Cars are very significant investments - and, unfortunately, investments mostly doomed to depreciation. They can also embody the image that we want to show to friends, coworkers, and other drivers. Keeping your car looking new keeps its resale value up, makes it last longer, and helps avoid more costly headaches in the future. A car that looks good on the outside leaves a good impression, and helps you get the most money when you sell it three or five or more years down the road. Here are some useful tips that will help you keep your car looking new:

Keep a proper following distance, and keep to the right. Also keep your speed down on roads with loose stones or other material on the surface. Give larger trucks and vehicles with more exposed wheels an especially wide berth.

Choose your parking spots carefully. Avoid parallel parking if possible, and only use lots with angled spots or wide straight-in spots. Steer clear of "compact only" spots, as they don't leave enough room for driver error. Park near cars that are a few years old and in perfect condition, or park near special-interest or classic cars. Watch out for newer cars that already have a lot of minor dings and scratches, and of course watch out for the beaters. Avoid parallel parking on an abruptly sloped street if at all possible. One other tip that might be of use: If you're parking in a grocery store lot that has a slope, park at the highest point.

Park out of the sun. Prolonged exposure to the sun weakens the finish and invites scalloping, peeling, and fading; and it makes the paint more vulnerable to scratching and chipping.

While loading your vehicle, don't rest items on the hood, roof, or trunk. It may be a lot easier to scratch your vehicle's finish than you think just from setting items down. You also risk driving with the item sliding off your car, leaving scrape marks. If possible, set items elsewhere when loading.

Wash your car frequently. Remove road grime and corrosion-causing acid-rain deposits with frequent hand washes. Pay special attention to fresh tar and pine sap. Both will over time bake into the finish. For removing tar before you wash, try applying a small amount of cooking oil with a cotton towel, or soft, clean shop rag, or leaving a dab of petroleum jelly on the area for a few hours, then wiping gently away. For tree sap, very gently apply a small amount of mineral spirits before washing. Better yet, there are special solutions for removing these substances available at auto parts stores and department stores. When washing, remember to use proper soap for car washing and rinse from the top down.

Use high-quality towels to dry your car. Cheap, coarse towels with nylon binding around the edges - or exposed labels - will scour the surface and leave scratches. After clearing most of the water with a chamois, terry cloth towels with a high thread count (otherwise termed "microfiber") are the best to use for drying after a wash. Most detailing experts now recommend that you dry your car's surface with an up-down or side-to-side motion, rather than with circular swirls.

Avoid automatic car washes. They can damage your car's finish in several different ways. Harsh, heavy scrubbers can dent panels, and brushes can scour the finish by grinding in grit and grime. So-called "touchless" car washes don't damage the finish, but they likely won't get all of the deposits off, leaving them to be baked on by the sun.

Wax occasionally. At least twice a year - or more often for unusually harsh conditions - give your car a good wax coat. It not only adds some shine, but it also helps supplement your car's finish with added protection from sunlight, acid rain, small stone chips, and bird droppings.

Protective measures. Most new cars now come from the factory with an anti-chip coating applied to the rocker panels and lower section of the doors. If your car doesn't, some specialized shops can apply a mostly transparent, protective coating to the lower section of your doors that will also help prevent rust. Also, if side molding doesn't already stop passengers from opening doors into building walls, other vehicles, or signposts, consider installing the special plastic stripping around the edges of your doors. It's not pretty but its function is irrefutable and it will keep your car prettier in the long run.

Fix damage or rust promptly. Chips or scrapes, no matter how minor, make your finish much more susceptible to rust. Inspect your entire vehicle each season for new corrosion and fix it. For more information on how to fix and prevent rust, see TCC's tip on Rustbusting.

Read about other useful tips from

Fixing a Dead Battery

Better Winter Performance

Winter Maintenance

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