SEBRING - When people come to buy a car at Wells Motor Co., a vehicle's gas mileage or sticker price is not the only thing they are weighing.
Buyers also want to know if a vehicle has blind spot alerts, or back-up cameras and sensors that warn drivers if something or someone is in the way, perhaps a lane assist feature that beeps or flashes if the car is unintentionally veering from one lane to another, or side-impact airbags.
In the new world of fast-changing technology and gizmos, today's automobiles are front and center with bells and whistles and safety assists that were once found only in luxury cars and have been around only for the last few years.
Wells' Sales Representative Kathy Poteat has been in the business for 20 years and has never seen so many changes like in the last couple of years.
Don Elwell, director of marketing for Alan Jay Automotive agreed.
"It's more than just gas mileage; they are looking for more features," he said.
"The industry is pushing changes," added Bill Jarrett Ford's sales consultant Robert Murray. "That's good for consumers.
That means the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is using its 70 safety features to market itself as a safe, family-friendly SUV, said Poteat.
A 2014 Ford Escape comes equipped with a backup camera even if it's a standard edition, and new Ford Explorers have inflatable seat belts, Murray said.
"You can have a USB in your car," Murray added. "You don't have to buy a moon roof for it."
Some newer models not only have blue tooth connectivity, they have USB ports, adaptive cruise control where a car will slow down on its own if it needs to and then come back up to its programmed speed, voice-assisted computer systems that adjust temperatures and activate GPS, and cars that open and drive with the push of a button and a remote key fob.
A study by Accenture Consulting shows the source of the impetus.
The survey shows that drivers are twice as likely to choose a car based on "in-vehicle technology options than its performance."
"Thirty-nine percent of the drivers surveyed said their primary consideration is in-car technology, compared with 14 percent, who said driving performance had the greatest influence on their choice," the survey said.
These could include navigation and traffic services; a range of autonomous driving aids; in-car services; safety services; or black box-type monitoring of a person's driving patterns that can help reduce insurance premiums, the company says.
On average, 90 percent of those surveyed had an interest in some "autonomous driving options, primarily those related to safety," the company adds.
These could be lane-changing warning systems, collision-warning systems, lane-keeping systems, automatic braking systems that prevent hitting an object to fully automatic parking.
Poteat and Murray said some of these safety assists are popular not just with younger drivers.
Older drivers want the blind spot warnings, and Elwell said one of the more popular options is the backup camera, which the federal government is requiring in all new cars and light trucks in a few years.
Despite the growing use and popularity of safety assist features, it's unclear if they are helping lower car insurance premiums.
Heacock Insurance Group's Operations Manager Cathy Terrell said it's hard to generalize as many factors go into play - from a car's crash test rating to whether it's cheap or expensive to repair the vehicle.
Reports also have emerged of security experts posing as "hackers," showing how someone can remotely control the computer of a car, although Highlands County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Nell Hays said there have been no cases reported of car computers being hacked and manipulated.
Again, while safety features are supposed to assist drivers, there is a danger drivers may become too dependant on the gizmos and stop being as vigilant as they need to.
Poteate and Elewell agreed.
"All these are drivers' tools," Elwell said. "You still have to be a vigilant driver."