One thing many of us gearheads have in common is the thought that we can improve any vehicle with our personal touch. Modifying your car, truck, or bike has never been easier with so many sources of inspiration online and on social media. There are tons of aftermarket parts readily available online too.
In general, modifying your car will not increase its value. It often does the opposite because what you like best might not be what the next owner would like. Customizing your car is subjective and doesn’t necessarily make it better in everyone’s opinion.
The answer isn’t quite that simple though. There are times when a modification will add value to a car. It’s heavily dependent on the type of car, what’s popular among other owners, common problems, and whether it’s reversible.
Upgrades that add value to your car
Let’s start off with some of the upgrades that can actually increase your car’s value. Yes, that is an entirely possible concept, despite what we’ve been told so many times. Here’s my basic rule when it comes to modifying your vehicle:
If the modification makes the car better in a way that isn’t tied to your opinion, there’s a good chance that it will raise its value.
A perfect example of this is the Doug Thorley headers on my Toyota 4runner. I didn’t initially purchase them as an upgrade – they were a repair. You see, the factory exhaust manifolds on the Toyota 4.7 V8 are known for cracking and making a really annoying ticking noise. This is extremely common.
The factory manifolds are considered to be an inferior design because of this. While upgrading to these aftermarket headers certainly adds some performance benefits, it does something much more important – it fixes a common problem. They’re made of thick, high-quality stainless steel and won’t crack like the Toyota manifolds do. This is a permanent fix to a very common problem.
In this case, listing a V8 4runner for sale that already has the factory manifolds removed from the equation can warrant a higher price. It saves the new owner from a potentially costly repair while making the engine run stronger. In short, this modification made the vehicle better. It’s not a matter of opinion – it’s actually better.
Here are the ways that a modification can add value to your car:
Mods that solve a known problem
Anytime that a known problem can be eliminated from happening in the future due to an upgrade is a chance to raise the value of your car. This might include things like built transmissions in heavy-duty Rams, upgraded engine components that are known for failing, or an upgraded clutch that replaces one that has trouble holding stock power levels.
If it’s a proper way of fixing the problem and will eliminate the need for the next owner to have to deal with it, this might increase the value.
Upgrading to OEM options
If an option was offered by the manufacturer for your car and it doesn’t have it, that can potentially raise the value. For example, upgrading to factory leather seats, navigation, nicer OEM wheels, etc.
OEM parts have a better reputation in terms of quality than aftermarket parts. As long as they were installed properly, it’s as if the vehicle came with them.
Another variation of this is dealer installed upgrades such as Mopar, TRD, and Nismo parts. These are built to OEM standards and won’t void your warranty. People tend to trust parts that have been installed by the dealership as well – whether it’s true or not, they’ll trust a TRD supercharger more than an aftermarket one.
Mods that increase functionality
If a vehicle is intended to be used for a purpose and you make it better at that, it might just raise its value. Examples of this would be mild lift kits on vehicles like Jeep Wranglers or Toyota 4runners, better tires on a Corvette, or even a high-quality tonneau cover on a pickup truck.
If it’s something that most owners would want, it can make the vehicle more appealing. More appealing means a potentially higher price. This brings me to my last point:
Mods that are appreciated by the majority of owners
There are some vehicles that are known for receiving certain mods by everyone. Upgraded tires on off-road vehicles, rare but sought after wheels on a sports car, etc. Anything that is expensive to do but most owners want can potentially raise the car’s worth.
A crucial part of having any modification raise a vehicle’s value is that it’s done professionally with high-quality parts. Sticking a cheap spacer lift on your truck in your backyard is very different than bringing your Silverado in to a reputable shop for a complete suspension upgrade from King.
Be careful though. One of these modifications can actually hurt your car’s value rather than improve it to the wrong buyer.
Some buyers believe that anything that’s aftermarket represents the type of life your car has lived. A set of airbags added to your diesel truck might improve its towing ability in a great way, but some people might see that as an indicator that it’s lived a hard life by towing heavy loads regularly.
Upgrades that devalue your car
Now it’s time to hurt some feelings, I’m afraid. You see, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and if you aren’t going to be the one “holding” your car, those choices you’ve made might come back to haunt you.
Mods that are specific to taste
For the most part, this includes any styling upgrade you might do. Changing bumpers, having parts painted, and adding a louder exhaust are all things that will likely devalue your car. You might think they look cool or sound great but chances are, the next guy wants them gone.
Mods that negatively impact performance
Hurting the performance of your car in the name of fashion is your decision. The chances of a buyer appreciating that are very low. Super low (or high!) ride heights, stretched tires, and heavy sound systems that take up the whole trunk are not going to add value to your car. They’ll do the opposite.
Mods that negatively impact reliability
Getting the best 1/4 mile or lap times might be the most important thing to you but sacrificing reliability is not a trade-off that most buyers are going to want. Gaining 100 horsepower isn’t very helpful if your engine is at the limit of blowing up. This will decrease your car’s value for sure.
Mods that are irreversible
Being able to undo or reverse a modification to your car is important for the next owner. Although it can still be a hassle to deal with, it’s less of a problem. Mods that can’t be easily reversed can certainly lower a car’s resale value. Essentially, once they’re done, you’re stuck with them.
Any type of chopping or cutting should be avoided if you really care about the future value of your vehicle. Minor trimming to fit larger tires isn’t bad but cutting the frame to fit a larger intercooler could be. Always consider how hard it will be to reverse a mod before you do it, just in case.
How to add value to your car – the best way
There are ways you can increase the value of your car that don’t include aftermarket upgrades. They both focus on the same thing – improving the condition. If you improve your car’s condition, you increase its value. Simple!
Any nagging issues should be addressed and repaired properly. The dent in the fender, the inoperable air conditioning, the exhaust leak – they might not bother you too much but they’re all reasons for a potential buyer to want to pay less money.
Improve cosmetic condition
We automatically tie the appearance of shiny paint to a brand new car in our minds. Spending the time or money to have your car polished to remove dullness and scratches can attract peoples’ attention in a huge way. A thorough detail both inside and out will separate your car from the rest. Detailing can erase years from your car’s life and that raises its worth to the next owner.
For a complete guide to increasing your car’s value, check out this article:
Can you trade in a modified car?
Technically, this depends on the dealership’s preference. Some just don’t want the hassle of dealing with modifications and aftermarket parts – so much so that they’ll even decline a Jeep with aftermarket wheels because they’re too expensive to replace.
Every modification they have to reverse eats into their profits. In the end, their objective is to make as much money as possible and if your modified trade-in is going to cost them, they’re less likely to be interested.
Quite often, a dealership will offer you an extra low offer for your modified trade-in as a way to offset the cost and time of returning your vehicle to stock. This might be a good option for you if you’re in a bind but it’s always best to remove the aftermarket parts yourself.
To summarize, modifying your car is something we do for our own enjoyment and nobody else’s. No matter how pleased we are with the outcome, we can’t expect anyone else to appreciate it as much as we do. That generally means that we’re going to lose money on our modifications when the time comes to sell.
It’s a trade-off worth having for most of us though. Just keep it in mind when you’re considering cutting your fenders for that widebody kit.
This post is part of our series about selling your used car.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: