A car may be a depreciating asset, but the drop in value depends in part on how well the owner takes care of it. Looks, both inside and out, certainly matter, and the evaluation doesn't end there. To get the best possible resale value when the time comes, commit to these eight simple and low-cost preventive measures.
8 Simple Ways to Maintain the Value of Your Car
First impressions count when trying to sell a car, whether it's at a dealership or via Craigslist. You want your car to shine. An entire paint job may be in order before you affix a "For Sale" sign, but periodic maintenance is a less costly plan. Consider waxing the exterior of the car several times a year to help protect the paint against fading and scratches (prices start at about $20). You can do this yourself, but note that using the wrong wax or cleaner can damage the vehicle.
"Invest in detailing by a pro once or twice a year to root out buildups before they go too far," says Janet Groene, a travel writer from Gainesville, Florida, who has spent a lot of time on the road. Several other sources echo her advice. Although our frugal instincts argue for the DIY approach, professionals have the know-how and equipment to vacuum, steam, and shampoo stains and dirt. Prices start at about $60.
Smoking in your car can significantly lower its value. Smoke damages the interior plastics and fabrics and the smell is almost impossible to remove. But smoking isn't the only no-no. Letting a wet pet lie on the seat or leaving the windows open during a rainstorm will result in a musty odor that's a bear to shake. You probably don't smell so sweet after a workout at the gym, either, so keep a few spare towels in the car to cover the seats. Jason Lancaster, editor of Accurate Auto Advice, warns about improper air conditioner use, which can cause a buildup of mold and bacteria. The best way to prevent this, he says, is to turn off the AC several minutes before parking the car to let the system dry out.
Install seat covers if you want better everyday protection from spills and pets. They aren't the most stylish accessories, but a small investment now (as little as $20 but mostly in the $100-to-$200 range) can pay off big time when your car hits the resale market. Likewise, protect the floors with mats (less than $25 a set), which are a practical necessity during the winter months and much cheaper to replace than the car's flooring.
Austin Coop, automotive editor at Roadtrippers, stresses that car owners must think long term to best maintain a car's value. Resist the urge to plaster the back of the car with bumper stickers, regardless how funny they are. If you see a small scratch or ding, touch it up right away with matching paint (about $7.50 a can). Even small scratches can turn to rust (and lower the car's value) if left unattended. The don't-wait mentality is also important when it comes to repairs. If you hear a weird noise coming from the motor or the check-engine light comes on, take the car to a mechanic right away. Regular oil changes (starting at $20) and tuneups (starting at $50) can also pay for themselves. In general, ongoing preventive car maintenance is generally cheaper than dealing with major problems later.
New cars lose a lot of value as soon as they leave the dealership. Dodge this sudden loss by buying a secondhand vehicle. A model that's only a year or two old typically comes with low mileage while being new to you. Many dealers maintain certified pre-owned programs that offer warranties and thorough pre-sale checks.
There are some DIY car repairs you can undertake to save money. But if you're trying to maintain the value of your car, leave certain jobs to the professionals. Window tinting is one example. A DIY job is easy to spot and doesn't always look pretty, Lancaster notes. Bed liners and mud flaps on pickups are other common DIY jobs that he suggests should be handled by someone with experience or expertise.
No matter how trustworthy you may seem, a cautious buyer will ask to see maintenance records. Keep receipts from all your tuneups, oil changes, tire rotations, even car washes and detailing. This will show how well you've cared for the vehicle over the years.