Protect Your Car, Inside And Out, For Maximum Resale Value

By Michelle Singletary

Are you a dashboard diner?

I’ll confess: I eat in my car. So do my kids. We spend so much time going from here to there that it’s hard not to munch on the road.

However, my husband and I recently bought new vehicles for the first time in more than a decade, and we have pledged to dramatically cut down on our meals on wheels.

Good thing, too, since eating less in your car is a smart financial move.

Vehicles in excellent condition — both inside and outside — can be valued thousands of dollars higher than those in good or fair condition, according to the results of a national survey conducted by Kelley Blue Book Marketing Research and Taco Bell Corp.

The random survey of more than 1,200 drivers who own or lease a car was conducted onĀ http://kbb.com from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1.

Nearly 60 percent of vehicle owners eat or allow someone to eat in their vehicles, according to the survey.

But does a food-stained seat or carpet matter as much as a car’s exterior or engine when it comes time to resell a car?

Many of the survey respondents didn’t think so.

More than 90 percent of vehicle owners believe exterior attributes have more impact than interior condition on a car’s long-term value. Only 3 percent thought that the seats matter, and only 1 percent ranked carpet condition as important. When given a choice of 13 attributes to rank in importance with regard to eventual resale value, stained seats and carpets ranked as numbers 10 and 11.

Yet while it’s true that keeping your car looking good on the outside can help increase its resale value, a nasty interior has as much impact on its long-term value as the exterior.

“I was surprised people put relatively little emphasis on the value of the interior of their car,” said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “What we find is a lot of people are losing a lot of money by not paying attention to resale value.”

The interior of a vehicle contributes roughly 30 to 35 percent of a vehicle’s overall resale value, according to Kelley. The three major areas that affect a vehicle’s value are interior, exterior, and engine and transmission. Each contributes about a third to a car’s overall resale value.

I thought this was an interesting survey even if I wasn’t sure initially why this information would matter to Taco Bell. I understand why Kelley would want car owners to know that being messy can cost them money. The company is in the business of providing new and used vehicle pricing information.

So what’s Taco Bell’s motivation? Well, the company is pushing a product you eat on the go with less mess. Taco Bell calls it the “Crunchwrap Supreme,” a grilled tortilla you can eat with one hand because the taco fixings are sealed inside the shell.

Although I’m trying to keep my new car tidy and ding-free, as the years go by I won’t really care how messy it gets. I won’t be stressing about the scratches it’s bound to get. It won’t matter because I keep my automobiles for years. I don’t typically trade in a car or resell it. When I need another vehicle, I usually give the old one to a relative.

I keep my cars so long that folks start to feel sorry for me. I have no shame in driving around in a hoopty. (For those not up on urban lingo, “hoopty” is a messed-up, banged-up car.) I have to tell you that one Sunday I came out of church to find that one of my fellow congregants had placed his business card under my van’s windshield wiper.

He was a salesman for a dealership.

Someone else might have been embarrassed. Not me. I laughed knowing that my hoopty was paid for. However, far too many people trade their cars the way children swap trading cards. On average, vehicle owners trade in their cars every three to five years, according to Kelley.

I just don’t understand why someone would trade in a perfectly good car, especially since technological advances have resulted in cars and light trucks becoming much more durable than in the past.

In fact, the median age of U.S. vehicles has been steadily increasing across all major categories. The median car age was nine years in 2005, which continues a four-year record-setting trend, according to R. L. Polk & Co., an automotive information and marketing company.

For all trucks, the median age increased to 6.8 years in 2005. Light-truck median age in 2005 increased to 6.6 years.

Personally, I’m not trying to eat less in my car just to increase its resale value. I’m eating less because those meals on wheels have a tendency to increase my hips.