How to Make an Old Car Look New on a Budget: The Ultimate Frugal Guide

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Who doesn't like the look of a shiny, new car? Even if you're not a die-hard carl over, there's almost no one who doesn't appreciate the clean, fresh appearance of a brand-new ride. But, as much as we all love that new car look — not to mention that new car smell — not many of us can afford to buy a new car every year. Luckily for you (and the rest of us), you don't have to. There is no shortage of ways to upgrade and update the look of your car, truck or SUV no matter when you bought it but we decided to take a more budget-friendly approach and highlight those improvements you can do yourself and that won't take a whole paycheck to do. So, if you want to learn insider detailing secrets and discover new and inexpensive modifications for your ride, read on and find out.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: How to Restyle Your Exterior in Under an Hour

The Power of a Hand Wash

Choosing the Right Car Soap

Do-It-Yourself Dent Pulling

Touch-Up Paint Pens

Chapter 2: Wallet-Friendly Interior Upgrades

Polish Your Dash

Trim Rehab with Vinyl Dash Kits

What Is A Dash Kit and Why Do I Need One?

Chapter 3: It's Your Time to Shine: Restore and Upgrade Your Lights

Get Crystal Clear Lenses in 8 Easy Steps

3 Steps to Convert Your Bulbs from Boring to Brilliant with LEDs

Chapter 4: Revive Your Ride with these Auto Glass Treatments

What to Do with a Cracked Windshield

Get Factory Fresh Windshields in Six Steps

Window Tints: More Than Just Eye Candy

Chapter 5: Two Tire and Rim Mods You Shouldn't Skip

Add Some Style with Rim Stripe Decals

Why Your Tires Deserve Some TLC Too

How to Dress a Tire

Chapter 6: Simple Maintenance Tips to Keep Your Ride Feeling New

How to Restyle Your Exterior in Under an Hour for less than $20

Your vehicle's exterior is what the whole world sees when you're driving down the street. That's why it only makes sense to start your make-over on the outside of your car. Sure, you could spend thousands of dollars for a new paint job or to have your ride wrapped in snazzy vinyl but let's pretend for a moment that we're not all independently wealthy trust fund kids. Now that we've got our feet firmly planted back on the ground let's get to our top three ways you can make your car or truck's exterior look like new for under twenty bucks.


Never Underestimate the Power of a Hand Wash

Regardless of anything else you might think of doing, your first step should always been a thorough cleaning and there's nothing better than a good, old-fashioned hand wash. Strangely enough though, it seems that most people overlook both the power and the potential savings of DIY car washing. In fact, according to a recent study, hand washing accounted for only 10.4% of all types of car washing performed in the US for 2018! What that means is people are dropping a lot of cash to have machines wash their vehicles but you know better. Hand washes deliver better results and result in less damage and expense than automated, conveyor-driven services so it only makes sense to do it yourself.

Choosing the Right Car Soap

Before you break out the dish soap and the garden hose yourself, you might want to take a second to consider the following: dish soaps are made to handle caked on grease and food which means they're highly abrasive. Using a dish or other household soap on your car can result in a dull finish and even accelerate the oxidation process. All of which begs the question: what's the best type of soap to use for car washing?

Be forewarned that you can easily get sucked down an internet rabbit hole at this point but, in the interests of brevity and your sanity, will just tell you that there are as many different car wash soaps as there are parts of your vehicle. For example, there are tire shampoos, undercarriage washes and headlight lens cleaners but, if you're a normal person just looking for the best, overall results at the lowest price, we recommend using a basic, multi-purpose car soap. The guys at Car Bibles just did a Best Car Wash Guide of 2019 that we encourage you to check out for a truly in-depth look but we'll give you the top three products below in case you don't have all day to read about soap:

  1. Chemical Guys Citrus Wash and Gloss
  2. Maguire's Gold Class Car Wash
  3. Adam's New Car Wash Shampoo

All of these products are available in the right quantities to completely wash your ride and are specially formulated to protect your clear coat while keeping the finish of your paint looking glossy and new, just like the day it rolled off the lot.


