Good news, everyone! Today I’ve decided to take a break from my standard routine of boldfaced lies and questionable half-truths to bring you a legitimate piece of consumer advice: you shouldn’t buy a car with every possible option.
“BUT DOUG,” you’re thinking, as you’re sitting there in your office, staring at a plastic fern. “I LOVE THE FACT THAT MY NEW HYUNDAI SANTA FE HAS A HEATED GAUGE CLUSTER AND A BUILT-IN FIREPLACE AND A THIRD ROW SAUNA.”
And to that I must respond: Yeah. And I’m the one who’s responsible for the boldfaced lies and questionable half-truths.
But even if you don’t have a Santa Fe sauna, we all know that getting a car with “every option” is usually a point of pride. “I just got a new Cadillac with everything,” people say, beaming with the joy of a West Texas father whose son just knocked someone unconscious during a middle school football game. “Even the enlarged speedometer font in the You Shouldn’t Be Driving Anymore Package.”
But today, I’m here to tell you that this isn’t always a good idea. And here’s why.
To begin, we must remember that a car with “every option” is always more expensive than a standard model. And sometimes it isn’t a normal amount more expensive. Sometimes it’s insanely more expensive; stratospherically more expensive, like a kitchen remodel that you thought you could do yourself until you ruptured a gas line and blew off all your body hair.
Of course, many people know that luxury cars can become very expensive with options – but they aren’t the only culprit. Mainstream cars can also become wildly; absurdly; ridiculously pricey when you start adding extras.
For proof, I bring you to the configurator for the all-new Chrysler 200, which now has swoopy styling to make it easier to find in the rental car parking lot. For those of you who don’t want to actually go over to the 200 configurator, I’m prepared to be your tour guide.
Here’s the situation: a base-level 200 LX starts at $21,995 before shipping — and that car is already fairly well equipped, featuring items like keyless access with a push-button starter, air conditioning, USB music input, an auxiliary audio jack, and cruise control. It’s no Rolls-Royce, but it’s cheap.
But let’s say you want to get your Chrysler 200 with everything on it. All-wheel drive. Leather seats. A panoramic sunroof. Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar engine. An engine block heater ($95), because who knows? You might live in Alaska someday. An automated parallel parking system. (In a Chrysler 200!)
If you check every single box in the Chrysler 200 configurator, including all-wheel drive, your total skyrockets to more than $35,000 – an increase of almost $14,000 over the base model. In other words: even though you’re getting the same car with the same steering wheel and the same shape and the same glass and the same door panels, you’ve increased the price by 56 percent. You’ve taken the base model Chrysler 200 and you’ve added another half of a 200 to it!
Now, for the first few years of your ownership, you probably think you’re pretty cool. Using your Uconnect infotainment system at every whim. Flooring the accelerator in that Pentastar to trash Acura ILXs at stoplights. Turning on your engine block heater even when it’s warm, just because you can. Using the automated parking system every single time you stop, even though doing so requires approximately the same level of patience and precision as the lunar landing. You can do all these things, in your “fully loaded” Chrysler 200. So why shouldn’t you?
But after a while, the features get old. You never use the block heater. You rarely parallel park, and when you do, you’re tired of a female Chrysler voice asking you to Please pull next to spot and await further instructions. You’ve even lost the thrill of the Acura ILX stoplight drag races.
And so, six years after you bought your beloved 200, you decide to sell it. And this is when you realize your terrible mistake: your car is barely more valuable than that base-level 200 you ignored all those years ago because you had to have your cool features.
To prove my point, I’ve decided to turn to a couple of 6-year-old Honda Accords. In one corner, you have the 2009 Accord LX, the base model, with a miserly 4-cylinder and only a few features: air conditioning. Keyless entry. Cruise control. The usual.
And in the other corner, you have the 2009 Accord EX-L V6, which has 92 more horsepower and a lot more stuff: leather upholstery. A power sunroof. More speakers. An in-dash 6-disc CD changer. Automatic headlights. Dual-zone automatic climate control. Satellite radio. Heated front seats. If you were buying this back in 2009, you were probably literally thumbing your nose at the peasants across the lot who were going for the cheapo LX.
And yet, on the used market, six years later, here are the figures: the average asking price for a 2009 Accord LX sedan on Autotrader is $11,409. And the average price for that EX-L? $13,242. A price difference of more than $8,000 originally has shrunk to just $1,833 six years later. And this begs the question: did you get $6,200 in enjoyment out of your sunroof, your 6-disc CD changer, your leather seats, and your big V6 engine?
This isn’t an isolated incident: you never get your money back when you go for the crazy, top-of-the-line model with all the options. That’s because people looking for a used car are thinking about four things: one, mileage. Two, age. Three, ownership history. And four, whether the interior smells like a pack of wet dogs has been seeking shelter in the vehicle since the Hilary Duff years.
That’s basically it. Features, options, and extras are merely a benefit, but not one that most used car buyers are looking for. In fact, I’d be willing to guess that a low-mile, well-kept 2009 Accord LX is probably worth more than a high-mile, mismatched-tire, cigarette smoker special 2009 Accord EX-L.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, remember this when you’re buying a car: yes, sure, you can spend the extra money to get all those cool features. But you’ll never see most of that money again. So you’d better really use them.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.