8 Surprising Car Features You Never Thought You'd Have to Keep Paying For

Some car manufacturers are requiring a subscription for features you used to pay for once.

woman enjoying her new car
Updated May 28, 2024
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Driving your car might get a little pricier if automakers have their way.

Car manufacturers such as Tesla, BMW, Audi, and others have started to use subscription models to turn on and turn off features in cars. That means you might have to pay monthly or annually to access these features.

This isn’t all bad news: In some cases, you now have the option to pay for the technology only when you need it. And not adding these technologies as an option upfront when you buy the car might save you money.

Soon, you might have to choose between paying for these features or skipping them and using the savings to boost your bank account.

Active driving assistance

scharfsinn86/Adobe self driving car on a road

Active driving assistance takes over the driving function of your vehicle as you navigate city streets or busy highways. Software used by car manufacturers can turn the wheel for you, adjust your speed, and watch for obstacles.

Several manufacturers include this option on their vehicles, but Consumer Reports has noted that carmakers might turn to a subscription model for gaining access to the feature.

Parking assist

ifeelstock/Adobe car dashboard display showing next maneuver on the screen

Parking assist — which offers assistance in tricky parking situations, such as parallel parking — has come a long way since Toyota unveiled the technology in its 2006 Lexus model. It’s now a popular option, particularly in the luxury car segment.

This fancy feature might soon become a subscription option where you pay to have it activated.

Voice recognition

zapp2photo/Adobe cars console show application display and sound wave

Voice recognition software keeps your hands on the wheel while also giving you the information you need. You can ask for directions, call home, or find the closest coffee shop while your eyes remain locked on the road.

The software helps boost safety, and some manufacturers may soon make it available for a subscription fee.

Remote start

geargodz/Adobe hand using remote key to unlocked car

Drivers who live in cold climates enjoy the advantages of a remote start. The feature — which can be activated with a button on your key fob or turned on with a manufacturer’s app — allows you to start your car remotely and warm it up on cold mornings.

This is another service that might be available through a subscription. Subaru charges a monthly fee for those who want the remote start function through an app, for example.

Navigation map updates

Tasha Sinchuk/Adobe car navigation system screen with map

More cars now come with navigation installed. This feature offers a good way to get directions without worrying about constantly looking at maps. 

Updates to these maps can be sent directly to your vehicle from manufacturers — but you might have to pay a subscription fee to get them.

Another option is to use a navigation app on your smartphone and connect to it via Bluetooth or a USB port in your vehicle.

Heated seats

bayurov/Adobe seat heating buttons

BMW announced last year that unless you add heated seats as an option at the time you buy the car, this feature will only be accessible with a subscription fee.

This might not be as bad as it sounds. If you do plan to pay for the heated seat subscription, the manufacturer will allow you to access it for a monthly fee. That means you would only have to pay for it during the winter months and not the entire year.

Drive recorder

Mak/Adobe video recorder driving a car on highway

Video evidence of your driving activity can come in handy if you’re in an accident. Or perhaps you just want to record a beautiful drive in the mountains or through autumn trees.

BMW offers a drive recorder, which uses cameras on the car to record the events for drivers. The feature can be unlocked with a subscription.

Pro tip: Pay with one of the top credit cards for purchasing gas so you can get cash back or rewards each time you fill up.

Wi-Fi hotspot

hedgehog94/Adobe businesswoman using laptop and phone inside the car

More vehicles are coming with access to Wi-Fi technology. It can be a great feature if you’re constantly on the road for work. You can also stream movies and shows during a long road trip with the family.

But just like your home Wi-Fi, you’ll need to pay to use your car Wi-Fi via a carrier such as AT&T or Verizon. Those extra fees could make the feature less fun.

Bottom line

Denis Rozhnovsky/Adobe woman looking out of car window holding keys

As a car owner, you soon might have to decide whether to embrace or reject features tied to a subscription model.

If you really can't live without these add-ons, consider paying for them and finding other places to trim your car-related expenses, like comparing auto insurance rates.

If you're buying or leasing a car, check with a dealer and see if you can negotiate and get some of these subscriptions for free or at a reduced cost.

  • You could save up to $600 with some companies
  • Compare dozens of providers in under 5 minutes
  • Fast, free and easy way to shop for insurance
  • Quickly find the perfect rate for you

Author Details

Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.