Want to get the most for your car at resale? Stick with
classic options and forgo the purple paint job.
"A car is not an investment," says Bob Kurilko,
vice president of marketing and industry communication for Edmunds.com,
an online resource for industry information. "You won't get a
return on your investment."
Instead, he advises buyers to get the most value by
selecting the features that will enhance their enjoyment of the car.
Despite what you might hear on a car lot, loading up
a car with options won't necessarily translate to a bigger check at
trade-in time. But with a little planning, you can outfit a car to
suit your needs and keep from making mistakes that cost you extra
money down the road.
"The more desirable the options, the more desirable
the car as a resale item," says Mark Perleberg, lead automotive
expert for the National
Automobile Dealers Association Appraisal Guides.
2. Keep it up. Keep
everything polished and maintained, and your car will have the edge.
"If you have a car with crummy leather seats,
it can be worse than a car with no leather seats at all," says
Charlie Vogelheim, executive editor of the Kelley
Blue Book, a digest for determining vehicle value.
3. Forget the funky colors.
"Wacky colors" can kill the resale value of a car, says
Kurilko. Depending on the model, mistakes include yellow, purple
and "the wrong brown," he says.
Even more-conventional colors, such as bright red
or black, look great on sport models and SUVs but tend to be less
popular for mid-size sedans, according to resale experts.
But on some vehicles, the "wrong" color
looks just right, says Vogelheim, who cites the Volkswagen Beetle,
the Mini Cooper and the Chrysler PT Cruiser as prime examples of
models that can break out of neutral colors without sacrificing
resale value. "Boutique cars can do boutique colors,"
4. Think about safety.
Even the experts disagree on whether resale buyers place much importance
on safety features. But having the latest air bags and accident
avoidance technology is good for you -- and it can't hurt when it
comes time to sell.
While buyers won't likely be shopping particular safety
items, they will look at the overall rating of your car, says Vogelheim.
"The fact that the vehicle comes rated so highly makes it more
desirable," he says.
Some things to consider: anti-lock brakes, electronic
stability, traction and rollover control systems, side and curtain
5. Choose the electronics
for you. Like that computer you purchased last year, an auto
sound system could be obsolete by the time you sell the vehicle.
Ten years ago, cassette decks were state of the art. Today, "they've
gone the way of the 8-track," says Perleberg.
Best bet? Pick the features that give you pleasure
when you drive. One expert's tip: If you want to keep your car current
without investing in expensive sound equipment, look for a car that
anticipates changingl technologies.
"If you have a system that's adaptable, you're
better off," says Vogelheim.
6. Select the options that
buyers come to expect. The baseline varies from car to car.
"Obviously, when you start out at the compact level, you're
going to get the bare bones," says John Tews, spokesman for
Power and Associates. But as buyers look at purchasing used
luxury cars, "they expect a brand-name or upgraded stereo and
leather seats," he says.
As you shop, determine the norm. Whatever the average
buyer is likely to picture on that car. In most cars, that includes
air conditioning and -- except for certain sport models
-- an automatic transmission. Other common expectations are:
power windows, locks and mirrors, keyless entry, leather seats and
In some cases, it's just a case of fighting diminishing
returns. Sometimes having a certain option doesn't mean the car
is worth more, says Perleberg. "It's just that it's worth less
if you don't have it."
Expectations can change during the years you own the
car, according to remarketing analysts with the Power Information
Network LLC, an affiliate of J.D. Power and Associates.
7. No flames. Face
it, the more you personalize a car with special paint, spoilers,
customized suspension or wheels, the more you remove it from the
realm of what the average person wants to drive. Just like a house,
if you want to have the largest audience for a resale, stick with
And beware of after-market customization. "When
you start modifying your car away from factory, you start taking
greater and greater risk," Kurilko says, adding that in some
cases the work could also nullify a manufacturer's warranty.
8. Sometimes, different is
good. Sound contradictory? Not really -- just think subtle
differences and keep it in character for the particular make and
Rental car companies -- which deal in fleets of identical
vehicles -- will sometimes dress one up with pin stripes, styled
wheels or spoilers in the hopes of making it stand out from the
pack, says Tom Webb, chief economist with Manheim
Auctions, a leading dealer-to-dealer auction wholesaler. "It
breaks up the monotony."
The key is to remember your potential buyer and stick
to changes that are in character for the car. You want to spiff
it up, not try to make it look like a different car. And while an
economy compact might get a boost from the treatment, a family sedan
or luxury model is a different story.
9. Remember your region.
Never try to sell a black car in Arizona. And realize that four-wheel
models aren't as popular in Southern California. What's hot
-- and what's not -- in the way of options and
colors varies by locality.
In the north, heated seats and traction control are
"certainly something that people are going to look for,"
says Vogelheim. In the Sunbelt, look for more white and lighter
On the plus side: if you're not getting what your
vehicle is worth -- or having a tough time moving it -- shipping it
into a better market could solve your problem. While Perleberg notes
that four-wheel drive vehicles don't have as big a market in southern
California, the vehicles do well at auctions. Why?
"People fly here from Colorado and Utah to swallow
up those nice California 4x4s," he says.
10. Bigger is better? Contrary
to reason -- and fuel economy -- buyers seem to prefer bigger engines.
"Despite the energy cost, a large engine will hold its value
more," says Webb. "The perception, right or wrong, is
that a larger engine is more durable."
11. Go for an upscale trim
package. Most models have several levels or "packages"
of trim options. Go for the top of the line and you'll have a bit
of an advantage come resale time. "Higher trim line vehicles
tend to hold their price longer," says David Champion, director
of automobile testing for Consumer
Reports. End result: They are easier to sell, he says.
12. Be wary of going first.
"As with anything, when you get the latest, greatest thing,
you get it at a premium," says Kurilko. Whether it's special
paints, navigation systems or sound systems, the price of cutting-edge
will likely drop during the years you own the car. So get them to
make yourself happy, not because you think they will add value at
13. Even the experts don't
always agree. Don't be surprised if two auto pros give you
honest but conflicting opinions on the value of your car's options.
Two areas where you're likely to get conflicting information
on resale value: four-wheel drive and navigation systems.
Lack of consensus in some areas is one more reason
to get the options you value -- and be prepared to shop around when
you are ready to get rid of the car.
14. Beware of options that
require monthly payments. Navigation and in-car communication
systems are popular. But resale buyers have to pony up the monthly
subscription fees to keep the services working.
"One of the question marks we wrestle with are
anything with monthly payments," says Perleberg, who adds that,
while the services might be great for a trip, few people get lost
on the way to and from the office. "They can be a $3,000 option
and I don't know that these have a real big resale value."
15. Look at resale, but buy
for your needs. Resale is a bigger factor if you plan to
trade or sell your car in three to five years. But even so, getting
a good value means getting the car that's right for you in the meantime.
Especially since depreciation will hit you regardless.
"You certainly want to buy a vehicle that you're
comfortable with," says Tews. "If you buy a vehicle for
resale alone, you may not be comfortable with it while you drive
Dana Dratch is
a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
-- Posted: Dec. 9, 2003