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The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
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Car care pays off at trade-in time


When you drive that shiny new set of wheels off the dealer's lot, the fact that you will probably be trading it in at some future date is probably the last thing on your mind. In fact, the day you get that new car, van or truck is the day when you should begin a program of care that will ensure you get the best possible deal when trade-in time comes around again.

Most importantly, your vehicle should be regularly serviced by franchised dealer in accordance with the program set out in the owners' manual. Failure to stick to the program could mean your warranty is in danger, and the service intervals - which are getting quite lengthy these days - should be strictly observed.

After that, it's mainly a matter of personal attention to your vehicle to keep it looking good. It's never a bad idea to be careful where you park - especially around shopping malls or supermarket lots. Don't take the nearest spot to the store if you can help it. That's where the traffic comes and goes most frequently and where most of those door dings occur. Even the most careful folk who park alongside you can't always keep their kids from swinging the doors open. The other hazard, of course, is damage from wayward shopping baskets.

You can't blame a dealer who looks carefully along the sides of your vehicle when it comes to trade-in time - that's exactly what you should be doing when you buy a used vehicle. If you think body dings don't affect trade-in price, just check what a bodyshop charges to fix them - it could be the be the best care incentive you ever get.

Keeping a vehicle clean is often a matter of personal habit. Some people do little else than visit the local car wash every month, while others wash and wax their cars almost weekly. Vehicles should always be washed as soon as they become grubby, even if the weather isn't that good. Traffic film can build up and form an ugly ''bloom'' on the finish - another thing that'll bring down that trade-in price. Always wash your car using a good liquid soap which you can get at an auto accessory store. It's not a good idea to use household cleaners, which may be too harsh and could remove your wax job. Excess dirt should be hosed off first or you'll simply be ''sandpapering'' the finish.

I always wax my cars twice a year - once in the spring and once in the fall. I've always found that enough, but if you live in a downtown area and your car sits on the street a lot, you may need to wax more often. I'm no fan of commercial car washes, but realize that for many apartment-dwellers, there isn't any alternative. Choose one that has up-to-date equipment or use one of the hand-wash shops that can be found here and there.

As for the interior, get rid of grit from carpets and cloth upholstery with a good household vacuum on a weekly basis. As any carpet expert will tell you, it's grit that causes wear more than actual use. Leather trim should be treated a couple of times a year with conditioner to keep it supple and ''fed.'' Upscale furniture stores sell leather treatment products, but I bought mine at a Rolls-Royce dealer.

Keep your vehicle looking good and I'll guarantee that you'll get a better deal when you trade it in. Neglect it, and you could lose hundreds - even thousands - of dollars. Of course, you could always take your pride and joy to a specialized car-care detailer and in my experience, this is usually money well spent.