Six Ways to Help Your Car Keep Its Value

by Tim O'Sullivan

Whether you’ve just bought your car or you’ve been driving the same one for years, eventually the time will come to either sell or trade it in. Of course, you’ll want to receive the most money you can. Retaining as much of the car’s original value as possible starts at the dealership and lasts as long as you own the car—it can also ease the financial burden of purchasing a new car. Here are a few ways to make that happen.

1. Buy Used

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Vehicles rapidly depreciate early in their lifespan—most shoppers can expect their new cars to lose up to 50% of their value within three years. Used vehicles retain their value at a much more attractive rate than new cars. So, you’re more likely to retain more of your original investment if you purchase the car at a discount price, courtesy of a few thousand miles on the odometer. If you need more motivation to buy used, see 10 Good Reasons to Buy a Used Car.

2. Pick Your Options Wisely

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Expensive packages and stand-alone options don’t hold their value, so stick with the basics. Air conditioning, power windows, locks, and seats and cruise control will come in handy when you own the car and when it’s time to sell. However, flashy chrome and DVD players for the second row may seem like worthwhile options when you’re buying, but they may not be worth much when you’re selling. Car enthusiasts, you might have to pay extra for an automatic transmission when car shopping, but you’ll have a much easier time selling it than a less-expensive manual transmission.

3. Drive Fewer Miles

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Most drivers already follow this tip but it’s still good to be reminded: More miles on a vehicle mean lower value, and fewer miles mean more value. Keep miles low by consolidating trips—go to the grocery store, pharmacy and school pick-up on one drive, not three—carpool when possible, and opt for public transport if it’s available. Keeping your mileage under 10,000 miles per year is a good rule of thumb if you’re trying to retain as much value as possible. And driving easy during those 10,000 miles—avoiding sudden braking, rapid acceleration, and hard turns—will also reduce wear and tear and increase the value of your car.

4. Wash and Vacuum Regularly

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A dirty car is a turn-off for buyers and a smelly car can be even worse, so it’s important to regularly wash and vacuum your vehicle. If you have kids (or eat in the car yourself), make sure to clean up spills or stains right away so they don’t become permanent. You can further maintain your upholstery by investing in seat covers. If you’re a smoker, make sure you smoke only outside your car—never in it—the smell of tobacco smoke is almost impossible to remove and will cut down the potential market and value of your car. For more of our pro tips on keeping your car smelling great, see How To Get Rid of Bad Car Smells.

5. Keep a Regular Maintenance Schedule—and Keep the Receipts

Getting regular tune-ups will prevent some problems and detect others before they become worse, which in turn will keep your vehicle running smoothly. A well-running vehicle is worth significantly more than one with mechanical issues, and saving the receipts from your routine (or non-routine) work will earn a buyer’s trust. If you’re not due for scheduled maintenance but notice something amiss with your vehicle - even a small sound that comes and goes—investigate it right away. Cars don’t fix themselves, and small issues can become big ones if they linger. For more, see The Car Maintenance Schedule You Should Follow.

6. Avoid Modifications

Lowering the ride height of your Volkswagen or adding a spoiler on your Honda may seem like fun when you’re doing it, but it won’t be as fun when it’s time to sell. Modifications can scare away buyers, who may not want the big tires or spoiler or may not trust that the modifications were done properly. And even if a buyer does appreciate your modifications, they’ll almost never earn you as much in resale as you spent to have them installed. Sticking with the factory specifications may seem boring, but it’s the best way to get the most value for your car in the end.

And if You Can: Keep it in the Garage!

Now, not everyone has the luxury of a garage. But parking your car in a garage will protect it from the elements; snow, heat, rain, sunshine, wind, hail, and other types of weather can age or even damage your car. The garage can also protect your car from falling branches or other debris and it will prevent any minor collisions that might happen when you’re parked in the driveway or on the street.

The Bottom Line

Slowing depreciation is a process that starts the moment you purchase your vehicle, continues with regular maintenance, cleaning, and mindful driving, and doesn’t end until it’s time to sell. If you stick with the process, you’ll end up with more money in your pocket, whether you sell the car on your own or trade it in with a dealer.

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