There was a time not long ago when the hottest car accessories consisted of eight-track players and stick-on compasses. Thankfully, those days are long gone. But just because you drive a used car or truck, does not mean it can be outfitted to meet your own particular needs and desires.

DVD player in the car

The automobile has evolved from a simple means of transportation. Today, cars and trucks serve as mass transit systems for carpooling entire departments, recreational centers for road-weary children, and portable offices for mobile executives. With these changing times has come the demand for more gadgets and gizmos to ensure comfortable and productive travel: from coffee cup warmers and shiatsu seat covers, to DVD players and video game portals. One of the best examples of modern accessorizing is the GPS or Global Positioning System, which allows users to view local maps and receive accurate directions. These gadgets are of particular value to fast-moving professionals trying to navigate urban city streets. And travelers love them, too.

Since cars and trucks have taken the leap from luxury to necessity for many occupations or hobbyists, manufacturers have worked hard to meet the growing demand by offering a selection of accessories suited to car owners of all budgets. The market has been flooded with accessories and it’s hard to know what’s best, or even what’s necessary. Here are some tips about what to look for, and what to avoid.

* Research Your Needs

They key to making any successful purchase is in the research. Find out what you need first, and then shop around for the best price. The Internet is a great resource, with countless online articles, user forums and product comparisons available. You can also purchase everything your car needs online. Internet auctions are great spots to find quality products at low prices. Internet marketers are able to sell their products at a lower price because they have lower overhead. There are no retail rental fees or expenses so they can, in turn, offer lower prices.

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* Shop Around

Once you know exactly what you need or want, it certainly does pay to shop around. Because of the huge demand for quality automotive accessories, there is also an ever-growing market. Check prices at several outlets, and include smaller stores, and don’t be afraid to haggle for the best deal.

* Ask Other Owners and Friends

Some retailers simply want the biggest possible profit, and may try to overwhelm you with their vast knowledge and brand name repertoire, only to sell you something you really don’t need. Arm yourself with information before you visit the store, and don’t fall for the occasional pushy sales tactics. Ask other car owners about the car accessories they’ve purchased, or read about them online and in industry magazines. Shop around in advance to compare prices. A little comparative information today can save you a lot of money down the road.

* Beware Unneeded Add-Ons

Trying to force buyers to take additional accessories is one of the oldest sales and marketing tricks in the book. It’s like being pressured to buy a belt when you pick up a new pair of pants. The same holds true in the car accessories market. Just because a retailer tells you that you really need a neon green GPS cover, it’s not necessarily true. Ask a friend or trusted mechanic who is familiar with car accessories and get a reliable opinion on what you should — and shouldn’t — buy.

* Warranty and Policies

As with any product, you need to know at least the basic details of the warranty before making the purchase. Understand the retailer’s return or replacement policy in the event that the item doesn’t work in your car, fails to meet your expectations, or malfunctions.

* Inspect Before You Buy

You should have the opportunity to inspect the product before agreeing to purchase it. Of course, this is not an option with Internet purchases, so make sure you’re dealing with a reputable online dealer. Many retail stores ask that you sign a receipt stating that the product is in good condition upon receipt, and doing so may mean waiving your rights to return the product if it is indeed damaged.

* Auto Recyclers

Whenever possible, opt for OEM Original Equipment Manufactured car and truck accessories. You can usually be certain that the quality is first-rate and the warranty will protect your purchase.

Car accessories not only make driving more convenient, they can also impact your safety while on the road. Being prudent in your choice of what to buy and where to shop can ultimately save your life, so don’t make price your first priority. Safety concerns should always come first, so don’t compromise quality just to get a good deal. But remember to have fun, too, because if purchasing accessories for your car is giving you a big headache, maybe it is not worth it. Don’t succomb to pressure that says you have to accessorize — do it because it is fun for you.

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