The Tricked-Out Tech Features You’ll Want in Your Next Car

car with wifi symbol
Photo: Vector Source: iStock
That car can do what?!

If you've been driving the same old car since college or haven't owned a car in a while (thank you, mass transit!), you're in for a treat. Over the last few years, automakers have been loading up their cars with high-tech, high-performing features that will make your daily commute not just more fun, but safer too. Since this suite of fancy new options doesn't always come standard, you'll have to decide which are worth the extra cash and which you should put the brakes on. Whether you need more space for your growing family or gear for weekend hobbies like skiing or surfing, consider which features are at the top of your list, then figure out your budget and how to start saving toward your goal. In the meantime, we've narrowed down some of the best new technologies to look for the next time you're in the market for a new ride.

Highway Help

  • Blind-spot warning system: With either a visual or audio warning, this safety feature alerts you to vehicles you can't see alongside your car, usually by a flashing light on the side mirror. It helps make changing lanes safer and is especially useful if you're driving a large car or SUV with bigger blind spots.
  • Adaptive cruise control: This isn't your parent's cruise control, where you'd have to manually hit the brakes when traffic slows. Instead, this update decelerates your car automatically when it detects a slowdown ahead, then resumes the preset cruising speed—without you having to move a muscle.
  • Lane departure systems: The older, bare-bones version warned if you started drifting out of your lane, while newer lane-keeping assist systems actually self-steer your car away from lane markings. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, these systems prevented approximately 85,000 crashes in 2015.

Traffic Control

  • Auto steering: Self-driving vehicles may not be mainstream just yet, but this luxury add-on brings you one step closer. If you're in danger of hitting another vehicle, pedestrian or animal, auto steering will take control of the wheel to swerve out of the way. Though of course you should always stay alert while driving, it's a good backup feature to have.
  • Auto emergency braking: You know you should never tailgate, but if traffic slows or stops suddenly, this feature could help you avoid fender benders by taking over the brakes when you get too close to the car in front of you. While you won't find this in many base models, the peace of mind it brings may be worth springing for.
  • Auto parking: This upgrade is totally worth it if you're a hesitant parallel parker. Once you've found a spot, the technology detects the parked cars around it, the size of the space and the distance to the curb. Your car then takes over steering, braking and shifting functions as it guides you into the space.

Constant Connectivity

  • Wi-Fi hot spots: Get online without eating up your cellular data on road trips long or short. For a monthly fee (cost varies depending on the car and plan), this option turns your car into a roaming Wi-Fi hub.
  • USB ports: Multiple spots to plug in phones and tablets is extra essential when you're piling kids in the back—they can mess with their devices instead of each other.
  • Hands-free calling: This convenient feature—which integrates your phone into the dashboard infotainment center so you can make and answer calls, or read and respond to texts using voice commands—is a fantastic way to stay in touch while keeping two hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

Next-Level Entertainment

  • Infotainment systems: Most new vehicles are already equipped with a basic infotainment console that uses a touch screen for navigation, playing tunes and making calls. But the current crop of options does much more; some, for example, allow you to control the heat or air conditioner with your voice, while companion phone apps can remind you where you parked or guide you via GPS to an empty spot.
  • NFC Near Field Communication: Drop your phone on the “spot" and you're instantly connected to the car's infotainment center. For anyone who has futzed with their phone trying to get the Bluetooth to connect, this eliminates that annoyance and gets you straight to the good stuff.

Weather Preparedness

  • Automatic wipers: How great are windshield wipers that self-regulate, so you don't have to keep fiddling with the settings as a drizzle turns to a downpour and then back again? These wipers both adapt to the amount of rain coming down and how fast you're driving.
  • Heated seats and steering wheel: Like remote start and heating functionality, these features keep you warm and comfortable in brutal winter weather. Your tush and your hands will thank you.
  • Cooling seats: On blazing hot days, you'll want this comfort switch in your next ride. It uses less hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) than blasting cold air, so it's better for the environment, which is, you know, pretty cool.

Getting the Best Deal

Remember: You're more likely to score a discount on cars that have been sitting on
the lot for a few months. If you're considering buying one of them and it has extra features you don't want or is missing a few that you do, it's still worth negotiating the price. Once you've made the deal, you can then put those dollars saved toward your larger savings goals.