E/W Electric Windows
Make sure these work before you buy the car. On many cars only the front windows are powered, be wary of add-on aftermarket fitments because repair may be difficult if they fail. Late model cars often have a pressure-sensitive cut-off to prevent damage to fingers, arms etc. that might be caught in a closing powered window.
Make sure you know what you're getting - some sunroofs are glass panels, some body-coloured metal, some tip up but don't open, while some have to be removed and stowed in the boot. Simplest are wind-back or electrically-powered. Check for signs of staining on roof or seats that might indicate sunroof leaks.
E/S/R Electric Sunroof
Common in Japanese and higher specification cars, but again make sure you're getting what you expect because on some smaller coupes these tilt but don't slide. Make sure the mechanism works before you buy, and look elsewhere if it appears to be an aftermarket add-on fitted to an older car.
FSH Full Service History
Essential on a late-model car that you're likely to want to sell it on in later years. A properly serviced car demands a higher price premium. If you're mechanically adept and intend to keep the car a while use the lack of a service history to beat the seller's price down. Carefully check the service book yourself to make sure the mileages and rubber stamps look genuine.
R/H/R Rear Headrests
A worthwhile feature if you're safety conscious and often carry rear-seat passengers. But check that the rear head restraints are substantial enough to fit behind your passenger's necks. Some cars merely have raised sections built into their rear seat backrests at just the right height to catch a passenger's neck, thereby offering no whiplash protection at all.
MET Metallic Paint
More lustrous than normal colours, metallics are often extra-cost options on new cars, and so can ease up the second-hand price. Nice on nearly-new cars, but don't be too eager to choose a metallic on an older car as retouching is often more difficult and repainting considerably more expensive.
C/L Central Locking
One turn of the key in the door locks all the doors - at least in theory!. Some systems work only from the driver's door, some don't include the boot. Some aftermarket add-on systems might work only on the front doors.
REM C/L Remote Control Central Locking
Central locking system operated by a push-button usually on the ignition key fob. Some of these work by sending out an infra-red signal, others use a radio signal. Infra-red signals are easier for villains to "grab" so use sparingly in public places. Remote central locking often also works in conjunction with an alarm or an engine immobiliser. If the remote sender's battery fails you'll be stuck because even though the key will allow you to open the door the alarm and immobiliser will still work. Be sure you know how to replace the battery before you take the car. Buy a spare battery too - but don't keep it in the car, or you won't be able to get to it when it's most needed!
PAS Power Assisted Steering
Only the smallest cars can be driven easily without this feature, so look out for it. A pump driven by the engine uses high pressure oil to help turn the wheel when you steer. On more expensive cars the amount of assistance varies so that parking needs only fingertip pressure on the wheel, but high speed steering needs a heavier hand.
E/M Electric Mirrors
One of the best features you could hope for - it prevents all that reaching out into the cold to battle a door mirror into position. Check that both mirrors are powered - some cheapskate manufacturers powered only the passenger's side mirror (including some models of Mercedes). Beware the term "internally adjustable mirrors" because that might mean a non-electrical toggle-operated system which can be worse than just reaching out and setting the mirrors by hand. Some electric mirrors also have demister elements. On prestige cars mirror adjustment can be automatically linked to the driver's seat position setting.
ABS Antilock Brakes
Worth paying a little extra for. Sensors at the wheel detect when the wheel locks up under panic braking, which would normally result in a skid and consequent loss of control. The ABS system uses valves to release braking pressure the instant the wheel locks up, so the car doesn't skid. The braking distance may not be shorter, but a big bonus is that steering control in retained so you can steer to avoid trouble while your foot is planted firmly on the brake pedal. Bonus two is that no matter how hard you brake you won't scrub the tyres, so they last longer. Disadvantage? Stopping distances are much longer than you'd expect on ice and snow. Expensive cars sometimes include a switch that disables the ABS, in others removing a fuse might do it (but make sure the fuse doesn't also work something else, like brake lights).
ASC Anti Skid Control
Prevents wheelspin either during hard getaway acceleration or when traction is lost in hard cornering. Usually works through the antilock brake system, using the same sensors to detect sudden wheelspin and applying the brakes gently to control the loss of contact and prevent skidding. Sophisticated systems in high performance cars sometimes also automatically cut engine power until the danger of skidding has passed.
LHD Left Hand Drive
Indicates the car was probably imported privately either from the US or from Europe. Belgium was a popular source for private imports as cars were priced considerably lower than in the UK. Check service data carefully, because private imports might not have had proper main dealer service. Also check the specification matches the asking price - cheaper European cars often had lower equipment specification that British cars, including different upholstery cloth. Some replacement parts might not be simple to source and the car is likely to be more difficult to resell.
A/C Air conditioning
Another worthwhile feature, happily becoming more common on more affordable cars. But do make sure that the air conditioning works, because it's an expensive system to put right. Air conditioning effectively puts a small refrigerator in the car to cool and filter air delivered to the passenger compartment. It uses a high-precision pump which needs to be run regularly to remain properly lubricated. A system that's been switched off for the autumn and winter months could seize up when started up for the summer. If you have air con run it through the winter, too - it can warm the car as easily as cool it down, and it demists a lot more effectively, too.
cruise Cruise Control
Maintains the vehicle's speed even if you lift you foot right off the accelerator. On older cars the system could be a simple mechanical linkage attached to the carburettor or fuel injection system, on modern cars it's more likely to be linked through the engine management system. Of limited use on Britain's crowded roads but useful on those longer less-populated motorway stretches further north. Greatest value is in preventing accidental speeding - set the cruise control to the speed limit and relax. Take care, though, because some systems will allow the car to pick up speed when running downhill.
leather Leather Upholstery
Can add well over £1,000 to the price of a new car, so naturally hikes the price of a used car too. An advantage is that leather is often easier to clean than fabric, disadvantages are that it can feel hot and sticky in summer and leather doesn't always grip you the way cloth does so you can find yourself sliding about a bit in corners. If you are paying extra for the leather, make sure you're getting what you pay for - leather on the seat facings, steering wheel and gearshift gaiter is quite common, it's only when the entire seat plus door and console trim is also in leather that the value rises.
h/seats Heated Seats
A luxury you'll welcome during the winter. Usually confined to more expensive cars, make sure they work before you buy, though failure is usually nothing more serious than a blown fuse.
SRS Airbag (Safety Restraint System)
Now fitted to most new cars, rarer on cars three to five years old. Housed in the centre of the steering wheel, the bag blows up in a fraction of a second in the event of an accident to cushion your head as it lurches towards the steering wheel. A passenger airbag may also be housed in the dashboard. Don't sit too close to the airbag, because your face could be struck by the plastic lid covering the bag as it bursts open, or grazed by the bag itself. Never place a rearward-facing child seat in a passenger seat if a passenger airbag is installed.
Usually refers to an on-board computer which mainly keeps tabs on fuel consumption, giving readouts showing distance travelled since last refuelling stop, current consumption and projected range before refuelling but can also give readouts on external temperature, internal temperature etc.