Car Buying

Buying a Used Car: What Features Should You Avoid?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2015

When buying a new car, the general rule is the more features, the better. After all, the more equipment your car has, the more cool things it can do and the more comfortable you'll be when driving it. But when you're buying a used car, this isn't necessarily true. Some of these formerly "cool" features can fail easily, and they can be costly to fix. To help you understand exactly which features you might want to stay away from, we've rounded up a list of some of the more expensive and fragile features on the market.

Adaptive Anything

In today's automotive parlance, "adaptive" features can adapt to a car's behavior, and there's an increasing number of them. Adaptive headlights, for example, swivel as you turn the wheel. Adaptive cruise control will increase and decrease your speed as traffic speeds up and slows down in front of you. Adaptive suspension can adjust a number of ride quality characteristics as you drive down the road.

We think most of these features, while enticing, could cause problems in the future. Although items like adaptive air suspension and adaptive cruise control can be exciting to have, they tend not to last as long as more conventional systems, like traditional cruise control and regular suspension. When these adaptive features do break, repairs are pricey: both adaptive suspension and adaptive cruise control can cost thousands of dollars, while replacing the swiveling feature in adaptive headlights can easily cost hundreds. The cost is so prohibitive that many drivers just leave these systems broken, removing the very feature they were excited about having in the first place.

Think Twice About Sunroofs and Convertible Tops

Although many drivers enjoy opening up a sunroof or a convertible top to let the sunlight in, these features can also be problematic. Admittedly, a sunroof and convertible top should have no trouble for many years, as they're designed to last a while.

But if your sunroof or convertible top breaks and your car's warranty has already expired, repairs can be very expensive. That's especially true of a power-operated convertible top, which can be a complex series of parts, motors, and other gadgets. The same goes if either of these items begins leaking, which happens with surprising frequency on older used cars. While we wouldn't suggest buying a car without a sunroof or convertible top instead, we'd certainly recommend that you make sure these features are working when you buy the car and that you understand the risk that may go along with having a sunroof or a convertible top in the future.

The Less Complicated, The Better

In general, if you're interested in buying a used car for durability and low long-term ownership costs, we'd say the less complicated a car is, the better it is. A fancy power tailgate might be nice until it breaks, and you have to fix it. The same goes for multi-function power seats or a rear DVD entertainment system. Many of these items are designed to last for the life of a car, but some don't. So if cost of ownership is your number-one priority, we strongly suggest choosing a car without a lot of high-tech bells and whistles.

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 Used Car: What Features Should You Avoid? - Autotrader