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Sure, you’d like to get a new car now, but prices are through the roof and inventories are bone dry. Instead, put a little TLC and proactive maintenance into your current car and you could fall in love with it all over again — or at least wait until the market looks something like the good old days.
“If you have a car you don’t exactly love, but it’s functional, you’d be better off sticking with it” until the car market stabilizes, says Karl Brauer, executive analyst for iSeeCars, which aggregates used car listings. He notes that it could be a year until we see prices drop and inventories rebound.
It's not unreasonable to expect a well-kept vehicle to last 200,000 miles or more.
The experts we spoke with recommend splitting the project into two parts. Tackling maintenance and repairs first will give you the peace of mind that the car won’t break down. Then treat yourself to some upgrades and modifications to boost your car’s — and your own — self-image.
If you have two years or more of payments remaining, refinancing your car loan may be worth the effort. You could lower your payment or speed up the payoff.
Auto loan rates may have declined since you bought, or a history of on-time payments may have improved your credit scores. You might have taken a higher-rate loan to score a manufacturer rebate or other incentive.
You'll have to meet vehicle age and mileage requirements, but most refinancing lenders can give you an answer in a few minutes.
Follow your vehicle’s maintenance schedule and build a relationship with a repair facility or mechanic you trust, says David Bennett, AAA’s manager of repair systems. He adds that most modern cars will alert you to needed maintenance by displaying a light on the gauge near the speedometer.
Perform routine scheduled maintenance such as oil changes, tire rotations and filter replacement. While the car is in the shop, ask your mechanic to check belts and hoses for cracks and wear. Put the car on a lift and make sure there are no fluid leaks from the engine or transmission.
And don't forget to check your windshield wipers since the rubber can dry out, leading to a streaky windshield and unsafe visibility.
Improve the ride
“If your car has old or cheap tires, upgrading to a premium tire can breathe new life into the vehicle,” says Mark Holthoff, editor for used car site Klipnik.
Online tire retailers like Tire Rack have decision guides that make it easy to find tires with the characteristics you want, such as improved performance and comfort, or reduced road noise.
Maybe your current vehicle has a nagging problem like a rattle or vibration, or maybe you have a glowing check engine light. Since you will be keeping your car for at least another year, go ahead and schedule an appointment with a trusted mechanic to have it fixed.
“It’s no fun to live in fear of a looming repair bill,” Holthoff says. “But at the same time you can’t fully enjoy your car if it’s broken.”
And who wouldn’t want an improved, smoother ride?
Do some deep cleaning
Now that your car is running like a top, it’s time to make the interior more inviting. Bennett suggests hiring a detailing service that'll do a deep cleaning of the interior and exterior of your vehicle. Holthoff adds that a talented detailer can “restore your car to its former glory.” And many will do the job at your home or office.
If you want to save the money and do it yourself, you can do the following:
Give your vehicle a bath, and vacuum it at a local car wash.
Remove any accumulated trash or things that you never use, such as old CDs or loose change.
Wipe down everything around the driver’s seat, clean the dust from the dashboard, and wipe the plastic covering to the gauges.
Get rid of any funky odor. You don’t have to hang a pine tree freshener from the rearview mirror. Instead, discreetly position a deodorizer to eat up those bad smells.
Finally, why not splurge on a new set of floor mats? “It surprises me how long people hang onto their old stained and tattered floor mats when you can get new ones for about a hundred bucks,” Holthoff says.
Give it a facelift
As you extend the life of your vehicle, there are several ways to make the exterior look young again:
Fix that annoying dent — or dents — by hiring a paintless dent remover. Most such services are mobile and cost about a third of what a body shop would charge, according to Edmunds.
Brighten the finish by finding a shop specializing in “color correction.” Using buffers and special rubbing compounds, this process removes all the little pits and scratches and restores your car’s luster.
Change the color by wrapping your car in vinyl in the color of your choice. Brauer says car wrapping, which he calls the “hot new thing,” not only changes the color, but the thin layer of plastic also protects the original paint. And you can always strip it off and change the color again later.
Add new rims when you buy new tires. You can see what your car will look like using the online wheel visualizer tool of major tire retailers such as America’s Tire.
Upgrade your tech
So-called “infotainment systems” are one reason people love new cars. But you can upgrade the technology in your current car, even if it’s older.
Add Bluetooth so you can connect to your smartphone. For about $30, you can purchase an inexpensive adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter. This will allow you to play podcasts or listen to music from your smartphone.
Change the stereo to a sound system with a touch screen. While this is more expensive, it'll not only allow you to connect to some popular car apps and display navigational directions, but some models will even support a rear backup camera.