Car Buying

Buying a Car: Must-Have Features For Senior Drivers

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2014

National Grandparents Day is just around the corner. To help celebrate, we're breaking down some must-have features that senior drivers will want in their next vehicle. According to AAA, "nearly nine in 10 seniors drive a car that doesn't fit their aging needs." It's an important topic, regardless of whether you're buying a car for a senior in your life or if you're a senior driver interested in buying a new or used car for yourself.

Backup Camera

Although federal regulations are requiring that all cars have backup cameras by the middle of 2018, most of today's new vehicles still don't include the feature as standard equipment. For senior drivers, we strongly recommend springing for it anyway or looking for a used car that has the option already installed. One reason is that it makes reversing safer because backup cameras can reveal areas around a car that you just can't see from the driver's seat. Most importantly, it makes backing up easier: no more craning your neck to see what's behind you every time you try to leave a parking spot. To that end, we also recommend considering rear cross-traffic alert, a feature that can warn you if there's oncoming traffic as you back out of a parking spot.

Easy-to-Use Touchscreen

If you're buying a car today, it's hard to avoid getting a new model with a touchscreen. Some senior drivers will be unfamiliar with touchscreen technology, and certain systems are far easier to use than others. We're especially impressed with Chrysler's Uconnect system, for instance, which offers simple controls, well-labeled graphics, and a huge screen with large, easy-to-read fonts. The same can be said for Ford's ever-improving MyFord Touch. Some systems, however, aren't quite as good: For example, we like Chevrolet's MyLink system, but it can be slow to respond. This is why we strongly suggest thoroughly testing the touchscreen in each car that you're considering, as some systems are certainly more senior-friendly than others.

Heated Seats

Of course, all modern cars include heating systems, but heated seats offer an extra element of comfort beyond traditional heating. Drivers with lower back pain may like the feature too, and some heated seats include temperature adjustments for both the seat bottom and the seatback. For senior drivers who often feel cold, we strongly recommend heated seats. They can feel like an extra blanket of warmth -- perfect for cold days and nights. Best of all, heated seats are now far more common than they once were, meaning that you don't have to spring for a high-end luxury car in order to get the comfort of seat heating in your new vehicle.

Keyless Access and Push-Button Ignition

We suspect that senior drivers will likely want to pay a little extra in order to make their lives easier, and few features offer that ability like keyless access with a push-button ignition. Instead of pushing an unlock button or turning a key in the car door, keyless access allows you to unlock the door with the key still in your pocket or purse, thanks to proximity sensors located in the key and the car. Instead of twisting the key in the ignition (or fumbling to do so in the dark), a push-button starter lets you just push a button to start your car. Using keyless access with a push-button ignition means that you'll never have to pull the key out of your pocket or purse, whether you're trying to lock a car, unlock it, or start it up and drive away.

Power Lift Gate

For senior drivers, few minivan or SUV features are more useful than a power lift gate. Thankfully, this feature has become more common over the past few years, and even moderately priced used SUVs are likely to have a power rear lift gate. Given that most lift gates contain wiring, door panels, sound-deadening equipment, glass and other weighty items, they're often far too heavy for senior drivers to close easily. Enter the power lift gate, which makes closing the rear hatch as simple as pushing a button. Power lift gates are also typically far easier to open than standard lift gates, as they usually have a button on the key fob or inside the vehicle to quickly do the job.

Power Seats

Power front seats are an advantage for nearly all senior drivers. One reason is that they're far easier to use than manual seats because you don't have to fumble with a variety of levers, switches and bars in order to find the one you want to adjust. They're also more comfortable because you can easily move a power seat in many different ways to find exactly the right seating position. For even more simplicity, we recommend power seats with memory, which allow you to set one memory setting in your desired seating position and quickly return to that setting if anyone else ever drives the car. If you frequently have a passenger, be sure to look for a new or used car with a power passenger's seat -- remember that some mid- to low-priced cars may have a power driver's seat only.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Car: Must-Have Features For Senior Drivers - Autotrader