Cars shed dollars with each mile their wheels turn. But some hold their value far better than others. Find out why and what you can do to minimize losses.
by JEFF ZYGMONT, ForbesAutos.com
You can't call them "good investments" because they inevitably depreciate. But the models in our ranking of the top 10 vehicles with highest resale value do amount to sensible purchases for the way they minimize the dollar losses associated with owning and maintaining a vehicle.
The models on our list retain a higher percentage of their original purchase price than any other car you can buy.
The top two models, the playful Mini Cooper and Infiniti's G37 Coupe, will hold more than 60 percent of their value after three years of ownership. None of the models on our resale honor roll give up more than 15 percent of their purchase price per year through their first three years, based on data from Automotive Leasing Guides (ALG), a market research firm headquartered in Santa Barbara, Calif.
All About Perceptions
In addition to a vehicle's styling, its manufacturer's reputation for quality has a big impact on how much value it retains, Blair says.
"The No. 1 influence is certainly a vehicle brand and the perception of the brand," he says. "The used-car buyer is looking for a vehicle that's not going to be a maintenance headache for them. If you have a strong brand, that has a real positive influence on the residual value."
Cars like the BMW 1 Series, Infiniti G37 and Mini Cooper reach their pinnacle positions by a combination of brand reputation and desirability, Blair says. "The 1 Series is another example of a nicely styled vehicle with good driving characteristics."
For the little Cooper, fuel-efficiency currently gives a boost to resale value, says Andrew Cutler, a spokesman for Mini. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the base Mini Cooper at 28 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.
What's more, Mini tries to create an engaging brand experience that makes owners feel like members of a special club. Cutler calls it "an expressive brand personality."
"They then tell their friends how cool it is and invite them to join the club," he says. "This brand experience, coupled with the car's performance, safety and efficiency, keeps customers engaged for a longer period of time than has been seen with other niche vehicles."
How to Boost the Resale Value of Any Model
No matter how unique, reliable or appealing a vehicle is, the resale value of a particular model always depends on its condition. Even if you don't buy one of the top 10 performers, you can maximize the worth of your car by keeping it in optimal condition.
Michael Calkins, manager of the approved auto repair program for AAA, stresses the importance of routine maintenance and following manufacturer recommendations. "Keep all service and repair records as proof of maintenance when it comes time to sell the vehicle," he says.
And don't underestimate the importance of seemingly small measures, liking washing a vehicle regularly and waxing it twice a year to protect the finish. These work cumulatively to help preserve a car and thus enhance its second-hand value. "Keep the interior clean, and vacuum it regularly to prevent grit from wearing the carpets," Calkins says. "Use floor mats to protect the carpets, including special winter mats in climates where they are justified."
A garage helps prevent sun and weather damage, but if you must park outside regularly, he recommends a protective cover and window tinting, especially in the south.
"Park in places and ways that will help prevent door dings, and have a paintless dent repair technician periodically remove the dings that are bound to happen anyway," Calkins says. "Run your air conditioning at least five minutes every month, even in winter, to circulate lubricant and keep the seals in good shape. Use your parking brake regularly to prevent its cables and mechanisms from seizing."
Whether you own or plan to buy one of the top value-holders on our list or some other vehicle, the effort invested in the little stuff day-to-day will be rewarded when it comes time to sell.