Do-It-Yourself Dent Pulling

It's almost as certain as death or taxes that your car's going to get a dent a some point. And, whether it happened while being parked on the street or in a Wal-Mart parking lot, there's nothing that can destroy he good looks of your ride more quickly than a ding to the side panels. There are any number of great guides out there but the best we found was this guide 8 Easy Ways to Remove Dents Yourself Without Ruining the Paint on DIY Auto Repair's website.  Not only is there a wide variety of techniques but they walk you threw each and provide videos for a number of them too. Sure, some of them seem a little out there (for example, one trick has you use hot glue, dowels and screws) but most of them are pretty sane and comparatively sane. Our favorite methods for DIY dent repair are the following due to their cost and ease of understanding:

  1. Plunger Method: Easy to use and most of us already have one. Spray both the plunger and the dent with water and start pushing and pulling until it pops out. You need to be sure to use a cup plunger (for sinks), not a flange one (for toilets) to get results.
  2. Boiling Water Method: Most of us have water, a pot and a stove.  Luckily that's all you need for this dent removal trick to work. Literally dump and keep dumping boiling water on the dent until it pops out. This trick only works on plastic composite so if you've got a 67 Cheverly you're out of luck.
  3. Vacuum Cleaner Method: This is our personal favorite. You'll need a vacuum, plastic flower pot and some duct tape. Make a small hole at the bottom of the pot, tape the pot around the dent, place the vacuum cleaner hose over the hole under the pot, and turn on your vacuum. If the dent isn't too shallow, the suction created should pop out your dent.

If you're wanting more we suggest checking out the link above for 5 additional ways you can remove dents and have your old car looking brand spanking new.


Touch-Up Paint Pens

Paint scratches are the worst and they can really put years on the aesthetic of your exterior. Thank goodness that there are dozens of products on the market that have figured out how to help you baring your paint job back to almost pristine condition. We surveyed most of the popular options out there but for the money, there's nothing better than Duplicolor's Scratch Fix All-in-1 Touch-up Paint. You can literally plug in your year, make and model vehicle and then find your paint code on their easy to use site. Next, pick your paint and then you can decide where to buy. If you're lazy, like us, you can buy online at Amazon or you can find a local store that sells them too. The best part is you get this color-match paint repair pen for less $20! We really can't recommend this product enough and it's the perfect entry to round out our exterior upgrade section.

Wallet-Friendly Interior Upgrades

We've already taken a look at some of the ways you can breathe new life into the exterior of your vehicle but now it's time to turn our attention to the inside. Your car's cabin is where you spend the lion's share of your time commuting and its condition is one of the best indicators of its age. Like anything else in automotive detailing and restyling, there's an almost limitless variety of options to choose from and you could almost certainly go broke upgrading your ride's interior but the two tricks we've got for you today will go easy on your wallet while giving you a brand new look to boot. So, without further ado, let's take a look at these money-saving, interior restyling tips.


Polish Your Dash with the Right Protectant

Armor All was probably the first big name in the dash protectant game and for good reason: they made cleaning, polishing and protecting your interior easy by rolling all three into one convenient spray bottle. But, surely, things have evolved since Armor All was first invented all the way back in 1962, right? Well, yes and no. The marketing has definitely involved and now we have a urge number of UV protection sprays, leather and vinyl dressings and a variety of multi-purpose dual or triple action cleaners and polishes but it really all comes down to this: what are you trying to achieve?

If you're like most of us, you want a protectant that will polish up your interior without leaving it booking like someone accidentally spilled oil and vinegar dressing all over it. This is especially important since the advent of matte ABS plastics in the interiors of many vehicle's since at least the late 1990s. The best all-around cleaner we've found is 303® Aerospace Protectant for its versatility and suitability for a variety of surfaces. We won't link it here but you can easily find it on Google or Amazon. Some of the great benefits it offers are as follows:

  • Matte finish with no oily and greasy residue
  • Keeps treated surfaces looking new
  • Prevents fading and cracking
  • Restores lost color and luster
  • Contains UV blockers
  • Anti-Static, repels smudges, dust, soiling and staining
  • Easy to use, simply spray on and wipe dry
  • Safe and effective for vinyl, gel-coat, fiberglass, carbon fiber, synthetic/natural rubber, plastics and finished leather

You literally can't find a better product anywhere and it can be yours for as little as $15.00 per bottle.


