Optional Extras: How Much Value Does Leather Add to a Car?


When you’ve finally settled on the new vehicle you want it can then be tempting to raid the list of optional extras, but have you ever wondered how much value does leather add to a car and what about other items you might want to pay extra for?

Most mass-market automakers use the most affordable entry-level models in their vehicle lineups to tempt you into showrooms, but as these models often lack a lot of features you might like it can be tempting to invest in a few optional extras. You might assume that adding leather seats and other options will help the eventual resale value when the time comes to change your vehicle again, and leather definitely will. It’s not the same with every option available at the entry-level though, so here are 18 options you might be tempted by and I’m going to tell you if they’re worth the extra investment.

  • Leather seats
  • Navigation
  • Sunroof
  • Premium audio systems
  • LED lights
  • Automatic transmission
  • Wheel upgrades
  • Expensive tires
  • Premium paint
  • All-wheel-drive
  • Performance packages
  • Body styling kits
  • Safety features
  • Heated/cooled seats
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Head-up display
  • Parking sensors
  • Rear entertainment

Leather seats

Although leather upholstery isn’t perhaps the most practical of seating materials because it’s cold in winter and hot in the summer and it can show wear quite badly over time, there’s no doubt about its desirability. Not every low-spec vehicle will offer leather as an available option, and if it is available it probably won’t come cheap. Even so, there are few extras I can think of that will help a vehicle’s resale value as well as leather will.

Navigation

Navigation used to be optional on even some of the most expensive vehicles, but it’s increasingly coming standard even much lower down the food chain these days. The availability of cheap portable navigation systems and mobile phones offering navigation have made it less of a desirable upgrade than it used to be but it’s still probably a good bet. Adding navigation might not improve the resale value of a model, but not having navigation may harm a vehicle’s resale value in some cases.

Sunroof

A sunroof is a very individual thing, so I wouldn’t say it’s a universally desirable option that you really should opt for. A sunroof usually reduces the amount of headroom inside a vehicle with one fitted, so it could do as much harm as good, depending on the particular buyer. Get one if you must, but don’t get it to help with resale value.

Premium audio systems

If you’re buying an Escalade, a Range Rover or a Bentley and you want to spend extra on a sound system that’s even better than the standard one then, by all means, go ahead and do it. However, if you’re buying a more affordable vehicle then I wouldn’t really bother. Most of the time these days we’re streaming music via Bluetooth, and the quality is pretty poor, to be honest. Paying extra for a premium audio system will make a bigger impact on your wallet than your ears and won’t help your resale, so I wouldn’t bother.

LED lights

Normal halogen lights do their job just fine, but some LEDs will really improve the overall look of a car. They have other advantages such as longer life, brightness and efficiency, but when it comes to a car, truck or SUV it tends to be more about how they look. If they’re combined with other styling upgrades to create a certain look they can add value, but just adding them to a base model isn’t much of an investment unless you have a real love for LED lights.

Automatic transmission

Automatic transmissions are almost always standard these days unless you’re buying a performance car or something really, really cheap. If it’s a cheap car you’re buying that comes standard with a stick shift, then upgrading to automatic will be worth every cent. If you stay with the manual you might find buyers thin on the ground when you come to sell, so I’d say you should always upgrade to automatic unless you specifically want a stick.

Wheel upgrades

Upgrading from steel wheels and hub caps to alloys will certainly help an affordable car’s resale value, but upgrading from standard alloys to flashier ones probably isn’t worth the money as far as enhancing the resale value is concerned. Bigger wheels mean more expensive tires, so unless the standard alloys are really duff it’s probably better to stick with them.

Expensive tires

Specialist tires like knobbly off-road tires, winter tires for cold climates or performance tires for the track are one thing, but upgrading to a higher specification tire for a daily driver is probably a bit of a waste of money, to be honest. When it comes time to sell prospective buyers are only usually bothered about how much tread there is, and not whether they tires are a premium brand or a set of ditch-finders.

Premium paint

Metallic paint used to be a must-have, especially for luxury vehicles, but solid paint seems to have become more acceptable in recent years. If metallic costs a couple of hundred dollars extra then it’s probably worth it, but some of the really premium paints like pearlescent that can cost $700-$1,000 are a bit of a waste of money, at least as far as resale value is concerned.

