What car buyers want today: The latest tech

Many auto buyers traditionally have been loyal to their favorite brand -- whether it was Chevy, Ford, Toyota or a luxury name. Now, nearly half of buyers say they care more about getting the right tech features in a car than they do about its brand or even body style.

A recent study by Autotrader, the largest U.S. website for buying and selling cars, found that not only do shoppers know exactly what technology they want but they’re willing to pay more to get it. That’s true of the latest safety features like adaptive cruise control. It helps keep your car at a safe distance from the one in front of you when you have cruise control set, adjusting your speed automatically if needed, which can prevent a crash.

But the most desired technologies of all are convenience and entertainment features like in-car Wi-Fi and voice commands. The ideal for shoppers is for their automotive tech to be equivalent to what they have in their smartphones.

Looking ahead to future car purchases, respondents said they would be willing to pay an average of $2,276 more to get the exact technology features they want.

The survey of 1,020 Americans (matching census figures for age, gender and ethnicity) found that 56 percent of those questioned said when buying a car, they’ve done their research on the technology they want before they ever visit a dealership.

“Technology has become the deciding factor for car buyers selecting a vehicle,” said Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs. “Automakers must deliver innovative features or risk consumers looking elsewhere.”

Here’s a closer look at the survey’s findings:

  • Sixty-one percent said getting the right technology in a car was more important than getting an exterior color they prefer.
  • Forty-eight percent said the right technology is more important than either the brand of the car or even the body style. In other words, they might buy a sedan instead of a small SUV if the sedan had the right technology.
  • A majority of respondents believe advanced safety features should be standard on all vehicles sold in the U.S. In answering this question, 67 percent said blind-spot detection should be standard, and 56 percent cited forward collision warning. The latter -- which hits the brakes if it senses an imminent collision with the vehicle ahead -- was endorsed by 52 percent as needing to be standard.

One safety feature that will become mandatory starting with 2018 models is the rear-view backup camera. Not only does this help avoid collisions with vehicles or objects behind you, it helps avoid tragic situations like backing over a small child not visible through the rear window.

In a voluntary agreement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, automakers have promised to make forward collision warning and avoidance standard on most vehicles by 2022.

Even when they aren’t required, these safety features have already trickled down from luxury brands -- their traditional starting place -- to less expensive mainstream brands. “Advanced safety systems are becoming widespread very quickly,” said Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “It seems to be happening faster than in the past because automakers are competing on safety more than ever.”

A good example of such fast-spreading technology is the 2017 Honda Civic, which won the Kelley Blue Book Best Auto Tech for mainstream models. The award cited both safety features, like lane-departure warning, and entertainment options, such as Apple Car Play and Android Auto, which let you give voice commands to send messages, play music or make a phone call without touching your phone.

Kelley analyst Zach Vlasuk noted that the Civic is “a compact car laden with advanced features once reserved for vehicles costing three times as much.”

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.