The side of a blue vehicle as it navigates a country road.

Today's car buyers have a dizzying array of options, packages, and accessories to choose from. There is great temptation to grab them all, but costs add up quickly. 

CR experts have assembled a list of key features to consider, balanced across safety and conveniences. Just as important: We have flagged those added-cost items that can be skipped.

Must-Haves

Advanced Safety Features (in order of importance to CR)

Automatic emergency braking: Automatically applies brakes to prevent a collision or reduce the force of an impact.

Forward-collision warning: Provides visual and/or audible warnings to alert the driver that a collision may be imminent.

Blind-spot warning/alert: Gives a visual and/or audible notification if a vehicle is at the car’s flanks, where the driver may not be able to see it easily.

Rear cross-traffic warning: Notifies the driver that an object or vehicle out of rear-camera range could be moving into the car’s path.

Lane-keeping assist: Provides corrective steering input or braking when the car crosses lane markings without the driver activating the turn signal.

A sideview mirror with icons to indicate car features such as blind-spot monitoring.
More on Buying a Car

Convenience Features
Knobs for volume, tuning, and power for the audio system: 
We prefer physical knobs, because touch-screen-only controls for these functions are distracting to use when driving.

Automatic day/night mirrors: These help prevent driver distraction from bright lights in the rearview mirror.

Power driver’s seat with height-adjustable lumbar support: These have a greater range of adjustments than manual ones and help reduce fatigue.

Consider Skipping

Bigger wheels: Optional larger wheels often result in a stiffer, less comfortable ride and can be more expensive to replace when damaged.

Built-in navigation systems: They are typically costly. Instead, use Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which allow drivers to tap into smartphone mapping apps directly.

Rear entertainment units: Relatively inexpensive tablet computers can carry movies, books, and games, and most newer vehicles have rear USB outlets to keep them charged. That makes expensive DVD-based systems obsolete.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the October 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.