Best new car options

Hand-stitched leather or a giant dashboard screen? How to find the best new car options when you choose a spec

BuyaCar team
Nov 23, 2016

New car options should carry a health warning. While an average new car might be worth 60% less after three years, most of the options that you’ve paid for will be worth nothing.

“Some manufacturers offer a huge array of options but most have no impact on the used value of a vehicle,” says Philip Nothard, retail and consumer specialist at Cap-Hpi, a vehicle research company. “From a financial point of view, many options do not make sense as the value of them will be lost over a typical 36-month or 60,000 miles ownership period.”

If you’re financing a car on a leasing deal - either a Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) or Personal Contract Hire (PCH), these options could add significantly to your monthly payments, which are based on the amount of value a car loses over the agreement.

However, there are a small number of options that can make your car more desirable and easier to sell when you’ve finished. These may have less of an effect on your finance too.

See the options worth adding to your new car

The key test of any option is: “Were I a used car buyer, would I pay more for a car fitted with it?” To work this out, you have to put yourself into the mind of a used car buyer.

“The used buying experience is rather different from the new one, where a customer is presented with a list of options to choose from,” says Nothard. “A used car buyer is presented with the car as it stands, with very limited opportunity to be ‘upsold’ more options on the vehicle by the dealer. Therefore, the customer is less interested in the extra items that have been fitted as they are not making the decision to add them.”

For example, you may think a sat nav is a desirable option on a new car but the fact is, it rarely adds value to a typical three-year-old used car when the buyer finds out that the cost of updating the system with genuine manufacturer data will cost more than buying a brand new separate unit, downloading an app on their smartphone - or just using the free Google Maps app.

Car makers like to bundle options into packs but here, too, Nothard sounds a warning: "Manufacturers will often package a popular single option with other less popular ones, but at a lower price than each would cost were you to buy them singly. When the car is then in the used market, a customer only places additional value on the desirable option; the others are dismissed as worthless.”

Where options do influence used buyers, is on premium cars, says Nothard: “A premium used vehicle without the right, or any, additional options could not only be much worth less, it could also appeal to far fewer potential buyers.”

Of course, all this talk of ‘value’ ignores the pleasure the option may have given you. It may have been helpful (reversing sensors), attractive (upgraded alloy wheels) or even practical (split-fold rear seats). It may even have saved yours, or someone else’s, life (automatic emergency braking or a heated windscreen). Here we consider some of the best

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Automatic emergency braking (AEB)

AEB is a system that helps prevent frontal impacts by scanning the road ahead of the car and, if it senses an impending collision, applying the brakes before the driver has had time to react. A concerned parent buying a car for a young son or daughter might look for AEB on a used car but since it costs only around £300 as a new option (for example, it’s £285 on a Skoda Citigo) a used car fitted with it is unlikely to command a premium.

Thatcham Research, the organisation that decides which of the 50 insurance groups a car falls into, looks favourably on cars fitted with AEB by placing them in lower insurance groups than those without. However, it only recognises AEB systems fitted as standard, so a car that has one fitted as an option won’t be cheaper to insure than the same model without it.

Meanwhile, as for safety equipment in general, Philip Nothard says used car buyers won’t pay more for it. “Safety equipment very rarely adds any value in monetary terms,” he says. “There is a consumer assumption that any vehicle that is available for sale is safe to drive, and nobody pays extra for a vehicle with a certain element of safety equipment compared with the same car without.”


Metallic and some non-metallic paints

Metallic paint has long been regarded as a valuable option and is seen as almost essential on upmarket cars from the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes. There is an exception to this rule, though: white is a popular colour and is often available at no extra charge when new. It is expected to remain popular on the used market.

Car makers have upped the ante with metallic paint by introducing so-called premium metallics which are expensive. Range Rover asks a whopping £6210 for a special pigment giving “intense highlights”. Buyers are unlikely to pay much extra for this on a used model.


Alloy wheels

The motor trade calls it option creep: the way that some features start off as expected options, only to become so popular that they are expected-even on the cheapest cars. Alloy wheels are a good example. Only a few years ago, they were highly prized but now most cars have them as standard. All premium models certainly do and most mainstream cars as well.

Basic versions of cars such as the Ford Fiesta or Fiat Panda still come with steel wheels as standard, but these look cheap, and will do to a second-hand buyer as well.

Meanwhile, where alloy wheels are standard, it’s possible to upgrade to larger versions. They might make the car more distinctive but are unlikely to add to its secondhand price.


Model-appropriate options

Some cars are just better with certain options and will increase a car’s secondhand value - not by the full price of the option but perhaps by a quarter of it. They are also likely to help the car sell more quickly.

An example is the optional Custom Pack on the Ford Mustang It costs £1795 and almost 60% of cars have been ordered with it. With features such as sat-nav, heated and cooled front seats, a rear-view camera, a 12-speaker sound system, upgraded alloy wheels and chrome window surrounds. The sat-nav, and heated and cooled seats are nice but not essential, but the exterior upgrades suit the loud and distinctive Mustang, so used car buyers are likely to pay extra for them.


Parking sensors

Parking sensors are becoming more common and can be fitted to a used car for around £100, so they won’t add much to the value of a car. However, if they help you to avoid a bump, they could prevent you from being charged penalties at the end of your finance agreement.

For this reason, they’re a good idea on large SUVs but need careful buying. For example, as part of the Smart Vision pack on the Nissan Qashqai Acenta, parking sensors cost £495. That’s better value than choosing a car with the next trim level - N Connecta. This comes with parking but costs an extra £1,800.


Panoramic sunroof

Sunroofs lost their appeal with the rise of air con but it’s now coming back with panoramic versions boosting light and visibility for front and back-seat passengers.
It’s attractive to used buyers because it’s an obvious enhancement rather than just a piece of technology buried in the car.


The worst car options to pick

Business systems

BMW offers an additional version of its standard sat-nav called Professional Media, costing around £900 but used prices reveal that a year-old 3 Series with the professional sat-nav is worth no more than one with the standard option.


Over-personalising a car

Mini led the way in allowing customers to personalise their car with a range of equipment, paint options and decals. It was so popular - and lucrative - that you’re encouraged to add your own sense of style to any number of cars, from a tiny Fiat 500 to a Range Rover.

Used buyers won’t care that you’ve added Union Jack side mirror covers or fuschia pink paint though. In fact, they may ask for a discount.



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