Make Your Older Car New Again - Car Talk (2023)

  • John Goreham
  • 5/23/2023

Make Your Older Car New Again - Car Talk (1)

Original image of 2007 Toyota Highlander, detailed and fitted with new tires by John Goreham

With dealer markups out of control, why not make your old car new again instead of being taken to the cleaners at a car dealer? Here are some easy and affordable ways to refresh your current car and avoid the insanity of today’s new car prices.

Car Talk recently searched for a popular midsize pickup truck to add to our long-term fleet. After calling six dealers for the brand in New England, we learned that the manufacturer won't accept new orders, the dealers have no new vehicle inventory, and a new flim-flam has emerged that drives up the price of pre-owned midsize trucks to as high as 25% over the new vehicle price. It turns out that folks who ordered this popular truck six months or a year ago take delivery and then immediately sell the truck back to the dealer. The dealer then puts the like-new vehicle on their lot with a markup ranging from $7,500 to $8,000. That is effectively a 25% premium on the vehicle cost. Why do we have the sneaking suspicion that the folks who bought those trucks originally have the same last name as that on the dealer’s sign?

This got us thinking of alternatives to being taken advantage of by this shady situation. Why not simply double down on the vehicle we already have? Look at the vehicle's weak points and see if we can freshen it up and fall back in love with it?

It quickly became apparent that there are a number of quick and affordable ways to freshen up an older vehicle to make it feel new(ish) again. And every one of them adds value to the vehicle for a potential sale later if some sense of sanity returns to the new car marketplace. Here are five ways to refresh your ride.

Make Your Older Car New Again - Car Talk (2)

Image of tire machine courtesy of Boston Mobile Tire

Refresh Your Existing Tires

If your tires are not past 50% worn, have your mechanic rotate and balance them. Have the car aligned and the steering wheel centered. Doing this simple set of tire maintenance steps will help to smooth out your ride and make your car head down the road straight as an arrow. The cost of doing this maintenance is roughly $300.

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Original image of new tires being delivered by John Goreham

New Tires - The Single Best Way To Add Value and Comfort

If your tires are past 50% worn and perhaps now a bit beaten up after many winters of pot-hole pounding, why not start fresh? Nothing you can do will increase the resale value of your car better than fresh rubber, so you have nothing to lose if you later decide to pull the trigger on a new vehicle.

We found some in-stock affordable tires from reputable brands for a popular crossover, the first-generation Toyota Highlander. Here is a quick list of some prices we found courtesy of a popular online retailer:

At these price points, you get a standard touring tire that will offer a balance of a smooth, safe ride along with very high value. Looking for a tire that can do more? Check out our list of tires with superpowers. There is no single way to improve the feel of your older can than to fit new tires.

Read more on the Best Tires in the industry here.

Upgrade Your Audio and Infotainment System

Are you still plugging in your Discman through the Aux port to play Clapton’s greatest hits over and over again? Jump into the 2000s and begin streaming your favorite music via Spotify, Apple Music, or Pandora. You will need a new system with BlueTooth, or even better, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Upgrading to a new head unit will also give you the possibility of a back-up camera, hands-free phone, and messaging along with Google Maps, the single best in-vehicle mapping system in the world. You’ll even get real-time traffic and speed trap alerts.

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Image courtesy of Boss Audio

Head units come in two main sizes, called single DIN and double DIN. If you can, get the double DIN. That will mean a screen about the size of the one in most new vehicles. Prices for new head units start shockingly low, and you can source one yourself on Amazon, or buy it from your local installer. Here are some popular choices for new head units in 2023:

Need some more ideas? Check out our list of the best car audio systems for 2023.

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Image courtesy of Zane Merva and Matt Blouin, Finer Finish Auto Salon

Treat Yourself to a Full Vehicle Detailing

A dirty car can be magically transformed by a detailer into one that will knock your socks off. Professionals will use special tools inside, like steamers, to remove years of gunk and grime you have stopped noticing. They can clean your leather and upholstery to look so much better it is hard to imagine.

Outside, detailers will use modern polishing compounds and waxes along with power tools to bring your paint’s finish back to life. The results can be amazing.

Prices for professional detailing vary depending on what services you opt for. A fair price for a full-vehicle detailing ranges from about $250 to about $500. Many detailers will even come to your house and do the work right in your driveway.

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Original image of Honda Fit headlights before and after restoration by John Goreham

Brighten Up Old Cloudy Headlights

As our cars age, the headlights are attacked by the sun. They turn cloudy, which looks lousy, and are even dangerous due to diminished lighting and visibility. Fortunately, most headlights can be brought back to a near-new appearance with less than $30 in parts and 30 minutes of your time. Here’s how.

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Original image of windshield crack by John Goreham

Repair or Replace Your Windshield

One underrated way to improve your driving experience is to change your windshield glass or have a nagging chip repaired. The thousands of tiny scratches and dings on your windshield grow steadily and are hard to see. However, change the glass and you will be shocked by how much nicer the view ahead can be.

There are a few ways to obtain a new windshield. The single best way is to have a comprehensive insurance policy with no deductible. If you have that plan (your agent can tell you), or if you have a plan with a reasonable deductible of say, $100, it is likely you can get a new windshield. Check with your agent on the rules, but most will replace your glass under the policy coverage if you have a chip in your line of sight. And most cars do.

If you own an older mainstream vehicle without windshield-mounted driver assist sensors, the glass may be relatively affordable to have replaced out of pocket. We found windshield prices for vehicles like a Ford F-150 and Honda Accord under $400 from Safelite.

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Original image of Toyota Tacoma on a lift by John Goreham

Fix That Nagging Rattle

Nothing can spoil a Sunday morning drive like a nagging rattle. We recently dove deep on the subject of rectifying rattles. The first step is to completely empty all your cargo spots, nooks, crannies, and glove box. If the rattle is still there, check all the seatbelts. Then call in the pros. Mechanics can often uncover a rattle by putting the car on a lift and poking and prodding your undercarriage. Don’t be shy! If you fix that rattle, your older car will feel like new to you.

All of the things we have listed in this story can be paid for with a budget under $2,000. Heck, that’s less than the sales tax on most new cars. If the new car hustle has you down, why not make the most of the vehicle you already own?

Read more on the topic of Owning a Car here.

Editor's note and disclaimer: Car Talk is supported by our fans, readers and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.

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