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Purchasing Your Next Car? Consider these 5 Features

Posted Wednesday, November 9, 2011, at 11:42 AM

By Julie E. Lee

Vice President, Driver Safety Program, AARP Education and Outreach

What motivates you to buy a certain car? Maybe you're loyal to a single manufacturer. Perhaps you're concerned about rising gas prices, so you consider purchasing a hybrid vehicle. Maybe price is your biggest consideration, so you conduct a thorough cost analysis of each car you consider buying.

When making a financial investment in a car, you should be as informed as possible so that you make a choice that not only suits your lifestyle, but will keep you and your family safe for years to come.

According to the AARP Driver Safety Program, the nation's largest driver improvement course designed for drivers age 50 and older, there are several factors you may not think about when purchasing a vehicle--but should. So before you start shopping, take these five features into consideration:

1. Color: Although you may like the look of a sleek, black car, lighter and brighter colors are actually better for making your vehicle more visible to other drivers, especially at night or in rain. One study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre in Australia analyzed nearly 900,000 accidents occurring between 1987 and 2004, and found that in the daylight, black cars were 12% more likely than white to be involved in an accident. At dawn or dusk, the risk ratio for black cars jumped to an astonishing 47% "more likely" than white cars.

2. Side/Side-Curtain Airbags: Airbags are an essential safety feature for everyone, but especially for older drivers, whose bodies are less able to withstand the impact from crashes. For maximum safety, look for a vehicle with both dual front and side airbags.

3. Daytime Running Lights (DRL): DRLs--low-beam headlights that are lit whenever the vehicle is running--have become a common feature on many new vehicles. As a low-cost way to increase vehicle visibility (and reduce daytime accidents), DRLs have been mandated by law in some countries since the 1970s. If you opt for a vehicle without DRLs, still consider turning on your headlights during the daytime, so long as you remember to turn them off once you've reached your destination.

4. Fuel Efficiency: With gas rates around the country nearing $4.00 a gallon, fuel consumption should be a major factor in purchasing a car. Hybrids are no longer a niche market--more and more hybrid vehicle options are being produced by major manufacturers, including Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, and Toyota. If the eco-friendly route is not for you, consider purchasing a small vehicle, which has naturally lower mileage rates than an SUV, and has the added bonus of ease in maneuvering and parking.

5. New Technology: Adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control, collision avoidance systems, tire pressure monitoring systems, navigation systems (GPS), on-board communication assistance--the list of new car technologies is constantly growing. While new technologies make your road trips safer and less stressful, it's imperative that you know how to use these technologies before taking your new car out on the road.

For more resources and additional information on how to keep you and your family safe on the road, consider taking a driver refresher course, such as the AARP Driver Safety Program--available in a classroom setting or online. For more information, visit www.aarp.org/driving45.

Julie Lee, Senior Vice President of AARP's Driver Safety Program, has more than 30 years experience in management, strategic planning, transportation and safety. With AARP for over eight years, Lee directs the largest driver improvement course designed for drivers age 50 and older.

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AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people age 50 and over have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole, ways that help people 50 and over improve their lives. Since 1958, AARP has been leading a revolution in the way people view and live life.