5 Ways to Help Your Car Hold Resale Value

·6 min read

When you bought your last car, you probably didn't think about the car's eventual resale value (or when it would be time to sell it off again). Cars can be such an emotional purchase. Maybe you were buying a car you've always dreamed of, or were upgrading because your family is growing and you need more space—or perhaps you just got a promotion and were buying a car to celebrate.

Whatever the reason, cars are one of those odd investments that rarely, if ever, pay any returns. The moment you buy a car, it starts to lose value—some cars more quickly than others. There are, however, ways that you can try to minimize the inevitable loss, making sure your car is resale-ready when you want to move on to the next one.

Start by buying the right car.

The time to start considering how much money you'll sell your car for starts long before you actually list it for sale. It starts with buying the right car the next time you're upgrading. Some cars lose value much faster than other cars. Luxury cars typically depreciate the fastest.

Choosing a car that's reliable, popular, and made by a company that's typically held in high regard will help you get more money for it when it's time to sell. Subaru, for example, is known to have a high residual value on the market today. In fact, it held the title of "brand with the highest residual value" from Kelly Blue Book in 2011, 2015, 2016 and 2020. But be sure that you are buying a car that's also a fit for your needs—not just one that gets the highest resale value.

Maintain it and keep meticulous records.

Car maintenance, such as changing your oil, checking your tire pressure and changing your air filter, is essential to keeping your car running for as long as possible, without expensive and extensive repairs. It also works wonders when it comes to slowing depreciation.

Think about it: A car that is well maintained is more likely to last longer without catastrophic failure. It's likely to cost the buyer less to repair as well. That makes it worth more. In fact, it's critical that you don't just maintain the car, but that you also keep meticulous records detailing what services were performed, why they were performed, and, of course, who performed them. The easiest way to do this is by keeping the physical or digital service receipts.

Minimize drive time, if you can.

The average American will live 78.7 years—and cars have an average life expectancy, too. Generally speaking, a car can comfortably be expected to run for 200,000 miles. Some say that electric cars can be expected to run for 300,000 miles, or perhaps even more. Because a consumer can expect that a car won't make it much past 200,000 miles, the closer the car is to that mileage, the less the car is worth.

My wife and I love to visit Chicago from our home in Wisconsin. We used to drive—but here's the thing. We'd drive to Chicago, park the car, and then use public transportation or Uber because city parking is tough. But now, we take the Amtrak trains for these trips instead. It saves us nearly 100 drive miles in each direction, which easily adds up to 200 to 400 miles a month, or 2400 to 4800 miles a year. If we hold on to our vehicle for five years, that's a reduction of 12,000 to 24,000 miles, or one to two years of driving for the average American driver.

Looking for ways to decrease your mileage will benefit you in the long run. "Don't use your car for ride-sharing work," says Julie Bausch, managing editor of Car Talk, a popular automotive talk show on NPR.

Although I don't want to advocate that you don't use your car the way the car was intended, there are practical ways to shave off a few miles at a time. A couple of miles every week can add up to quite a few in the long run. Look to plan your grocery shopping in advance so you don't have to go back multiple times a week, and consider public transportation when it makes sense for your needs.

Clean your car, inside and out.

Have you ever been in a car with worn leather seats—perhaps so worn that they were torn? It probably wouldn't make you excited to buy it, right? Maintaining your car is more than just doing the required oil changes and tire rotation.

"Keep the car clean. Outside and inside," says Bausch. "Seems like common sense, but it gets missed often."

Cleaning the outside of your car at least once a month will help protect your paint from damage due to salt, pollutants, bird droppings, and even acid rain. Cleaning the inside of your car prevents wear and damage to your carpets and your leather (or another material) seats. It also keeps your car feeling newer, ultimately fetching you a higher sales price in the end.

"Install good floor mats for the front and the back, specifically if you live in an area with a lot of rain or snow," says Bausch.

Avoid eating and drinking in your vehicle to minimize staining. Smoking in your car (marijuana or cigarettes) also fuels depreciation. The odor is difficult, if not impossible, to remove from the interior of your car. Since most car buyers don't find the smell of smoke to be pleasant, it can really tank a car's value.

Drive carefully.

It goes without saying that damage to the body of your car makes it less attractive to car buyers. But past damage, even if repaired, also impacts the resale value of the car. Driving carefully and following the rules of the road—such as not speeding—will ultimately help you avoid getting into accidents and damaging your car.

It would be wise to also learn about and practice defensive driving, which encourages you to drive safely while always being on the defensive and looking out for less-safe drivers on the road. This will reduce the likelihood of getting into an accident because someone else isn't paying attention. Avoid texting, driving while distracted, and of course, drinking and driving.

Lastly, if you do get into an accident, be sure you get the car fixed. Not repairing body damage can lead to rust, and a car that's rusted or repaired poorly will also sell for less.

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