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10 Former Auto Options That Are Now Standard Equipment

Automotive technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. Today’s car-buyers take for granted many features, amenities and, yes, luxuries that were expensive options just a few decades ago…if they were available at all.

Here are 10 items that were once high-priced options on many cars, but now come standard on all but the most stripped-down models from American, European and Asian automobile manufacturers.

Power Steering

1) Power Steering. The first commercially available power-steering system was the “Hydraglide” system Chrysler introduced for its 1951 Imperial. Available only on larger luxury cars during the 1950s and 1960s, power steering now comes standard on virtually all cars sold in the U.S.

Anti-Lock Brakes

2) Anti-Lock (ABS) Brakes. Systems that allow wheels to act tractively with a road surface during braking go back as far as the early 20th century. But it wasn’t until the early 1970s that what we know as anti-lock brakes became available as options on a number of luxury cars from Chrysler and General Motors (GM). Today, these life-saving systems come standard on most cars produced by American, Asian and European manufacturers.

Power Windows and Locks

3) Power Windows and Locks. Although standard on most high-end cars from the 1960s onward, it wasn’t until the past two decades or so that you didn’t have to pay extra to get these convenience features on mid-size, compact and sub-compact automobiles. Today, a hand-cranked car window is standard only on the least-expensive models of some sub-compact and compact cars.

In-Dash Radio

4) AM/FM Radios. AM-band radios have been standard on cars since the end of World War II. But an AM/FM combination was usually an add-on until the 1980s.


5) Seat Belts. It’s difficult for many young people to believe there was a time when drivers and their passengers become unguided projectiles during high-speed crashes. Seatbelts – actually, “lap belts” like those found on airplanes – were only offered as options by the automaker Nash in 1949 and then by Ford in 1955. The modern three-point seat belt didn’t become common until the 1970s. Seat belts were not federally mandated until 1968, and it wasn’t until 1984 that states began to ticket people who didn’t use them.


6) Airbags. In America, the first driver’s side airbag was the Air Cushion Restraint System (ACRS) GM made available as on option on its full-sized Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac models in 1974. Since 1998, driver’s side and passenger’s side airbags have been required equipment on all passenger vehicles sold in the U.S.

Air Conditioning

7) Air Conditioning. If you live in the South, Southwest or Southern California, it’s difficult to imagine a time when all cars didn’t come with air conditioning. But while heaters were standard on most cars even before the second World War, it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that fully-integrated air conditioning systems appeared as very expensive options on some high-end American products. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a car — even an inexpensive sub-compact — that couldn’t cool you on a hot day.

Intermittant Windshield Wipers

8) Intermittent Windshield Wipers. Believe it or not, you couldn’t control your windshield wipers’ speed until Ford introduced the intermittent windshield wiper as an option in 1969. For a fascinating look at the story behind this “simple” invention (and how its inventor, Robert Kearns was almost screwed out of millions by the Big Three automakers) see the movie Flash of Genius (2008).

Digital Display

9) Digital Displays. Digital displays were big deals when they first appeared in the mid-1980s. Today, they’re everywhere, although many automotive purest still prefer analog readouts, which tend to remain standard on most high-performance cars.

Electronic Fuel Injection

10) Electronic Fuel Injection. American and European auto manufacturers began offering electronic fuel injection (EFI) as early as the late 1950s. EFI has become standard equipment worldwide since the early 1990s, completely replacing old-fashioned carburetor for fuel/air control.

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