Image: Car on stack of money © Dynamic Graphics, Jupiterimages

Though many assets appreciate in value as they age, a car is not one of them. Edmunds estimates that new cars lose as much as 20% of their value as soon as they are driven off the lot. But you can improve your car's resale value and hold on to it longer by keeping it in good condition and allocating expenditures wisely. Read on for 10 ways to keep your car in peak condition -- and preserve more of its value for when you want to sell it.

Spend wisely on extras

Some people are drawn to expensive stereo equipment or navigation, while others prefer safety equipment or a sporty spoiler. However, adding pricey equipment to a car does not necessarily increase its value.

Be wary of installing products you like, but that others may not. Many vehicle owners think they will be able to recoup the cost of after-market products they have installed at resale time, only to be disappointed when a prospective buyer isn't willing to pay for the after-market accessories.

Consider practical products, such as iPod connectors. Similarly, a bed liner for a truck may be worthwhile because it helps protect the bed against dings and scratches, which can help preserve the vehicle’s value.

Do regular maintenance and checkups

Every vehicle manufacturer recommends regular maintenance, though the schedule depends on driving conditions and other factors. Manufacturers used to suggest changing your oil every 3,000 miles, but now some of them have increased their recommended intervals to 5,000 or even 10,000 miles, depending on driving patterns and conditions. Some car manufacturers recommend better-grade oils, such as 5W-20. Use the oil suggested by the manufacturer; don't skimp. If you do, your warranty may be voided because you did not follow the manufacturer's recommendations for a new car. Regular, on-time maintenance will help keep your vehicle in good health and your money in your pocket over the long run.

Tire pressure is another important maintenance item. If neglected, low tire pressure can affect your car's performance and safety. According to, properly inflated tires can improve gas mileage by about 3%. Keep tires properly inflated according to manufacturer recommendations. Every vehicle is different, so check your manufacturer's manuals.

Regular servicing as recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer, such as replacing air filters approximately every 15,000 to 20,000 miles and changing various fluids at recommended intervals, also affects the performance -- and lifespan -- of a car. Sometimes dealers offer special pricing on these services.

Always keep records

Document all repairs and maintenance with receipts, and save them in a special folder. When you're ready to sell your car, these can be used to show the prospective buyer that you have maintained your vehicle.

Check your VIN report

A vehicle identification number (VIN) report is like a car's credit report. It is the first document a prospective buyer often pulls, before even looking at the car. The report usually discloses the full history of a vehicle from the day it lands on a dealer's dock up to current ownership and includes changes of ownership, accidents, servicing, etc. Many dealers update this report automatically when they service a vehicle. That's one reason to use the dealership for servicing, even though it might cost more than the local repair shop.

By checking the report routinely, you can confirm that it shows the vehicle’s complete history and whether any incorrect information has been added. If you see anything suspicious, instruct the insurance company that reported the incorrect information to the VIN-report preparer to correct the error.

Keep mileage under control

An important determinant of a vehicle's value is the amount of mileage it has for its age. Insurance companies also take mileage into account when setting premiums. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, annual mileage of roughly 13,500 is considered average. Driving more than that will decrease your car's value faster. If you drive less than the average, though, your car is likely to depreciate at a slower rate.

Looks matter

First impressions -- of humans and machines alike -- are lasting. An ugly, ill-kept car does not reflect well on its owner, and experts believe that just by cleaning your car, you can add hundreds of dollars to its value when you sell. That doesn't mean you have to spend hours scrubbing and waxing with cleaning brushes every week. Just clean it periodically.

If you don't have the time to clean your car, use a car wash. For more extensive adjustments to your car's appearance, you can detail it yourself or take it to a detail shop. Use a coat of wax to protect your vehicle's paint surface from nature's elements.

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Keep the exterior clean

Even if you wash and detail your car frequently, it won't matter much if you treat it like a cafeteria or designated smoking area. Avoid eating and drinking inside your car, even on long road trips. Don't smoke and don't allow anyone else to smoke in your car. Spills, cigarette smoke and stains can ruin the inside appearance and smell of your car and lower its resale value.

Protect its appearance

Even the color of a vehicle can impact its resale value, so it is essential to keep your vehicle stored properly. If you live in a hot or extremely cold environment and you have the option to store your car inside, you should do so. Excessive sun can fade the outer surfaces of your car, including paint, trim and moldings. Additionally, extremely cold temperatures and environmental conditions can wreak havoc on your car's engine components. By storing your car in in a climate-controlled environment, you can help avoid costly and unnecessary repairs.

Try to avoid conditions that can damage the exterior finish of your car. Paint chips, gouges and fading can all decrease a car's value. If your vehicle's paint is less than ideal, consider having it painted prior to resale time, and be sure to have a reputable paint expert or body shop perform the work. A nice-looking exterior finish can increase a car's curb appeal and, ultimately, its value.

Although dents, scratches and other kinds of damage are sometimes unavoidable, it is important to remember that visible imperfections will impact resale value. Dent repair, a "light touch" procedure, can get rid of dents without sandblasting and expensive painting.

Other problems many vehicle owners face are rusting and unsightly stone chips. Repairing those chips with an inexpensive touch-up stick can dramatically improve your car's appearance.

Fix small problems promptly

Many drivers tend to neglect small problems as long as the car still runs. Unfortunately, these are often warning signs of a more serious problem. Taking care of problems in a timely manner, whether they are mechanical or cosmetic, can often save money and help you avoid frustration. If you live in a cold climate with harsh winters, be sure to wash your vehicle often to remove salt deposits that can eventually lead to rust. Whenever possible, have your car undercoated to avoid salt deposits from building up on the frame and the underside of the quarter panels and fenders.

Treat your car with respect

Prevent excessive wear and tear by avoiding extreme start-and-stop driving, over-towing (or towing more weight than is recommended in your owner's manual), excessive speeding or driving your vehicle in areas with poor road conditions.

Accidents, no matter how slight, can negatively impact a vehicle's value and jeopardize personal safety. No matter how short the trip, avoid excessive speeds and erratic or irresponsible driving, and always pay attention to the roadway and weather conditions.

The bottom line

Whether you want your current car to last longer or you're looking to get top dollar at resale, it's important to stay on top of maintenance and cosmetic issues. By following these simple steps, you can increase your car's value and get the most money when the time comes to sell.

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