Trim Rehab with Vinyl Dash Kits

The next idea we're going to share is an inexpensive way to add your own personal style while covering up scuffs and scratches but can't be used with dash protectants. In fact, if you've ever used a polish or protection fluid on your interior you're going to need to do a serious deep cleaning if you want to apply a precut dash kit. ABS plastics used in vehicle interiors are already formulated to be stain (and adhesive) resistant but once you add an Armor All or 303® Aerospace Protectant coating you can forget about it sticking. Check out these cleaning and installation instructions here to see what's involved in preparing your interior trim for dash kit application.

What Is A Dash Kit and Why Do I Need One?

Even those these are two distinct questions we'll try to answer both in this paragraph. A dash kit is made from a roll of self-adhesive, cast vinyl that is printed in a variety of colors, shapes or patterns to give your interior a one-of-a-kind look. It applies over areas of your dashboard and panels to hide damage and add style. It won't cover pre-existing wood trim so be clear before you buy. And, finally, why do you need one? You don't. No one needs any of the products we've covered in this guide but a dash kit can hide worn and faded interior trim, especially when you choose a color and finish that mimics the car's own (e.g., matte black or metallic silver).

It's Your Time to Shine: Restore and Upgrade Your Lights

Your vehicle's lights are literally its most visible feature. Whether it's headlights, fog lights, taillights or daytime running lights, ensuring that the lenses are clear and the light beaming through them is foggy and bright as can be goes a long way towards keep your ride looking new. In fact, it's hard to think of anything worse for the look of a car or truck than a pair of milky looking headlights. In this section we'll take a look at some of the ways you can remedy this all too common problem while improving your vehicle's light output and safety too.


Get Crystal Clear Lenses in 8 Easy Steps

Sure, you can buy any number of restoration kits and cleaners that promise to breath new life into your plastic headlight lenses or you could even spring for an all new set which would surely cost you over $500. But, even if you do buy a new pair of lights, eventually you'll be facing the same situation of a foggy, milky looking set of headlights. Rather than dropping insane sums of cash every few years just follow these 8 simple steps to restore them by buying a SYLVANIA Headlight Restoration Kit:

  1. Wash the headlight with warm, soapy water.
  2. Rinse with plenty of clear water.
  3. Mask the area around the lens with blue painter's tape so you don’t scratch the paint.
  4. Get the correct grit sandpaper and soak the sheets of in water. If the headlight is just dull, start with the 1,500 grit and work up to the 2,500 grit. If there are light scratches, start with the 1,000-grit paper.
  5. Sand one direction with the first grit, then rinse and change direction with the next.
  6. Continue doing this until you’re finished with the 2,500-grit paper.
  7. Wash the headlight with plenty of clear, cool water and dry.
  8. Wet one corner of the microfiber cloth with the polishing compound. Using firm pressure, polish the headlight in a circular pattern until it becomes smooth and clear. Allow the polish to dry, then use the clean end of the cloth to buff off any polish residue

Repeat the polishing process and, depending on the damage to the headlamp, small areas may still appear foggy. Try republishing only those spots with polishing compound. Buff the area again and inspect. And, voila, that's it!


3 Steps to Convert Your Bulbs from Boring to Brilliant with LEDs

Once you've got your lenses squared away why not go all in and switch out your dim, halogen bulbs for bright LEDs. Not sure if your car or truck can be retro-fitted with LED bulbs? You 'll be surprised to know that almost any car mass produced in the last 60 years has a corresponding LED made for it. So, how can you get in on this 21st Century technology? It's easy and we'll show you how in 3 steps.

  1. Find Your Bulb Type: It's no coincidence that Sylvania has an online database to help you find your exact headlight bulb type. Simply use their dropdown selectors to find the right one and make a note of it for step 2.
  2. Plug and Play or Conversion Kit: any LED replacement bulbs are made to be directly installs nowadays. If these aren't available, you can always purchase an LED Conversion Kit. The installation procedure for an LED conversion kit are a little more involved but are still simple and straightforward to install.
  3. Enjoy: With ultra-bright LEDs installed your nighttime driving experience will be completely changed for good and you're ride will be looking a good as the first day it drove off the lot.

