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Technology and cars – how to avoid an expensive trip through the extras listBack

The mobile site is just about to launch, and while testing it out I was given pause to think about the power smartphones now have.

Camera, email device, organiser, games console, sat nav and phone – smartphones have revolutionised the way in which people go about their lives and conduct business. In just 20 years the mobile phone has become an indispensable part of modern life.

Cars are also vital to the way we live our lives, providing the sort of personal freedom no other form of transport can. But while they are a significant feature of modern life, they haven’t always shared the rapid technological advance of other gadgets, such as the mobile.

It is only in recent years that we have seen the same degree of technological confluence (or coming together of technology) that we see in other everyday objects.

New cars, particularly executive European models from Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes, are always packed with technological developments that will all eventually find their way into mainstream cars.

If you have the money to pay for extras you can already have a car that parks itself, avoids crashes, watches out for your blind spot, is a wi-fi hub, can direct you to your destination, has a television and DVD player and is voice activated.

The important word in that paragraph though is extras. Cutting edge technology has always been available in cars – at a cost. Manufacturers have always recognised that car buyers want gadgets and will pay for them. So despite us living in a society where nearly all mobile phones have Bluetooth connectivity, nowhere near as many cars do.

Phone connectivity is a good example as speaking on the phone while driving is now illegal in many Western countries, yet handsfree kits remain an expensive extra on most motors.

Ford’s new Focus is a welcome new exception, with its automatic parking and intelligent aerodynamics. And in fact the whole Ford car range features free Bluetooth technology, which is clearly a sign of things to come.

Manufacturers, both volume and prestige brands are beginning to realise that special edition models packed with ‘free’ extras are a good way of satisfying customers and deflecting competition from the Far East.

You can now pick up decent deals that bundle in many extras on models that are nearing the end of their production life. It could be a double edged sword though, as these cars are likely to depreciate more sharply once a replacement model has been launched.

So your choice will always come down to your (probably monthly) budget.

Go for an attractive finance deal on a new car and you can enjoy the very latest looks and gadgets. Alternatively you can ensure you get the technology you want in your new car by buying second hand. With a “late plate” car someone else has then picked up the tab for all those extras you want. So you can show your mates how your car parallel parks itself…without being embarrassed at how much you paid for the privilege.

New or used – which is for you? How do you make sure you get the extras you want when buying a new car?

Posted by Neil Addley on 20/06/2011