7 ways automakers charge for things now that used to be free

August 8, 2019

Free is in short supply and cheap is running out for new car shoppers nowadays.

Occasional new-car shoppers might be surprised to see charges for items that once were included in the cost of a new car.

In some cases, those charges are added because few shoppers ask for items that once seemed indispensable to everyday life. In other cases, they’re there because reducing complexity in how cars are built can drive down the overall cost of a car.

"No doubt, vehicles are getting more technically sophisticated and advanced every year. And those added features add cost. In some cases, that's driving manufacturers to charge extra for items that came standard in the past. That said, here at Consumer Reports, we believe that safety features should never come as an added cost option," Cars Deputy Content Editor Jeff Bartlett said in a statement.

Here is a list of just a few features that used to be free in new cars that can add hundreds or thousands to the bottom line of any new car.

2020 Cadillac XT6 Sport

2020 Cadillac XT6 Sport

Paint colors. Henry Ford told us as much 100 years ago, but we’re still surprised that most automakers are happy to give us any color we like for free, as long as that color is black—or white.

Many GM cars, including Buick and Cadillac vehicles, charge more for paint that’s not white. BMW does too. Want dressier colors? Automakers such as Mazda even have premium paint colors that cost above and beyond add-on paint charges: Soul Red costs nearly $600 compared to a premium white that adds $200. Luxury brands can charge much more.

iOS 10.3 Apple CarPlay

iOS 10.3 Apple CarPlay

Infotainment software. Charging more for apps isn’t just for phones anymore. BMW charges $80 per year for Apple CarPlay after the first year or $300 for 20 years, but it’s not alone. Retrofitting some Jaguar and Toyota vehicles with Apple CarPlay can cost hundreds. Telematics apps and concierge services from nearly every automaker can cost money every year, and add-on apps such as Pandora can charge a monthly subscription fee. At least navigation isn’t exorbitantly expensive anymore.

2019 BMW M2

2019 BMW M2

Manual transmissions. Assuming you can find them on a new car, manual transmissions aren’t ways to save money anymore. Porsche made manual transmissions a no-cost swap on its new cars, same with BMW and Mazda. Few buyers opt for manual transmissions in their new cars and, on the cars that it’s still available, those buyers no longer save money by opting to swap their own cogs. Certifying for sale a new car in the U.S. can cost millions, and each powertrain configuration adds to that cost—canning unpopular options is a part of cutting those costs.

No spare tire

No spare tire

Spare tires. Cutting out spare tires from the trunks of new cars not only saves money, but it also saves weight. Automakers have ditched spares for several reasons: run-flat tires fitted from the factory, emergency roadside repair kits (aka Fix-a-Flat cans) instead of spare tires, or included roadside assistance are just some of the reasons.

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Roof racks. Nearly SUV or crossover on sale offers roof racks for an extra charge in most configurations. In some cases, automakers shelved factory roof racks to cut down on drag and boost fuel efficiency. In other cases, dealer-installed accessories won out as different roof racks were needed by different buyers. In nearly all cases, shoppers are on the hook for a few hundred dollars more if they want to strap bikes or boards to the roofs of their cars.

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

Physical media players. Holding on to that Backstreet Boys CD? It’ll likely cost you more to play it in a new car. Automakers started ditching many physical media players in new cars 38 minutes after Bluetooth streaming audio arrived. Honda charges $310 for a CD player in some of its models, Subaru adds it back into some Outback models for $399. Do you still have that Teddy Pendergrass cassette? Tough luck. No one ships a new car from the factory with a tape deck.

cigarettes, taken by Flickr user Schnella Schnyder

cigarettes, taken by Flickr user Schnella Schnyder

Cigarette lighters and ashtrays. Lighting up costs more—in many, many ways. As the number of smokers has declined, so too have the smokers packages that used to be found in every vehicle. Many automakers still offer the convenience of an ashtray and plug lighter, but just ask for more money. That’s one of many, many reasons to consider quitting.

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