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10 things you need to know before buying a car

You've done your research. You've test-driven the vehicles you're considering. You think you're a well-informed consumer, right? Well, there are things automakers aren't telling you. But it's not necessarily a case of deception. It's just the quickly changing auto industry. Here then, are 10 things your automaker isn't telling you.

"If your tire pressure is low, you have a 25 percent chance of guessing which one."

The federal government requires that all automakers equip new cars with tire-pressure monitors. There are two types. One uses a sensor at each wheel to measure the precise pressure. It's more expensive than the other one, which signals the driver if one wheel is turning at a slower speed than the others. This version, which is more common, doesn't tell you which tire is low.

"We did away with the spare tire."

Don't look now, but your next car may not have a spare tire. Some cars replace the spare tire with a tire-inflator kit. Ditching the spare tire and jack saves 26 pounds and helps improve fuel economy. Other cars don't have room for an on-board spare.

"Our new option is the same as our competitors."

The global recession has thinned the number of automotive suppliers. This means that some options are supplied to every automaker by the same suppliers.

"Smoking will cost you extra."

All cars and many trucks were once fitted with ashtrays and lighters. Space once used for ashtrays is taken up by a cupholder or mobile phone slot. If you want one, it's usually optional, if it's offered at all.

"You'll need that optional rear-view camera."

The current trend in design has seen vehicles with small windows and high trunk lids. This makes it difficult to see out the back window while backing up. Rear-view cameras, which come on when the car is in reverse, are becoming a mandatory option for those concerned with safety.

"You can't fix your car anymore."

According to an engineer at General Motors, the average new car or truck has 23 CPUs in it. Aside from an oil and filter change, most maintenance can no longer be handled by shade-tree mechanics.

"The $500 option you want will cost you $2,000."

Most options are no longer available individually; you must buy them in an option package. This is convenient for automakers; it lessens their costs. But it raises yours if you want an option that's available only in a package with features you don't want.

"We can't afford to build a compact pickup."

If you wonder why foreign automakers don't offer more compact pickup trucks in the United States, there's a simple reason for that: They can't do it profitably. Detroit automakers offer full-size pickups that start at $21,000 to $22,000 before rebates, which can go as high as $4,000. That puts a full-size pick-up at the same price as an imported compact pickup.

"We love it when you buy crossover SUVs."

While crossover SUVs such as the Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot look like trucks, they are based on platforms used for midsize cars, such as the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. But automakers can charge more for a crossover, even though the cost of manufacturing isn't significantly higher than that of a sedate family sedan.

"Your perception of us is out of date."

Most car buyers only enter the market every five to seven years, so it's likely that their perception of automakers dates back that far, or farther. While many buyers perceive American cars to be not as well-built as foreign ones, many domestic manufacturers offer models built or designed overseas. The Ford Focus was designed in Germany. The reliability of some domestic models is superior to that of their foreign competition, according to Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates, among others.

10 things you need to know before buying a car 07/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 7, 2011 10:30am]
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