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Car buying surprises

Published: April 2013

When you buy a car, sometimes you’re so busy checking out the big things that you can miss important details. And don’t expect the salesperson to point them out. Here are some easily overlooked items that can lead to unpleasant surprises.

No spare, no jack. Many cars now come without either. What you may find if you pull off to the side of a road with a flat is a sealant kit and a small air compressor. Unfortunately, neither is of any help if a tire’s sidewall is damaged. So you could be stranded until a tow truck arrives. You can buy an optional spare tire kit for certain cars, but it can be frustrating when those basics become extra-cost items.

Pricey tires on economical cars. Even many mainstream cars, such as the Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, and Toyota Camry, now come with performance tires, either standard or optional. They’re meant to provide better handling and braking. But when it’s time for new tires, owners may find that their “economy” car requires costlier replacements than they expected.

“Three person” rear seats. Sure, there may be three sets of safety belts back there, but just try putting someone, especially an adult, in that center position for any length of time. The center seats in some cars are so contoured or tight that a person could end up sitting on an uncomfortable hump. Try it yourself before buying.

The extended-warranty push. It’s likely you won’t be able to exit the showroom without a pitch for an extended warranty. Unless you’re buying a particularly trouble-prone model, we suggest skipping it, as you’ll probably pay more in premiums than you’ll save in repair costs. Also, when in the showroom, remember that you don’t have to decide on the spot; typically, you can sign up for an extended warranty weeks after buying the car. So relax, breathe easy, and say, “I’ll sleep on it.”

“Easy install” child-seat anchors. The LATCH anchor system was designed to make it easier to secure a child seat than using a car’s safety belt. But in our testing, we’ve found numerous vehicles where the lower rear-seat LATCH anchors were tucked so far behind the seat cushion that it was hard to attach a seat. If you need them, try them out before you buy.

“Go anywhere” AWD?

A common myth is that four- or all-wheel drive gives you more grip on slippery roads in any situation. But it helps only when you go straight ahead or backward, not when you stop or corner. For more control in those situations, you should have antilock brakes and electronic stability control.


   

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