and alerts such as park assist, a blind spot detection system and front crash prevention
  • Entertainment systems
  • The drivetrain: all-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive
  • Interior and exterior amenities including heated and leather seats
  • Transmission type — automatic versus manual versus continuously variable transmission (CVT)
  • Engine size and power

Step 2: Prioritize

Once you have your list, you can sort through it with the knowledge that you don’t have an unlimited budget — and that the more power, bells and whistles and amenities you require, the more your purchase price will increase. For example, more driver assistance features equal more tech-forward options for your vehicle, but they may also add to the cost. If you know what you’re able to sacrifice, you’ll have more vehicles to choose from.

Step 3: Link your priorities to the price

It’s easy to pay attention to a model’s sticker price, but that’s usually for the base model of the car, which translates to minimal features. Use online tools such as the manufacturer’s “Build & Price” website option and the Kelley Blue Book® to see how various features change the price of vehicles you’re interested in. Then consider the budget you’ve set. If you’ve reviewed potential vehicles and features and the cost is still higher than what you’ve budgeted, you can make adjustments to your search or your priorities.

Step 4: Compromise

Remember: If your car-feature list is fairly inflexible, you may need more flexibility in your budget. If you’re determined to get a specific model, reconsider the model year, for example. Or review similar models with lower base prices; adding extra features to those options may help you stay within budget. Either way, buying a car ends up being a give and take.

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