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Seven ways to protect your new car investment

A car is a big investment, regardless of whether it's new or used. So what can you do to protect that investment and minimise your costs?

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Buying a car is a big deal, regardless of whether it’s brand new or a few years old. It’s the second biggest purchase of your life, after buying a home, so it’s only natural you’d want to protect that investment as well as you can. 

It might only be a machine but a car needs looking after, especially if you want to keep some value in it, so keeping it clean, in good working order and regularly serviced is a good start. But what else?

Here are seven ways you can protect your new car so that, when the time comes to sell it on, you are more likely to get back some of the time and money you have invested in it. Plus, we also have some special offers from our commercial partners that can help you save even more money.

1. Special Edition spec

Optional extras are one of the biggest traps in buying a new car. It’s very easy to spend thousands of pounds over and above the base cost of your car without increasing its real value. Or to put it another way, a £20,000 car with £10,000 of additional options is not the same thing as a £30,000 car. Therefore, you need to be judicious in your choices of any extra-cost features.

Which brings us to ‘special edition’ models. Generally, you get a bundle of extra kit and maybe some specific features or paint colours that are not available on ‘regular’ versions. The additional cost is generally much less than those extras would cost separately, so you can enjoy those extra bells and whistles at a much more sensible price.

If you’re buying a used car, a special edition often won’t cost any more than a regular version, which means you’re effectively getting those extra niceties for free.

2. Minimise unnecessary mileage

For most of us, this hasn’t been too hard to achieve during more than a year of national lockdowns, but mileage always affects how desirable your car is on the second-hand market.

While there’s no point buying a car and then not driving it, it’s also important to bear in mind that higher mileage will certainly affect your car’s value when you want to sell it. So not only are you spending money on petrol or diesel to do all those miles, it’s also devaluing your car at the same time.

Higher-mileage cars tend to get punished more heavily in their used values than lower-mileage cars get rewarded, so it pays to keep an eye on your mileage.

3. Mind the GAP

While a lot of the suggestions in this list will save you a few pounds, or maybe a few hundred pounds, GAP insurance can literally save you thousands of pounds in the event of your car being stolen or written off in an accident.

If you’ve bought your car using a finance product like a PCP, you will quite probably be in a sitation where your debt to the finance company is greater than the value of your car. If your car is written off, the cheque from your car insurance provider almost certainly won’t cover what you owe the finance company. In fact, you may be thousands of pounds short.

GAP insurance will cover that difference (or the ‘gap’) to make sure you can clear your car finance debt, so you don’t have to find that amount from your own pocket. Similarly, if you’re leasing your car then you can be covered for whatever you still owe the leasing company.

4. Scuff and nonsense

Cosmetic repair to bodywork
Man polishing a car

The used car market is a place where scruffy motors, dinged panels and scuffed alloys do not fare well. Taking care and being cautious when parking and manouevring your car can actually earn you a few quid more than you realise.

Sometimes a thorough polish and valet can be enough to smoth out light imperfections in your paintwork, but even minor scratches can dig through your paint to the metal below. That can then expose the raw material to sunlight, rain and oxygen, which is a perfect environment for rust to develop. It can be well worth considering a scratch and dent insurance policy to address small scratches before they become bigger problems.

The same applies to alloy wheels. Scuffed-up wheels will hurt your car’s value and can also cause oxidation issues. An alloy wheel insurance policy provides for on-site wheel repairs at your home or work to keep your wheels looking sharp and in good condition.

5. Cabin fever

Much like keeping the outside of your car tidy, looking after the interior is also a sure-fire way to protect the value of your car when the time comes to sell it or return it to the finance company.

Non-smoking car buyers (which is now most of them) aren’t interested in a 1980s pub experience when they’re buying their next vehicle, so smoking in your car is guaranteed to hurt its resale value. As well as being bad for your health, cigarette smoke gets into your upholstery very easily and is almost impossible to remove. Driving with the window down and tapping your ash out onto the street won’t help, by the way (and it’s disgusting).

The same goes for pet hair and food. There’s no making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so if you want to cash in a few years’ down the line, keep it clean and tidy as you go. If you take dogs in the car, vacuum and air it out after every trip. Clean up spills and marks immediately rather than leaving it until you get home, so your upholstery doesn’t get permanently stained.

woman cleaning car dashboard

6. Used car warranty

Once your car falls outside its manufacturer new car warranty, the responsibility for any expensive failures falls on you. This can cost you hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds if and when something goes wrong. As such, you may want to consider a used car warranty to protect your wallet against future breakdowns.

A used car warranty provides an extra level of consumer protection, which means that if something happens in the normal course of driving and you’ve maintained all the recommended servicing, you’ll have an extra pot of cash to rely on should your car stop working for any reason.

There are different types of warranty that provide different levels of cover, so you’ll need to look carefully at how much you want to spend and how much cover you’d like. Like GAP insurance, you may not ever need it. But if you do, it could save you thousands of pounds.

Here at The Car Expert, we have some fantastic warranty offers for our readers provided by our commercial partners. If you’re interested in a used car warranty, you should check these out:

7. Religious service

One of the biggest bugbears for car owners is the cost of annual servicing. A major service can cost hundreds of pounds, yet there’s little to show for it except maybe a vacuum and a little air freshener hanging from your rear view mirror.

The reality, of course, is that servicing is an essential part of keeping your car running smoothly. Cars are complicated mechanical devices and need regular maintenance. Failing to do so can lead to catastrophic – and expensive – failures, and if you don’t have your car serviced on time, every time, any new or used car warranty will probably be invalidated.

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Additional reporting by Tom Johnston and Stuart Masson.

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Cat Dow
Cat Dow
Cat is a former contributor to The Car Expert and The Van Expert. She now writes for Top Gear.