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Frills Versus Function

February 2011

By Kateri O'Neil, Los Angeles

Design, quality, durability, and performance remain the primary criteria most look for in a new car. That said, with added-value perks such as voice-recognition systems, parking sensors, rear backup cameras, streaming Mobile Digital Media entertainment, and personalized systems for operation, navigation, and communication, it’s easy to be blinded by the cool gadgets and futuristic gizmos. After all, who doesn’t dream of owning their very own KITT?

However, when friends with more “exotic” cars complain about the maintenance and repair costs their covetable Cabriolets and bold BMWs incur, I nod in sympathy. Inside, I feel glad I purposely haven’t traded in my humble 1990 Toyota Corolla for a newer object of luxury and/or lust. Fancy engines, snazzy accessories, and slick design do tempt my self-indulgent side, but frills and fluff don’t equate with value.

While only a fraction of today’s car-buying population can (and want to) afford a trophy car, standard commuter vehicles that fulfill their fundamental function -- to serve as reliable modes of transportation -- are proving themselves to be the winners of the century-long automotive race.

If and when I do “upgrade,” I will consult Edmund’s TCO® Calculator which measures eight components to determine a car’s “True Cost to Own:” depreciation, fuel economy, insurance premiums, interest on financing, maintenance, repairs, sales tax and tax credits. However, fuel efficiency and overall reliability (i.e. minimal maintenance) remain my ultimate priorities. The Toyota Prius has proven itself a winner in these categories and continues to impress me as well as the majority of my peers.

Los Angeles

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