When you purchase a car, the last thing on your mind is how much less you’ll get back when you eventually sell it. Unfortunately, the value of a vehicle depreciates the moment you drive it off the lot, and it steadily decreases each year. There is a silver lining to that cloud, though. You can maximize car resale value by making smart decisions at each stage of ownership.

Before you buy it

Look for reliability. Do your homework and select a brand and model with historically good car resale value.

Choose popular features. As an example, used-car shoppers expect models like luxury sedans to have leather seats. Cars that don’t have sought-after features such as forward collision warning will be more difficult to sell and have less resale value when it’s time to do so.

How AAA can help: With the AAA Auto Buying Program, you can research vehicles online. See what comes standard and build your wish list of optional features. You’ll receive a pre-negotiated price with AAA Member savings, plus a list of certified dealers in your area that will honor that price.

While you own it

Drive safely. Collisions decrease car resale value, even if the damage is repaired.

Follow the maintenance schedule. In addition, complete all safety recalls (they’re free) and keep all service records. If you don’t have your receipts, ask your mechanic for a statement that summarizes your visits.

Don’t ignore minor repairs. Fix dents, scratches and dings immediately, before they worsen.

Here is how to determine what to pay for a new car.

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Preserve the interior and finish. Avoid eating or smoking in the vehicle to prevent unpleasant smells and stains, and have it detailed regularly.

Park in a garage or covered carport. If you can, protect your car from harsh weather that can wear out the paint, fade the interior and lessen the resale value.

Keep the mileage low. Driving less than the average of 13,500 miles per year will increase the vehicle’s resale value; driving more will lower it.

How AAA can help: Need a trustworthy mechanic? AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities meet certain standards, and AAA Members get 10% off (save up to $50) on labor and a 24-month/24,000-mile guarantee on parts and labor. Plus, members get a free multipoint vehicle maintenance inspection upon request.

Before you sell it

Recondition “hazy” headlights. An inexpensive conditioning kit from a local auto parts store will improve visibility and enhance a car’s appearance. (Learn more about restoring headlight lenses.)

Go for a “showroom” look. Remove exterior stickers and decals, and clean out interior storage, such as the glove compartment.

Get rid of stains and odors. Have your car detailed by a professional.

Find the right market. A private-party sale will usually be more lucrative than selling to a dealer. In general, vehicles in better condition have a greater likelihood of a private-party sale, whereas vehicles in worse shape may be more appropriate as a trade-in or dealer sale.

Know when to sell. Timing is important. The COVID-19 pandemic may impact these trends, but vehicle sales typically peak in March and April. Selling in September or October could be more difficult due to the typical glut of used-car inventory from rental car companies disposing of older vehicles.

How AAA can help: When you go the DIY route for last-minute fixes, save 10% on parts and accessories at NAPA Auto Parts stores.

Looking for a New Car?

Use the AAA Auto Buying Program to get up-front, member pricing on new and used cars from the comfort of home. Look for the Buy From Home badge to see which dealers offer vehicle delivery and remote paperwork processing.

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