7 Ways to Make Your Old Car Seem New

No need to spend big on a new ride when you can take these affordable steps to make your car seem new again.

7 Ways to Make Your Old Car Seem New Photo by Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

The onset of spring makes many people start daydreaming of new cars.

But is it really necessary to drop that kind of hard-earned cash? If you actually don’t need a new vehicle, that money could be growing in your retirement account, bolstering a college savings account, or funding a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. And for a fraction of the cost, you could instead transform your current ride into a car that feels new. Here’s how:

1. Clean it up

A_Lesik / Shutterstock.com

Invest in a pressure washer and the cleaner that is designed for it, advises Kim Adams, Auto Express Products’ editor. Whatever you do, don’t use dish detergent or other abrasive cleaners that can harm your car’s finish. (More than a third of car owners use such products, according to AutoTrader.) Adams recommends you use the power washer with Leadrise Snow Foam Lance (available at various retailers including Amazon). The foam clings to the surface of the car and lifts off the grime. Adams also recommends the use of a wash mitt, because it is less likely than a sponge to drag grit across the car and damage the paint. Be sure to rinse your car thoroughly, paying extra attention to areas under mirrors and in door frames where soap can become trapped.

2. Wax it

Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

Many car owners believe there’s no need to wax a car, but that’s not true. The factory coating on top of the paint is quite thin, about the thickness of a sheet of paper according to AutoTrader. Even if you don’t care if your car is shiny, experts recommend waxing it twice a year to keep the paint fresh. The practice could make a significant difference in your car’s trade-in value when you do decide to sell it, the publication reported. There are various ways to wax a car, including some that Popular Mechanics promises will deliver professional-grade shines. The downside to some of those waxing instructions is they take a fair amount of time and equipment – and can damage the car if not done precisely as directed. If you want to wax your car quickly, consider a professional detailing and waxing. Or wash it yourself and use a quick-wax product such as Turtle Wax Ice Spray Wax.

3. Deep clean the interior

hedgehog94 / Shutterstock.com

There are few things that make a car seem newer than a thorough interior cleaning. Use a shop vac to vacuum the carpets and behind the seats, and wash the inside of your car. It’s also a good idea to use compressed air (available at retailers including Walmart) to clean dust and debris from those almost-impossible-to-reach spots in the glove box and other areas, recommends O.J. Lopez, owner of Fluid MotorUnion Automotive Repair and Performance in Naperville, Illinois. And, of course, wipe down the dash and other surfaces. Caution: Don’t use that compressed air on the exterior of your car. It may damage paint and moldings, reports CarsDirect.

4. Refresh trim and other details

WeStudio / Shutterstock.com

Washing and waxing your car increases its appeal, but don’t forget the trim. It just takes a bit more time and pays off by taking the appearance of your car from good to great, says Lopez. You can replace or paint trim, he said. Others swear that applying boiled linseed oil on trim is the best way to refresh it. Just apply the oil, let it sit a few minutes, and wipe it off. Also, take a look at your headlights. Many grow yellow and dim due to pollutants and grime. You can buy a headlight restoration kit (some were recently rated in Popular Mechanics) that allows you to grind off and polish the damaged areas. The downside, say pros, is that such work is very time-consuming. Plan to spend at least 90 minutes per headlight, says Lopez. Gather quotes from professional restorers before you invest your time and money in a DIY-kit.

5. Change your cabin filter

Nor Gal / Shutterstock.com

Many car owners don’t realize that the cabins of their cars also have air filters. “Over time they get clogged [with pollen and dirt] and just aren’t effective,” said Lopez. “You can ask your [trusted auto technician] to replace it. Many cabin filters are located behind the glove box, reports Cars.com. Others are located behind the dash. You can locate the one in your car by reading your car owner’s manual or speaking to a technician at a local dealership. Another idea to freshen your car: Get a some regular charcoal, put it in an open container or wrapped in some fabric and tuck it into a corner of the car. It’s a cheap and effective way to absorb odors.

6. Upgrade electronics

Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

Zev Ginsberg of Car Gurus Boston has personalized his 2006 Toyota Tacoma so it’s better than new to him. He recommends boosting the wow factor of a ride by installing some high-end electronics — such as upgraded audio speakers and an automatic starter. Ginsberg installed an Apple iPad in his car to run audio, navigation and other electronics. Be aware that such work could void your car’s warranty, so double-check with your car dealer before you embark on it. Also, hire a pro unless you’re positive you know how to do this yourself.

7. Wrap it

Darren Brode / Shutterstock.com

Yes, you can have your car repainted, but many drivers choose to have a vehicle wrap instead. You’ve likely seen such wraps on cars that are part of commercial fleets for housecleaning services and retail stores. There are plenty of good-looking wraps for personal cars though, said Doug Fleming, general manager of Findlay Volkswagen in Henderson, Nevada. Check CARiD.com for ideas on full or partial wraps for your ride.

What ideas do you have for babying your car to keep it like new? Share in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham @NancyDWrites

Nancy Dunham is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

Trending Stories


1,153 Active Deals

More Deals