12 Cheap Ways to Make Your Car Look Awesome
Most of us car owners spend an awful lot of time in our vehicles, whether commuting to work, driving the kids to soccer practice, or just hauling groceries. I'm no big fan of keeping up with the Joneses, but the temptation to purchase a new, shiny car is a familiar feeling for many of us, even though keeping an older car can be much more cost effective (especially if it is paid off). So if making small upgrades to your older car help you keep it longer, then you're making a truly frugal choice. (See also: A Used Car Salesman Reveals Dirty Tricks (and How to Beat Them))
In short, if you feel good about your older car, you're less likely to be tempted to buy a new one. Here are some easy ways to make your older car feel like a new one.
These basic maintenance tips should cost you less than $100 and will help prolong the life of your car while keeping it looking good.
1. Clean and Organize Your Car
Every time you get out of your car, make it a habit to empty it of trash. A serious deep cleaning is great, so you can splurge (money or your own time and effort) once a year on a good interior detailing, but a simple dusting once a month can keep your dashboard looking spiffy.
There's no need to invest in expensive organization tools — you can keep your glove compartment organized using Ziplock bags (all the car manuals in one bag, tools in another, car repair and maintenance paperwork in another, phone chargers and iPod cords in yet another, etc.).
As for the exterior, you don't have to wax your car to a perfect shine, but putting it through a good car wash every couple of weeks will help you feel better about it. If you have the inclination, you can always use a toilet brush to clean your wheels every few weeks — wheels don't tend to get very clean in the car wash.
2. Replace Your Floor Mats
Floor mats are usually the first things to get ruined in a car. If your car still has the original floor mats and they don't qualify as Superfund cleanup sites, congrats! You should probably take them out of your car and store them for later, if and when you decide to trade in or sell your car. Instead, use weather-appropriate rubber floor mats. These will keep your car's carpet looking good and prevent the growth of mold caused by wet boots.
3. Get New Windshield Wipers
If you live anywhere that gets real weather, you know how important a good set of windshield wipers can be. Clean your blades with a microfiber cloth once a week, replace your blades every couple of months, and use a windshield treatment like Rain-X to help keep your wipers in good working condition.
Some older cars have particularly weak windshield wipers, so if you really want to see the road, shell out some extra dough and get an entirely new set of wipers (with motor).
4. Get Some Seat Covers
To protect your seats from future abuse, or to cover up seats that are too far gone already, buy some seat covers in basic, unobtrusive colors.
5. Clean Windows Inside and Out
Clean the insides and outsides of your windows to improve both your visibility and the appearance of your car.
Do you have kids? Chances are that the inside of your car's back windows are disgusting (I know mine are). Use a cleaner like GooGone to remove stickers and other goop, and then clean with your favorite window cleaner and a microfiber cloth. Some car owners swear by newspaper (as opposed to towels or paper towels) and barely soapy water as a windshield cleaner.
6. Repair Dents and Scratches
There are quite a few ways to remove dents from the body of your car — everything from the hot glue method to the suction method. On older cars (especially cars that have body parts that are still made of actual metal), repairing deep scratches can prevent rust and future damage.
Inexpensive scratch repair pens can only fix the top layer of your car's protective coating, so don't count on them to fix a scratch the goes through the actual paint.
7. Perform Regular Maintenance, Like Oil Changes
Okay, this might not contribute directly to the appearance of your car, but keeping your car in good running condition is even more important than making sure it looks good (and fewer things will drive into the arms of a car salesman faster than a roadside breakdown with your older vehicle). With older cars, sometimes basic maintenance almost seems like it isn't worth it. But it is! Regular oil changes, filter replacement, and belt checks can keep an older car running for years beyond its expected expiration date.
Moderately Expensive Fixes
These car-care options are a touch more expensive, but can increase your enjoyment of your car.
8. Get the Seats and Carpets Shampooed Regularly
Look for social coupons and deals with local detail shops, or just do what I do and spend $100 every six months to have your seats and carpets vacuumed and shampooed. If you allow food and drink in your vehicle, you may need to do this more often. Clean upholstery can make a car feel practically new inside.
9. Upgrade Your Car Speakers
Factory default sound systems in older cars are generally pretty lame, but you don't have to break the bank to get an improvement in sound quality. Sometimes, something as simple as replacing the factory speakers can be enough to drastically improve your car's sound. Of course, if you want to replace that 8-track player with a system that you can plug your iPod into, that'll cost you quite a bit more. However, if music is something that makes your commute more bearable, it might be worthwhile to spend a little more to get the tunes you need.
These investments cost more upfront, but make a big difference in how your car looks.
10. Replace Banged-Up Body Parts
If you can't easily repair a deep scratch or remove a dent, you can always look for body part replacements, either online or through local scrap shops. You might just find a stellar deal on that passenger side door.
11. Repaint the Exterior
Probably more than any other service, a new paint job can make a huge difference in the overall appearance of your car. At the low end, you can expect to pay at least $600 for a paint job at shops like Maaco, but the quality of car paint used in these jobs isn't necessarily the greatest. For a couple of thousand dollars, you should be able to get a good exterior paint job that will dramatically improve how your car looks.
12. Get New Wheels
Vehicle wheels are funny — you wouldn't think that they could make such a big difference in a car's appearance, but they do. Cheap, older cars come equipped with cheap wheels, and over time, wheels really do show their age. Between missing hubcaps and mishaps with cement curbs, your wheels probably look pretty bad once your car hits the 125K mark.
New high performance wheels can set you back between $400-1500 (plus the cost of tires), so only consider them if you really love your car and want to keep it for a long time (and want it to drive a bit better).
How do you keep your old car looking (and running) like new? Please share your car care tips in comments!
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