15 Tips for Maintaining Your Car's Value

By: Jack Sackman
Cleaning a red car
It’s good to give your car a thorough cleaning at least twice a year, and more often if possible. Shannon Fagan / Getty Images

A vehicle is a big investment. One of the biggest investments most people make in their lifetime. And no car, truck, minivan or sport utility vehicle (SUV) holds its value. They start depreciating the moment you drive them off the dealership lot. However, this is not to say that a vehicle does not have some value. Even an old, well used car has some value attached to it and can be sold or traded in for some money. The key is to maintain as much of the vehicle’s value as possible while you own it. Here are 15 tips on how to keep the value of your vehicle as high as possible.


15. Keep the Vehicle Clean

Let’s dispense with the most obvious thing first. Keeping your car clean is a no brainer, but it is often easier said than done. All of us know that we should keep the exterior and interior of our car clean. But that often becomes difficult with the hectic pace of life today—especially if you have children. However, over time, a persistently dirty interior or exterior can lead to body corrosion, faded carpets, seats and permanent stains. These can impact the vehicle’s performance and make the car look like an eye sore and put off potential buyers at resale time. It’s good to give your car a thorough cleaning at least twice a year, and more often if possible.


14. Know Which Vehicles Retain Their Value Best

Not all vehicles are created equal. And some cars are known for retaining their value more than others. Being a savvy car owner and knowing which vehicles retain their value over many years is important. Check out the Used Car Information Center to compare the price of both new and used vehicles and buy a car, truck, minivan or SUV that will naturally hold more of its value as you own it. This is smart consumerism and car buying. Too often people are attracted to vehicles by their appearance and price, and they do not take the time needed to assess the financial implications of long-term ownership.


13. Think of Your Vehicle as an Investment

They say that a car is a terrible investment as it is a depreciating asset. It is never worth as much tomorrow as it is today. While this is true, a car does have some value when resold or traded in at dealership and used as a down payment on a new vehicle. With this in mind, it helps for people to think of their vehicle as an investment—one that they plan to get some money for once they decide to sell it or trade it in. This mindset can go a long way to helping people treat their car with care and respect. People who view their car as simply a tool for transporting them from point A to point B are less likely to look after that vehicle.


12. Watch the Mileage

The first thing anyone will ask when inquiring about a vehicle you’re selling is: “How many miles does it have on it?” It doesn’t matter if the inquirer is a salesman at a used car lot or a neighbor down the street. The number of miles on a vehicle determines how much it is worth. The more miles, the less value a car has. So watching the mileage and keeping it low is critically important. The average number of miles people drive a year is between 12,000 and 15,000. People who drive more than 20,000 miles a year are considered heavy users of their vehicle. And a car’s value drops steeply once it has more than 100,000 miles on it. Cross the 200,000 mile mark and the value plummets further. So think twice before driving across country and back.


11. Avoid Excessive Wear and Tear

A lot of people use their vehicle for more than transportation—and it shows! Towing boats and recreational vehicles, moving items from one house to another, hauling plants and shrubs, making extra money by driving kids in the neighborhood to and from school. There is no limit to the things people use their car, truck and minivan for. However, all of this leads to wear and tear on the vehicle and is not good over the long term. When a vehicle is treated with respect, it shows too. Avoiding start-and-stop driving, towing, excessive weight and speeds, or driving in areas that have unpaved or poor road conditions is important. This will help your car age with dignity rather than end up a decrepit wreck.


10. Fight Rust

Rust is like cancer on a car. Over time, rust can corrode and eat the exterior and interior of any vehicle. Therefore, rust should be avoided like the plague and people should constantly fight against its spread. Drivers who live in a cold climate with harsh winters should be sure to wash their vehicle regularly to remove salt deposits that can eventually lead to rust. It is also advisable to get a car undercoated with a rust proof spray to avoid salt deposits from building up on the frame and the underside of the quarter panels and fenders. There are also commercial sprays that prevent rust that people can buy to keep their car protected throughout the year.


9. Store Your Vehicle Properly

Your garage is for more than storing old furniture and sports equipment in it. It is designed for you to park your vehicles. And this is a good idea, especially if you live in an extremely cold or hot climate. Too much sun can fade the outer surfaces of a car, including the body paint, trim and moldings. Conversely, extremely cold temperatures can wreak havoc on a car’s engine and related components. By storing a car indoors in a climate-controlled environment, you can avoid costly repairs and help maintain the vehicle’s value over the long term. So clear out your garage and park your car in it tonight.


