Five Things to Look For in Your Next Car


Editor’s Note:  One of the rites of spring in the New York area is the New York International Auto Show which comes to the Javits Center during Easter Week.  When I was a teen it was at the now-demolished New York Coliseum, where I will never forget going to see the James Bond Aston-Martin DB5.  Oh, how things have changed.  Now Bond’s car could be self-driving.  You can’t get one yet, but until then we asked Editor-At-Large and New York Times automotive writer John Quain to look at the features our generation should be looking for in their next car. 

After decades where the main changes in the auto industry involved minor upticks in fuel economy and horsepower, cars are now improving by leaps and bounds every single year. High-tech features–once considered superfluous bells and whistles–are today essential components that can save lives. Here are five technologies you should make sure are in the next car you buy:

A Rear-View Camera: After years of data showing how dangerous the blindspots are behind cars, safety advocates finally convinced lawmakers to require rearview video cameras–but they’re not mandatory yet. In the United States, the National Highway Safety Administration will require all vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds–including buses and trucks– manufactured on or after May 1, 2018, to come equipped with rear view cameras that will in effect eliminate the blind spots that exist behind all vehicles. The video view usually pops up in the center dash display and with virtual lines, it can even help guide you into a tight parking spot.

Adaptive Cruise Control with Auto Stop and Start: Adaptive cruise control uses radar, lidar, and video camera sensors to monitor the distance between your car and the car in front of you. If your vehicle approaches a slower vehicle in the same lane, the system will slow your car down to match the speed of the car you’re following, accelerating and decelerating as needed. To this feature, the best systems have added automatic stopping–and starting. When the cars ahead stop, you’ll stop. And when the vehicle ahead starts moving forward again so will your car without your intervention. It generally holds the brake for 6 seconds before a warning chime sounds that it’s about to switch off, but it’s still a godsend in stop-and-go city traffic. Better still, it can alleviate fatigue on long drives.

Cross Traffic Alert: Using a combination of usually ultrasonic and/or video sensors, cross traffic warnings are typically used to help you safely back out of parking spaces and driveways. They are particularly effective when the driver’s side view is blocked, such as by a building, van or other obstruction. Cross traffic alerts–which can see pedestrians and may sound a gong or vibrate your seat–generally work while the car is moving (slowly) backward, but some systems will also automatically stop the car if you don’t hit the brake in time.

Auto Braking: Emergency braking systems have become so effective that the automotive industry is moving toward making them standard in many vehicles by 2020. Used in conjunction with pedestrian detection and collision avoidance systems, auto braking will bring a car to a complete stop without the driver’s intervention. At speeds below approximately 33 mph, these systems can prevent a collision. At higher speeds, they can mitigate most collisions. It’s easy for any driver to become distracted, so don’t skip this option.

Support for Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay: Connecting a smartphone to the dashboard may seem like a trivial convenience, but there’s a good reason to ask for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay support. Most automakers are not at a point where they can guarantee upgrades for future in-dash services. However, Google and Apple are constantly upgrading mapping, traffic, music and other apps, which means that if the car you buy supports either in-car app, it won’t be obsolete in a year or two.


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John R. Quain writes for The New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, Tom’s Guide and several other publications. He is also the personal technology columnist for and has been an on-air reporter for CBS News Up to the Minute. His articles have appeared in Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly. Quain is a member of the International Consumer Electronics Show advisory board and an advisor to Driving Summit.