Car Add Ons: Should You Buy? Should You Pass?

(Here's how you can easily decide)

Car salesman explaining something to client.

If you've ever purchased a new car from a dealer, you are aware of the sales tactics used to convince you the car you've chosen would be even better "if only you purchase these exclusive dealer add ons." It might not be in your best interest to take the bait. Jack R. Nerad, the executive editor at Kelly Blue Book puts it this way, "The dealer is trying to maximize the profit on each sale, because they don't make a lot of them."

MSN Money recently put together a collection of dubious dealer add ons, and some of the top "skips" were:

  • VIN etching
  • Wheel protection
  • Credit insurance
  • Paint protection
  • Fabric protection
  • Car alarms and upgrades like LoJack

Some Add Ons Make Sense

Most experts agree that one extra protection that may be worthwhile is an extended warranty. In a poll taken by Consumer Reports recently it was found that approximately 42% of extended warranties are never used. If you know you'll keep the car for at least 3 or more years, this might be a smart buy, otherwise, the standard dealer warranty will probably be all you need. 

Philip Reed from Edmunds reminds his readers that, "You don't have to buy any of these services that day." Think about your purchase before you buy.

Another dealer add on that may be worth considering is a remote starter for your car. These are especially handy in colder climates where you should warm your engine before hitting the road. However, the installation price at the dealer is often much higher than what you can find at auto parts stores. You can always decline the dealer's offer and have a remote starter installed by an independent auto parts specialist.

Gap insurance might also be a good buy for certain drivers. For those who lease vehicles, gap insurance may help provide added coverage should your car sustain severe damage. If you have an accident, your insurance will pay you the current market value of the car but not the total amount of what you owe the finance company. 

This leaves a gap in your coverage and an amount that you still have to pay on your leased car. Dealers typically charge $600 for gap insurance, although the cost generally grows to $800 over time once you figure the interest that's charged.However, you may want to consider buying this from your current insurance agent instead of from the dealer. 

Nerad advises to "see what they cover" at the dealership, then compare with your insurer to see which is the better deal. Chances are, the dealer may opt to negotiate the price of the gap coverage.

If you're interested in gap insurance coverage, an independent agent can shop around to several companies and show you a variety of quotes before you buy. That way you'll know you're getting a good value for the add on you actually need. They can also help you find an affordable car insurance policy.

After-Market Add Ons That Do Not Improve Performance

If you painted wings on the side of your face, would you run faster? Of course not. Why do so many car enthusiasts think cosmetic stick-on after-market products will improve the performance of their vehicle? We can't answer that, but we can tell you which of these add ons are the most common and how to avoid them. Mechanic Nate Benoit says he spends more time removing these add ons from his customer's vehicles than any other auto body repair.

"Just last week, I removed a muffler tip from a 1993 Geo Metro. The four-cylinder car sounded like a V8 beast," Benoit said. "It was ridiculous. The new owner was sick of waking his wife up every time he came home late from work. He also had me remove the 20-inch wheels the previous owner had installed and switched to the more appropriate 16-inch wheels. The car now probably gets 10 more miles to the gallon."

Nothing screams complex like a tricked out Geo Metro.

Sam Abuel Samid at Popular Mechanics put together a poll of a few add ons that are particularly questionable and could actually be damaging to your car. Here are the worst offenders:

  • Fake vents: Just as that eagle tattoo may look great on your arm but won't make you soar, these false vents will do nothing to improve airflow from your engine. Samid says, "Obviously a piece of chromed plastic will have no functional effect on engine cooling, but all too often these aftermarket versions aren't even applied striaght, which makes them look particularly tacky."
  • Coffee can mufflers: For the sake of your neighbors, your co-workers and the hundreds, if not thousands, of other motorists you pass each day, please pass on the big, loud muffler add on. These huge mufflers do not improve your vehicle's performance. In fact, they do just the opposite, while deafening those unlucky enough to be within a mile radius of the running engine. "Narrow exhaust pipes that lead to a large-diameter exit are still a sorce of performance-sapping back pressure," according to Samid. "The tips themselve do little more than amplify a typically unpleasant sound without actually improving pitch."
  • Big wings, fins and spoilers: Not only do these add ons sound like menu options at a fried chicken joint, buy they also do nothing to improve the vehicle's performance. These giant wings and fins create more drag, not less, and can even damage your car and decrease the gas mileage. Samid writes, "If the vehicle is actually drive fast enough to generate downforce, it might just unlead the front wheels, making most vehicles inherent understeer even more pronounced."
  • Big wheels: Huge wheels decrease the car's gas mileage, and you can easily damage them on curbs and potholes. A lack of physical space in the wheel well also limits the ability to turn the steering wheel, making the car more difficult to maneuver in parking lots. Of all the after-market add ons, big wheels can do the most damage. "The more inertia you have at the corners, the worse the car rides and handles," Samid tells his readers.

Not only do these products fail to improve performance, but they also make your car less appealing to potential buyers. The Kelley Blue Book, the most trusted source for used vehicle pricing, doesn't even consider them when determining the value of a car. And some dealers will even lower the trade-in price they offer if you have altered your car significantly.

Add ons or not, make sure you're covered with an affordable car insurance policy.

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