8. Don’t Eat, Drink or Smoke in Your Car

While all of us are on the go more often these days, our cars are not restaurants and should not be treated as such. Avoid eating, drinking and especially smoking in your car. Nothing will hurt the resale value of a vehicle more than if it smells like an ashtray inside. And coffee and soft drink spills can permanently stain the upholstery and hurt a vehicle’s value. And food, crumbs, Popsicle sticks, fast food wrappers and straws all conspire to make a car look like a trash pit and leave potential buyers with the impression that the previous owner did not take care of their vehicle.


7. Get Your Car Serviced Regularly

While most of us avoid taking our car to a service station unless we have to, it is a good idea to have your vehicle serviced on a regular basis, provided that you keep the records of the maintenance and repairs done. Regular servicing can help avoid big, costly repairs in the future, and having a record of the service done on a vehicle demonstrates to a potential buyer that you took care to maintain the car properly while you owned the vehicle. If nothing else, this can help you negotiate the price you want on the sale of the vehicle. Many prospective buyers are willing to pay more for a car that has been serviced on a regular basis.


6. Fix the Body of a Car Before Selling It

Keeping the body of a car pristine during its lifetime is impossible. Inevitably, every vehicle gets nicks, scratches, gouges and dents. Avoid these if you can, sure. But by the time any car is four or five years old, it is going to have some imperfections on the exterior body and paint. Getting these little things repaired before listing your vehicle for sale is a good idea. We are not saying that you have to spend a lot of money on a professional body shop or to have the vehicle completely repainted. But taking your car to a reputable body shop and getting the scratches and nicks touched up is a good idea. After all, nothing looks worse than seeing patchy paint spots on a vehicle from a do-it-yourself paint job.

5. Maintain the Fluids and Tire Pressure on Your Car

Have you checked the oil in your car lately? When was the last time you put air in the tires? These are small things that most of us do not give much thought to. But they are important to keeping any vehicle running smoothly. The oil, for example, helps to ensure that the engine performs optimally and the tire pressure helps improve the mileage on a car. Taking time to check the oil and air pressure, and adding them when needed, are small, inexpensive things that can pay big dividends in the long run. And they are easy things that people can do themselves when they are getting gas.

4. Polish Faded Headlights

Another thing people can do on their own is to polish faded headlights on their car. After years of exposure to the sun, the plastic headlight lenses on most vehicles fade and even turn yellow. While the rest of your car might look terrific, faded and yellow headlight covers will reveal a car’s true age. The good news is that faded headlights can be polished and restored by most auto detail shops. Polishing the headlight lenses doesn’t take long, and does not cost much money, but discerning buyers will appreciate the difference when they compare your car to other vehicles of the same age that are on the market for sale.

3. Avoid Damage to the Wheels

Speaking of discerning car buyers, many people pay close attention to the condition of the wheels on a car and will walk away if they see that the wheels are damaged. Parallel parking is often the culprit that leads to damaged wheels—notably alloy wheels. Drivers who get too close to the curb end up scratching or bending the edges of the wheels. While it’s best to avoid damaging car wheels altogether, this is not always possible. For a reasonable fee, professional wheel repair shops can refinish damaged wheels—and usually for a lot less than the cost to replace the tires.

2. Use Floor Mats

As with a lot of the items on this list, this one is simple, obvious and inexpensive. But you would be surprised at how many people do not use floor mats in their car. However, floor mats can make a big difference in a vehicle—notably in cold winter climates where people bring slush, dirt and salt into a car. Salt stains can be particularly difficult to remove and look terrible over time. Using floor mats that are removable and can be thrown out and changed periodically is a great way to protect the interior of a vehicle, avoid salt and other types of stains, and ensure that a car retains its value and fetches top dollar upon resale.

1. Avoid Repairing Your Car by Yourself

As previously mentioned, nothing looks worse on a car that is being resold than a “do it yourself” paint job, a crooked bumper or two wiper blades that are different sizes. Even people who do not have a lot of experience with cars can spot a vehicle that has been fixed and repaired over the years by the owner. And these home repair jobs often end up doing serious damage to the resale value of any car, truck, SUV or minivan. While we’re not advocating running to a mechanic or repair shop every time something glitches with a car, it is advisable to have professionals do the major repairs on a car so as to ensure that the vehicle looks good and retains its value. First impressions are lasting ones, and this saying is especially true when it comes to cars and potential buyers of them.