Owners should check the tire alignment every few years. If the alignment is off, the wheels will hit the road at odd angles causing unbalanced wear, which decreases the tires' lifespan and lowers fuel efficiency. An alignment check and adjustment cost about $75.
If a future sale is in the cards, occasional waxing is critical to maintaining the value of the car. Wax does more than add extra shine; it prevents paint from fading and dulling and preserves the clear coat. Wax protects the car's exterior from the elements, such as UV rays, salt, exhaust, acid rain, ice, bug splatter, scratches, dirt, and so on. Prospective buyers always notice the exterior even if they have no idea what to look for under the hood. Most experts recommend hand waxing every three months or so, or at least every six months. To gauge the need, splash a little water on the car. If it doesn't bead up, it's time for fresh wax.
For car enthusiasts who wash their vehicles by hand, chamois cloths or mitts are considered the gold standard for car care. Soft chamois won't scratch a vehicle's paint but does wear out over time, so having a fresh supply on hand is a must. Stick to products marked "microfiber," which is gentlest on automotive finishes. They’re not exactly cheap (compared to using an old T-shirt or towel), but protecting a vehicle’s finish is worth a little extra. Top-rated offerings on Amazon include Dry Rite heavyweight premium plush microfiber cloths ($11 for a two-pack) and Meguiar's X2000 Water Magnet microfiber drying towel ($12 each).
"Invest in detailing by a pro once or twice a year to root out buildups before they go too far," says Janet Groene, a travel writer from Gainesville, Florida, who has spent a lot of time on the road. Several other sources echo her advice. Although our frugal instincts argue for the DIY approach, professionals have the know-how and equipment to vacuum, steam, and shampoo stains and dirt. Prices start at about $60.
Install seat covers if you want better everyday protection from spills and pets. They aren't the most stylish accessories, but a small investment now (as little as $20 but mostly in the $100-to-$200 range) can pay off big time when your car hits the resale market.
Likewise, protect the floors with mats, which are a practical necessity during the winter months and much cheaper to replace than the car's flooring. They can be bought for cheap (less than $25 a set), but this is a good place to spend a little extra if you can, especially if you’ve got a newer car. WeatherTech makes a wide variety of mats and liners for car floors, trunks, and cargo areas specifically designed for many models of cars. Expect prices of $150 and up.
When buying a used car, it's worth spending more for a vehicle that's "certified pre-owned," says CarGurus.com Senior Editor Matt Smith. "Shoppers might balk at the higher price tags typically seen on certified pre-owned cars, particularly when there's a nearly identical model selling for a thousand dollars less — and missing that CPO sticker. But paying for a certified car makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways. Certified pre-owned cars come with powertrain warranties, and some manufacturers include one- or two-year comprehensive warranties, too." Other advantages include attractive financing offers and perks like roadside assistance and a complimentary loaner vehicle when the car needs repairs.
A battery tender is important if you own multiple cars or have a vehicle that you store or don't use for long periods of time (perhaps you're a "snowbird" or travel a lot for work). A high-quality battery tender maintains the proper voltage, so you don't have to worry about your car not running when you're ready to use it again, says Burdick, of Automoblog. A battery tender doesn't have to be expensive either. They sell for as little as $20 online.