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5 Low-Cost Ways to Pep Up Your Car so It Looks New Again

Would you rather spend about $36,000 or about $3,000 for a new car? Before you plunk down about $36,000 — the average new car price reported by Kelley Blue Book — take a look at your current ride. If your main gripe is that it has lost its aesthetic appeal, why not give it a low-cost makeover this weekend?

The key to pepping up the look of your car is to give it some TLC with a thorough wash (hand wash is best, but absolutely no dish soap should be used!), wax (again, no cheating; use a name brand developed for cars, please), and vacuum. Then take these five steps to make your vehicle look pretty-close-to-new without spending a fortune

1. Consider paint correction.

You don’t have to live with the scrapes, swirls and scars that may mar your car’s finish after too-close encounters with posts, garage doors, shopping carts, and other objects. Even if your car has avoided major bruises, the sun, snow, sleet, and pollutants around you may have dulled its shine. Paint correction can help, said OJ Lopez, owner of Fluid Motor Union in Naperville, Illinois. 

“With paint correction, they take sandpaper and go over it very lightly and then use a buffing compound,” Lopez says, explaining two key steps of the process. “Then you don’t see the scratches. It has a new car gloss.” 

Paint correction is a very time-consuming task that requires special equipment, so it’s not cheap. Prices range anywhere from about $500 to $3,000 depending on many variables. Sounds pricey, yes — but it’s a bargain when you compare it to that $36,000 new car price tag. For details on the work involved, take a look at the step-by-step guide published by Car Cleaning Guru. Approximate cost: $500-$3,000

2. Shine up the trim. 

Sun bakes any shine out of the trim around your headlights, window and door seals, vents, dashboard, upholstery, spoiler, and more. Anyone who shines those areas will notice a big difference in the appearance of their car, said Lopez. Here’s a secret: Do not use regular soaps or waxes, as they may harm the car’s surfaces and even make them duller.  If you want to restore the trim yourself, start by going to your local auto supply store and talk to the staff about what products would work best on your vehicle. Turtle Wax and Mothers are still two of the top products recommended by auto experts. (You’ll also find how-to guides on their websites.) Prices vary among the products but start at about $10 and up. Approximate cost: $10-$25

3. Vacuum and wash the carpet. 

You can have this done by professional car detailers, of course, but you can also do it yourself and save money. Just make sure to use products expressly designed for car carpets. You can find a step-by-step guide on how to do the work at Edmunds.com. You’ll also find more details at RugDoctor.com. Approximate cost: $50

4. Invest in a tube of compressed air. 

Computer users often keep cans have compressed air handy to blow the crumbs and debris away from their keyboards. The same kind of air is perfect to clean hard-to-reach parts of your car, including coin notches, window wells and other areas. Approximate cost: $6-$20

5. Keep it smelling pretty. 

Many people do not realize their car has a cabin filter that filters out pollutants, dust, and other debris. Replacing the filter — often located behind the glove box — not only keeps the car cabin smelling fresh but may keep the air conditioner in your car running longer and better. Another idea from Lopez: Buy a small bag of half-size charcoal and leave it open in an inconspicuous part of the car. It will pull odors out of the cabin. Approximate cost: $15-25

Sure, a new car is great — but so is saving money. If you perk up your car with these tips, you’ll pay about $580 to $3,000 for a new-to-you looking car. And if you think about it, it’s nearly like putting an extra $33,000 in your pocket, right?

This post was written by Nancy Dunham, a freelance journalist based outside Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at NancyDWrites.

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