All-wheel-drive

Even though most people who have it rarely, if ever, use it, I’d say all-wheel-drive is an option that’s probably worth well worth paying out for. A lot of people don’t even understand the difference between an all-wheel-drive system and proper 4×4, but it’s definitely a big selling point for a used vehicle, especially if it’s an SUV.

Performance packages

Sometimes a performance package will be the only way to get a more powerful engine or a better transmission that’s really desirable, and in those cases, it’s worth paying for the upgrade package. However, if we’re talking about a stiffened suspension and upgraded shocks for a vehicle not generally regarded as a high-performance car, it’s probably best to stay away from it.

Body styling kits

Most factory or dealer-fit body kits are usually ok, and as long as it’s a relatively sporty vehicle a body kit can be a useful enhancement. Most manufacturers won’t sanction anything too hideous, so if you do fancy dropping a few hundred dollars on a styling kit it will probably pay off when you come to sell. Even some models that are not especially sporty can benefit from a subtle body kit too. I once had an Audi A4 with a body kit and mesh grilles and it really lifted it in a big way and I was fighting buyers off when it came time to sell.

Safety features

Some buying guides will tell you that certain safety features are now considered essential, and they really hammer models in reviews that don’t have them. I’m not so sure about that, and I’m skeptical that dropping a thousand bucks or more on a suite of advanced safety features is going to come back to you when you come to sell. Of course, if you want these features because you’ll feel you and your passengers are safer as a result but don’t check the box on the order sheet for the purposes of enhancing your residual value.

Heated/cooled seats

Think about where you live. If you’re in California or Texas heated seats are not going to be much of a selling point, but up towards the Canadian border, you’ll struggle to sell a vehicle without them once today’s cars are a few years old and heated seats are more common. It’s a similar story with cooled seats, although they’re much less prevalent than heated seats at the moment. They’re obviously great for the Southern states if you’re selling a vehicle, but not massively desirable in Buffalo.

Heated steering wheel

I used to think this was the most superfluous feature ever thought of for a vehicle, at least I did until I had one for a while in the winter. Even so, it’s a cool feature you’ll enjoy in colder climates, but it’s not going to add much to your resale value and it will probably only come as part of a much more expensive winter package for lower-spec models anyway.

Head-up display

At the moment this is such a novelty that it will probably help you sell a vehicle easier, and it will probably stay that way for a while yet too. If it isn’t a ludicrous amount of money to add to the model you’re looking to buy I’d probably give this a cautious thumbs-up. But if you’ve never had one before I’m not sure the novelty of it will last long before you start to find it annoying, and turn it off until the day you want to show it off to a prospective buyer.

Parking sensors

Until I got a car with rear parking sensors I thought it was an unnecessary feature that was only useful for people who were so bad at parking that they probably shouldn’t be driving at all in the first place. I now consider rear parking sensors almost essential, so you should definitely take them as an option if available. I’m not so sold on front sensors though unless they come as part of a package with the rears.

Rear entertainment

This one is absolutely 100 percent no, no, no and no again for me. Rear DVD systems with screens in the back of the front seat headrests used to be a sign of genuine upscale opulence, but now they’re just a dated anachronism that’s a leftover from the 1990s. The systems are out of date when they leave the automaker’s production line these days, and who doesn’t have a smartphone or tablet to watch with their own content these days anyway. These are now a total, utter and complete waste of money.

The best way to do options

If there’s a particular feature the model you’re buying doesn’t have that you really must-have, and you don’t have to buy a load of stuff you don’t want as part of a package to get it, then buy it for that reason. If your main focus is to help your vehicle’s eventual resale price then standalone options are rarely the answer.

The best way to get features that will help your eventual resale value is to go for a higher trim level. As vehicles get older and their value depreciates, the difference between high and low trim levels gets proportionally smaller. That inevitably means higher trim levels become even more desirable as they’re then more affordable than when they were new, and they make lower trim levels a lot less desirable in the used market. No matter how much money you spend on available options, you’ll never get anywhere near as much of your money back in the resale value later as you would do if you stepped up a trim level or two in the first place.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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