It never fails. Once you’ve owned a vehicle for a certain amount of time, regardless of how great it is, it starts to feel boring. The easy fix is to sell it or trade it for something new and exciting. That’s not always in the cards for everyone though. Sometimes we just have to make do with what we have. Being able to breathe some new life into an older car can bring some excitement back and improve the ownership experience.
I’ve been in the same boat a few times. I’ve never purchased a brand new car in my life. Allowing the original owner to take the initial hit on depreciation makes great financial sense. That’s the good news. The downside is that I never have the latest and greatest out there, but I’m ok with that.
Becoming bored is something that’s bound to happen with any vehicle I own. If you’re feeling that way right now, I’ve come up with a quick list of things you can do to freshen up your vehicle. Hopefully these will help you fall back in love with your car. I’ve personally done nearly every one of these myself, so I know that they work.
Try to imagine that a used car dealership has just purchased your car. This is going to be somebody’s “new car” once it leaves the lot. Part of that excitement comes from simply making the purchase itself. But a lot of it comes from the different steps dealerships take to recondition a used car. If you follow a similar path but keep the car in the end, it might just feel like you’ve purchased a new one.
Clean up after yourself
How effective this option is will depend on how you’ve cared for your vehicle in the past. For owners that keep their cars clean and well kept, this might not make much difference. But from my experience of working on other peoples’ cars, those owners are definitely not the majority. I’m willing to bet there’s a fast food wrapper hidden under one of your seats. Don’t believe me? Go check. I’ll be here when you get back.
The focus of this step should be on the interior of your car. For many of us, it’s our living room, mobile office, restaurant, and even our bed. We sneeze, cough, and pick our noses (or was it a scratch?!) in there. Unless your interior looks like it just rolled off the dealership lot, it’s time to give it some attention.
- Remove all of the garbage.
- Vacuum the carpets and seats.
- Clean the windows.
- Empty out the ashtray.
- Wipe down all the plastics and trim pieces.
- Do whatever needs to be done to get rid of that weird smell.
You can spend some time on it yourself, or hire a professional detailer to do a more in-depth job. This can cost up to a couple hundred bucks, but it will be totally worth it the minute you take a seat behind the wheel. No more smells. Your seats somehow feel more comfortable. Your clothes will stay clean and your hands won’t be sticky. Once you’re at this point, you’ll realize just how nasty your interior had become. Luckily, it’s behind you now.
Many car owners stick to touch-free car washes. While these are much safer for your paint than the ones with the brushes, they don’t exactly do an amazing job. Over time, dirt and grime will build up in areas that need to be scrubbed and agitated to be fully clean again. So take the time to give your car a nice hand wash. Bonus points for a fresh coat of wax. If you’ve hired a detailer to clean your interior, I’m sure they’ll throw in an exterior wash for a reasonable price.
Catch up on maintenance and outstanding repairs
I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past. Letting pesky little problems build up to the point where you start to think your car is just too far gone. Unless it needs major repairs like a new engine or transmission, it probably isn’t. Remember, a used car dealer would quickly fix whatever made your check engine light come on before selling it to a happy buyer. You can be that happy buyer.
Here’s a list of minor fixes that can make a big difference:
- Fix or repair squeaky brakes
- Have your exhaust system examined for any leaks. A lot of times these can be fixed for less than $100 and will have your car sounding like a quiet new one again
- Repair any options that no longer work. This might mean fixing a heated seat, replacing a battery in an old key fob, or even charging up your air conditioning.
- Find annoying rattles and fix them. Catalytic converters and heat shields are very common noisemakers
This is also a good time to perform any maintenance that might be overdue. Doing a fresh oil change or tune-up might not make a noticeable difference when you drive it, but the fact that you’ve given your car some much needed TLC will be in the back of your mind. I can’t explain how, but that seems to help.
This goes a big step further than just giving your car a hand wash. I’m a huge believer in the difference a paint correction can make to your vehicle’s appearance. Any type of machine polishing will make your paint look wet, deep, and glossy.
In many cases it’ll look like a brand new paint job. Removing dull oxidation and thousands of tiny scratches will reveal a fresh finish and turn the clock back on your vehicle by many years. It will cost you at least a few hundred dollars or some hours of your free time if you do it yourself, but it’s cheaper than a new paint job and MUCH cheaper than buying another car.
Fix worn seats
Any high mileage vehicle is bound to have some wear on its seats. The bolsters on the driver’s seat are usually the first to go. Sliding across them while climbing in and out of the car hundreds of times can eventually cause cracking or tears. Worn out seats aren’t just ugly looking either. They provide less support and can eventually become uncomfortable.
