Behold the endless list of options on automobiles these days. A car that talks back, for example, is no longer a novelty on the road. Electronic voice-alert systems are activated in a number of conditions to either warn a driver of a problem with his car or to put his mind at ease.
Both Chrysler and Ford offer their own version of the ''talking motorcar.'' And then there is that chatty Nissan Maxima as well.
In the Chrysler version, 11 messages are verbalized, including a polite ''thank you'' after the driver responds. If a motorist wants less chatter inside the car, the system can be canceled out. Also, for 1984, Chrysler is ''softening'' the impact of the voice system in response to motorist complaints.
Indeed, exotic extras flatter the ego, but they add considerable cost to a new automobile.
Luxury-car options can cost almost as much as the price of an economy model a few years ago. Yet, an option can make a big difference in the way you feel about a car. In many cases it can transform a motorized mouse into a mountain lion.
A carefully selected package can personalize a car and make it feel customized.
The question is one of value. How much do these features add in the way of comfort, convenience, and safety? Some expensive ones are worth the price, but many cheap ones are not.
The best bargains can be found in the safety group. In addition to being reasonably priced, some may even reduce the insurance premiums.
Safety should be the first consideration when selecting options. A passive-restraint system eliminates the need to buckle up, and is especially useful to anyone who is frequently in and out of the car. Closing the door moves the belt into position, while opening the door retracts it for quick exit.
If you have trouble remembering to buckle up, this one's for you.
A limited-slip differential improves traction on soft or wet surfaces by keeping both rear wheels turning when one starts to slip. Intermittent windshield wipers require little attention when rain or snow are light. Halogen headlamps reduce the possibility of overriding your headlights and are recommended for anyone doing a lot of highway driving at night.
Automatic dimmers reduce the possibility of your blinding on-coming traffic by lowering the beams when the headlights of an approaching car are detected. Exterior rear-view mirrors with remote control are adjustable from inside the car in any kind of weather, and they are especially useful on autos with more than one driver.
Window defoggers should not be forgotten, especially for the side as well as the rear. Undercover options
Although unseen, handling extras can help improve an auto's performance and support its safety. Some improve ride and cornering characteristics; others modify steering response.
Power steering and power brakes have become more standard than optional in recent years, and are almost a necessity on larger vehicles. Power steering is a help while parking a vehicle of any size, and has a minimal effect on mileage. Heavy-duty springs and oversize tires are needed when heavy optional equipment, such as air conditioning, is added.
Diesel engines offer better mileage than gasoline, but are noisier, harder to start in cold weather, less powerful, and considerably more expensive initially. In addition, service stations with diesel fuel may be hard to find. However, a diesel engine offers better fuel economy and is less expensive to maintain over the life of the engine.
Manual transmission improves gas mileage, but usually eliminates cruise control as an option. The fifth speed of a manual transmission is often used as an overdrive gear for further improvement in gas mileage.
Coatings, such as rustproofing, paint sealers, and undercoating, can add considerably to the cost of a car. Undercoatings and sound-deadening packages are better if applied at the factory. The primary advantage is in soundproofing.
Since most cars now offer warranties good for three or more years of protection against rust, a dealer's rustproofing package seems unnecessary. Paint sealers improve the gloss and protect the paint as well as the job you can do yourself with an auto wax and at a fraction of the cost.
A small spare tire is conveniently sized, but is only for emergency use. A full-service, conventional tire is recommended unless saving space is absolutely essential. Computers
Microelectronics is applied extensively in new cars. In addition to the status enunciators, travel computers that monitor fuel and distance in order to report on fuel consumption, travel range, and average speed are available. Chrysler's model includes a digital calendar-clock that even adjusts for the extra day in leap year.
Chrysler also offers the driver a microcomputer-controlled graphic report-ing system on some models instead of the voice-alert system. The panel displays information about speed, distance, fuel level, brakes, engine temperature, voltage, seat belts, and doors. Comfort
Air conditioning is the most popular comfort option and the most expensive as well, but this option is worth the cost in many parts of the country. It guarantees an environment that keeps you comfortable and fresh no matter how hot it is outside the car.
Factory-installed air conditioning is the best choice, because the car is designed to accept the added load. Automatic-temperature-control units require less attention, but add electro-mechanical complexity and reduced reliability. Factory-installed air conditioning runs from $650 to $750 on most cars, a big jump from the $400 to $450 of a few years ago.
Tinted glass reduces the load on an air conditioner, but also reduces nighttime vision. Tall drivers can also be bothered by the darker strip at the top of the window.
Cruise control is only important if continuous highway driving rolls the miles up on the odometer. It is especially important if your legs become uncomfortable on long drives. Its use, however, is not recommended in congested areas or on slippery pavement. Most cruise-control systems have trouble maintaining speed on long steep grades.
Adjustable and reclining seats are good examples of options that have become standard in varying degrees on many models.
Seat comfort must be checked assiduously. Lack of comfort and proper seat positioning can easily create unsafe conditions. Power seats with a memory that automatically sets the position for different drivers may be carrying it a bit too far, however.
Bucket seats offer improved passenger support, and can be independently adjusted to provide adequate legroom for passengers of differing heights. However, bucket seats are not a comfortable arrangement if three passengers will often use the front seat.
Cloth upholstery is more comfortable than vinyl the year round. Treated fabrics are also almost as impervious as vinyl to spills and dirt. Luxury
Keyless door locks are operated with coded buttons. They are as ineffective against the professional car thief as the ordinary key locks, however. Power door locks are luxury items that improve safety. All door locks can be activated at one time against a potential threat. Some systems lock all doors when the transmission is shifted into drive. Some offer child-proof locks that can be set to open from the outside but not the inside.
The sun roof is a luxury item that can be a source of both annoyance and pleasure. Some units decrease headroom; others leak. All make an air conditioner less efficient and increase interior noise. However, a sun roof does add another pleasurable dimension to driving after dark on a beautiful summer evening.
A power window is a high-price feature that can be an inconvenience and a hazard as well, especially if young children are in the car. It also can add to the repair bill.
Articulated seats improve the comfort of the driver by inflating an air bladder for back support. They are available on the Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar as well as some other cars. Various types of seats are available from several manufacturers for people with special physical problems.
The thermostatically controlled heated seat is a European innovation, and is great on cold mornings. Mercedes-Benz, Saab, and Audi offer heated seats.
A tilted steering wheel improves access as well as visibility for many drivers.
Radios can be purchased from factories or dealers in many configurations, including those with stereophonic sound, tape decks, and citizens' band radios. If you're a real aficionado, visit a store that specializes in sound equipment before accepting a factory or dealer option.
Select options carefully. Take into account your life style and your needs.
Choose options after testing them out on a model similar to the one you will buy. Only then will your car be customized for fun rather than frivolity.