So your car isn’t brand new, but you love it. That’s awesome! But maybe you’d love it more if it felt a little newer—and maybe it would too. Show your four-wheeled pride and joy some love and it will love you back.
These six steps can go a long way toward making your car look, smell, and feel like it did when it rolled off the production line, as well as help keep it going the distance for years to come. Some of them might require the assistance of a mechanic or other specialist, but they’re money well spent—and some of them you can do yourself.
So your older car’s navigation system is pretty crappy—or maybe it doesn’t have one at all. Not to worry—you’re probably carrying the best navigation system on the planet in your pocket.
That’s right, despite the snazzy 10” screens and millions of dollars of advertising hype, none of the navigation systems from the world’s top car makers really has anything on good old Google Maps.
Total cost? $20-$100, depending on the awesomeness of your phone mount.
Clean your air conditioning system, vents, and, in some cars, air cabin filter, and you’ll stop smelling stale, musty air. Even if you don’t think your car smells funky, it can still smell fresher and younger—and that’s always a good thing.
Again, you’ll need the help of a specialist for this one, but you’ll be glad you spent the time and the money tracking down a shop that will do the work for you—and so will your passengers (especially your significant other).
If you’re handy, you can definitely do this step yourself, too, though you won’t likely end up with the same quality results a professional with a full suite of equipment will. Still, it can be a major improvement on a small budget. Just search the web for “car air conditioner deodorizing DIY” and you’ll see how.
For especially funky cars, don’t stop with the AC—clean the upholstery, especially the carpets, and get a heavy-duty vacuum (or use one at a local carwash) to remove the crusty, dusty bits from the nooks and crannies between and under the seats.
Total cost? $15-$50+ (DIY option) to $200+ (Professional option)
You may not know this—not many people do—but your car’s wheels don’t all point the same direction. Even from the factory, they have slight angles to them, and those slight angles are important. If those angles get even slightly out of whack, you can see weird tire wear patterns, odd handling behavior, the car can pull to one side, or it can even make strange sounds and vibrations at speed.
Fortunately, the fix is simple: an alignment. Take your car to an alignment shop (most tire shops will also offer the service), hand the nice technician a few twenties, and you and your car will drive away much happier.
Total cost? $60-150 depending on car and location.
A “tune up” is a thing of the past, really, from a time when cars really did need periodic adjustment of primary systems to stay in proper running condition. But even more modern cars need periodic replacement of some parts to stay at the top of their game.
Replacing the spark plugs, changing the air filter, changing the oil, and flushing the coolant system can go a long way toward making your car accelerate more like it did when new, idle more smoothly, and run cooler.
While you should be changing your oil and air filter on the regular, items like spark plugs and coolant flushes aren’t needed as often. Still, if you’re driving an older car, especially if you recently bought it and don’t have the maintenance records, it’s good insurance to help keep your car in tip-top shape for longer, as the previous owner may have neglected these basic but important items.
The mechanically inclined will have no problems doing all of these things on their own with minimal tools, but don't be shy about taking your car to a reputable shop, either--it won't be as expensive as you think.
Total cost? Spark plugs: $15-30, Air filter: $10-40, Oil change: $50-100, Coolant flush: $50-100
A professional car detailer can do amazing things for a car's appearance. They have thousands of dollars worth of tools and chemicals you don't want to buy, and more importantly, thousands of hours of experience you don't want to have to earn--or have the time to.
If your car's paint is covered in swirl marks, or even light scratches, a professional paint correction and detail job can often make them disappear entirely, while also bringing life back to faded exterior plastics, shining up those wheels and tires, and generally making your car look 10 years newer--even if it's only 5 or 6 years old.
If your car's paint is in truly horrible condition, they may not be able to save it--but they can probably recommend a good paint shop that will get it back to new.
Total cost? $150-500+, depending on the amount of work needed.
If your car is more than 10 years old, or has seen more than 100,000 miles, chances are very good your car’s shocks—or, in some cases, dampers or struts—are worn out. What are these oddly named things? That’s not really important—what matters is they help keep your car’s ride smooth.
When your shocks or dampers are worn out, your car can feel floaty, slow to respond to steering inputs, “jiggly,” or even bouncy. Tighten that ride up and smooth the bumps out with a fresh set of shocks, installed by your local mechanic.
Total cost? Typically $200-600 in parts, and another few hundred in labor.
If you tally all of these up, are they a bit pricey? Sure, but it’s well worth it—and it’s still a lot cheaper than a new car, which you won't need, since your sweet older car is once again the envy of the neighborhood.
automotive freelance journalist