Top new car tech options and tips to see if they're right for you

In-dash motion detectorIt used to be that new car options where limited to trim packages, color and some comfort or convenience factors. But picking out a new car today is almost like building your own computer, thanks to all the in-car entertainment and navigation options available. Just as many consumers buy more computer than they need, many people buy more car than they are really going to use, too.

We tracked down Shawn Tucker, an auto analyst from AutoTrader.com, who knows the ins and outs of the car industry to find out what new options to look for when you are buying a car and how to make sure you don't buy an option you won't ever use.

The entertainment category offers the broadest range of options when you're pricing out a new car. It may seem like a luxury, but if you and your family will actually use them, these options could be worth the price.

Popular car technology options:
  • Split Screen TVs - These built-in, wide-screen displays can connect to two sources and two sets of wireless headphones, so that one child can play video games while the other watches a movie.
  • Hard Drive Systems - Instead of plugging in your iPod, some cars can be configured with a built-in hard drive that syncs with your music collection, giving you access to your music even if you left your music player at home.
  • GPS Integration - We're seeing more advanced GPS functionality coming into cars all the time. Systems available now won't just get you from start to finish; they'll also help you find a store, call a store, get traffic alerts or add in apps that will tell you about construction or speed traps!
  • Voice Activated Systems - These options allow you to pair your phone with the car to make calls, play music and may even allow you to control car options with your voice. Ford Sync is one that I have reviewed, but there are more coming from other manufacturers.
  • Active Collision Avoidance - This amazing option will slow your car when it senses another car in your path. I loved this feature when I took a 2010 Ford Taurus to Mount Rushmore this summer.
  • Lane Alerts - Another safety option is lane alerts or lane assist, which helps you avoid another car in your blind spot.
Before Shawn worked at Autotrader, he was in the car wholesaling business, which gave him a first-hand look at options many consumers paid good money for and never used. The best example, according to Tucker, comes form his days as a car wholesaler, when on a number of occasions they would be inspecting a car and find that the previous owner had never even opened the wireless headphones that went with the car's entertainment system!

Tucker offers the following advice to help you figure out which options are worth your money.

1. Know your local laws - While many of these options help you comply with current legislation about hands-free calling or distracted driving, some states and regions are looking at new, more restrictive laws, which could limit the usefulness of these systems. A little research will go a long way.

2. Know your distractions - Each of these different entertainment and communication packages uses a different interface and control scheme. Test several different systems and imagine you are driving. What distracts you? Which one fits you best? Finally, keep in mind who you will be sharing the car with. Will your teenager be able to use it without being distracted?
3. Will you really use it - There are so many options now that sound great on the showroom floor that it can be hard to know what you want, what you need and what you'll use. Tucker suggests that you look at your lifestyle and imagine how an entertainment or navigation package fits into it. Do you envision yourself using this option daily, or just on summer road trips? Once you have an idea of how often you might use an option, you can figure out the cost per use or per year to see if it will wind up costing you $100 per use or pennies a day.

If you know what kind of car you are looking for and the options you must have, check out WalletPop's look at CarWoo!, a service that brings the dealers to you.

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