There are a few ways to fix worn seats. Choosing which option is best will depend on the type of damage and how much you’re willing to spend. You can have them repaired by an upholstery or leather repair shop. In many cases, there are high quality seat covers available that can even be installed by yourself. If finances allow, you can also purchase new seats or ones from the junkyard that are still in good shape. Any of these choices will make your car much more welcoming when you open the door.
Restore your headlights
Nothing makes a car or truck look old and worn out quite like faded headlights. It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine because I know how easy they are to fix. Dull and cloudy headlights don’t just look bad, they also have a diminished light output. In extreme cases, they can make it difficult to see at night.
Headlight restoration kits are available at nearly any big box store these days. It’s a really easy job to do yourself if you’re willing. I posted an article a while ago explaining in detail exactly how the professionals restore headlights. You can check that out here. Or you can hire your friendly neighborhood detailer to do it for you, it’s usually an inexpensive job.
Replacing your headlights with new ones is the easiest option, but it’ll cost more. Buying OEM headlights from a dealership can be really expensive though. Purchasing aftermarket ones through a body shop or online can be a much cheaper way to get a set of fresh new lights on your vehicle. Aftermarket headlights aren’t always funny looking LED designs either – you can purchase ones that look exactly like your originals if you wish.
Upgrade your audio
Technology updates move extremely fast these days. Pulling out a 3 year old cell phone will often trigger the same reaction with folks as a huge brick phone from the 90s. Your car’s audio system is no different. As time goes on, technology in cars improves with nearly every new model. Even the premium audio system in your 8 year old car will pale in comparison to what’s available currently.
Upgrading your head unit or entire audio system can launch your car right back to being modern again. Things like newer navigation, Bluetooth, USB charging for your phone, and Apple Carplay will all make a big change to your everyday driving experience. Unless of course, you enjoy flipping through your book of CDs.
If you’d like to learn more about upgrading your audio system on a budget, check out this post:
Replace or refinish your wheels
Some of us aren’t the greatest at parking. Curb rash is a guaranteed way to make your wheels look old and beat up. Even if you aren’t the “park by feel” type, many years of cheap car washes can cause brake dust to build up and bake onto your wheels. Shiny, new looking wheels will take a few years off of your car’s age. Combined with a paint correction, it might just look brand new again.
Another reason I mention buying new wheels is because they make a great upgrade. Sure, aftermarket wheels are one of the best bang-for-your-buck custom touches you can make. But not everyone is into that kind of appearance. Buying a set of OEM wheels from a newer or higher end model of your car might be just what the doctor ordered.
Many Toyota truck owners will swap to wheels from a different or newer model because they’re all interchangeable. Putting the wheels from a brand new Tacoma on your 10 year old one is a great way to fool people into thinking your truck is newer than it is.
Sometimes, people are happy with the style of their wheels but not the color itself. There are many powder coating companies that specialize in refinishing and customizing your existing wheels. Switch to a stealthy black finish or go crazy with neon blue. The choice is yours and the sky is the limit.
This one isn’t for everybody which is why I saved it for last. There’s a strange phenomenon that happens to us gearheads – no matter how much horsepower we currently have, we end up getting used to it and wanting more.
Your car might have 300hp but once you’ve driven it for a few years, it won’t feel as fast as it used to. Chasing horsepower can be a dangerous road to go down. It’s very easy to get caught up in constantly wanting more. Next thing you know, you’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on a vehicle that isn’t even enjoyable to drive anymore.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way though. Upgrading your car’s performance can be as simple as adding a better flowing intake or exhaust, tuning the ECU, or switching to a better handling suspension setup. This option is expensive, no doubt. But it can also transform your car into an entirely new machine. If that’s something you’re interested in, it’s certainly worth looking into.
Old vehicles are cool
Society has brainwashed us into thinking we need to get rid of our old junk and replace it with flashy new stuff. If that’s the way you choose to live, more power to you. But there comes a time, especially with vehicles, when “old” becomes “cool”. There’s a certain age where all of the other cars like yours have rusted and broke down because they weren’t cared for.
When yours is still clean and functioning, it gets a different kind of attention. People no longer pity you because you can’t afford a new car. They respect you because you didn’t give up on it.
Something about older pickup trucks always catches my attention. Turn your TV on for 5 mins and it’ll tell you that the only way to get the job done is with a brand new $50,000 truck. And yet there are people out there with their old faithful workhorses doing what they’ve always done.
Anyone can go out and finance a new vehicle. Sometimes the best way to stand out is to hang onto what you’ve got. Take pride in your older vehicle because in the end, there’s no shame in keeping it. After all, they don’t make ’em like they used to.
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: