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What Does It Take to Make a Used Car Feel New Again?

It’s been said that for every new car sold each year in the United States, three used cars change hands. That’s a whopping number of cars – well into the tens of millions. As the vehicles move through the sales process, they’re refurbished to varying degrees. One of our goals here at MPGomatic is to create opportunities to make those used cars more fuel-efficient in the resale process. That’s why we’re so keen on our Honda Civic MPG project.

Updating a vehicle’s tires, wheels, and suspension can improve handling and increase MPGs, when the right components are chosen. A great set of low-rolling-resistance tires on lightweight alloys – along with new springs and shocks – bolt on quickly and can bring significant benefits. We’ve set out to answer the question … is it really possible to achieve tighter handling, an improved ride and better gas mileage with just one trip to the garage with strictly mechanical components?

If we look at a typical ten-year-old car, it’s lacking in many of the amenities that are considered commonplace today. In-cabin technology like hands-free Bluetooth, Navigation systems, and iPod integration haven’t been around for very long. While those capabilities might not have been available when old paint rolled off the assembly line, they’re easy enough to add with today’s aftermarket products.

Although we’ve yet to see an aftermarket audio head unit that incorporates a fuel-economy feedback display, there are a number of smartphone and iPad apps with instant and average mile per gallon (MPG) tracking features. An OBD-integrated iPad or Android tablet with MPG optimization software seems the obvious route, but the dream app has yet to emerge.

Once your audio system’s been brought up-to-date, you’ll want to hear it, loud and clear.

Most cars today are quieter than their predecessors. Modern cabin insulation products make all the difference. A luxurious ride is never a noisy ride. Aftermarket noise-supression products can eliminate road noise. While it takes time to remove and replace the old carpets, the benefits can be well worth the effort. Spray in products help quiet places that are impossible to cover with Dynamat or other glue on sheets.

Nothing delivers the impact of a new custom interior. If you’re serious about doing an interior update, a set of Pep Boys seat covers and floor mats won’t suffice. Thankfully, custom interiors aren’t as nearly as difficult to achieve as they were in the old days. Aftermarket leather seat cover kits from Katzkin make all the difference, if your budget allows. You can even add seat heaters and lumbar support.

Once all the hard work is done, there’s one little thing missing … that new car smell. Bassat Ogilvy Madrid recently came up with a campaign for Ford of Spain to bring the new car smell back to Ford Selección, the used car brand sold on participating dealers’ lots with a fragrance product, “Smells New.”

“We knew that not everyone could afford a new car,” the advertisement explains. “But that was no reason to miss out on the excitement.”

So we’re out to see … is it truly possible to reduce, reuse, recycle, and rejuvenate, without breaking the budget?

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3 comments ↓

#1 Dan Tole on 05.17.12 at 1:46 pm

New cars depreciate so quickly. Buying used is often a smart choice. Just a few small improvements can make a used car seem new again (but at a much lower cost).

#2 greg on 05.29.12 at 5:22 pm

I have an old civic hatchback that I still use my in-town beater and trailhead car. It corners like crap and always has. I assume it could use a new set of shocks. Any advice on what brand or anything else it could be?

#3 mpg-o-editor on 05.30.12 at 9:46 am

@Greg – It all depends on how much you want to spend … and with a beater, that usually means not too much … 🙂 A new set of shocks and the right tires should perk it up. The springs are likely tired, too. TireRack is a great place to check out what’s available on the high end. Try Advance Auto Parts for comparison.

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