Revive Your Ride with these Auto Glass Treatments

Not only do you want your vehicle's windows and windshields need to look good but they need to actually perform well if you want to enjoy even the shortest commute. Plus, a dirty or damaged window in a car is a serious safety hazard that needs to be fixed as soon as possible for your own and for the safety of everyone else on the road. Check out these three ideas to update and repair your car's windows and get it looking good as new.


What to Do with a Cracked Windshield

We've all had it happen: you're driving down the highway, listening to your jam and WHACK! You're the owner of a cracked windshield. So what do you do? Well, most people would assume that he only thing to do is to bring your ride into the shop and find alternate transportation for the next few days. But, according to Popular Mechanics, you might just be able to repair your cracked windshield.

There are a number of different options and the article goes in depth about all of them but suffice it to say that you can by a so-called complete repair kit on Amazon for less than $10. Heck, even if it doesn't work we still think it would be worth it to try before shelling out hundreds and having to bug your friends for rides all week.


Get Factory Fresh Windshields in Six Steps

If you've owned your vehicle for long enough can certainly seem that your windshield never really comes clean. In fact, even if you've changed your wipers and washed your windows, it may still seem impossible to get crystal clear glass. Luckily for us all, some intrepid detailers have figured out the secret: steel wool. Yep, despite what you may think, steel wool won't destroy anything but the grime and gunk on your windscreen. Are you ready to bring your windshield to a state of crystalline perfection? Read on.

Before you begin you'll need the following supplies:

  • Fine steel wool: Make sure you get the finest steel wool available such as Homax Products Grade #0000 Super Fine Steel Wool as
  • Invisible Glass residue-free cleaner
  • RainX
  • A microfiber cloth
  • A sock

Once you've assembled all of your supplies you can get to work as follows:


Window Tints: More Than Just Eye Candy

Once you've repair any cracks and completely cleaned your windshield you've still got one thing left to do: tint your windows. Window tinting can be expensive but if you do-it-yourself you get all of the benefits for a fraction of the cost. And just what are the benefits of window tint? In brief they are:

  • UV Protection: Window film protects you, your passengers and your upholstery and trim from the effects of UV radiation. For living beings, that means protection from cancer and for interior materials it means they will last longer, won't fade or crack.
  • Heat Rejection: According to Technics Tint "Normal window tint can provide up to 35-45% of heat rejection, while premium tint can provide heat rejection up to 75-80%."
  • Privacy: Whether you have an expensive sound system or you just don't want prying eyes spying out your family, window tint is perfect for keeping secret your precious cargo.

Clearly, window tint provides a number of great benefits and when you buy the precut stuff you get savings and ease of installation. There are any number of sellers of precut window tint but we're partial to ours not only because we sell it but because our order-by-picture interface let's you see exactly what you're getting and gives you the choice of buying some or all of the windows.

Two Tire and Rim Mods You Shouldn't Skip

How many people really give any thought to the way their wheels and rims effect the appearance of their ride? Okay, given the fact that Vossen wheels is a thing, there are certainly people willing to spend thousands on rims but for those of us on middle-class budgets we don't often think of it. The truth


Add Some Style with Rim Stripe Decals

Maybe you don't think of yourself as a decal kind of guy or girl but rim strip decals really aren't your run-of-the-mill stickers. In fact, since most of them are made using premium quality, reflective vinyl, they are more akin to safety decals than bumper stickers. Unlike rim protectors, these are meant for cosmetic purposes only and are generally half-the price.

So, how much can you expect to spend on these? Well, it really all depends. If you buy from Chinese sellers on Amazon you can get a set for 22-inch rims for $9.99 but you'll get the quality you expect from it. Otherwise, there are a number of other sellers with great feedback and who have made it their sole business to create rim strip decals that are the right shape for your wheel. Be wary of any seller who states that their rim stripes fit large spans (for example, from 15-inch to 22-inch rims) as this is an impossibility. In addition, skip anyone selling a roll of molding as it won't be able to conform to the contours of your wheel.


Why Your Tires Deserve Some TLC Too

If you're like us, you probably wonder why tires would ever need to be cleaned at all. I mean, they're made to be dirty since they are literally rolling on black tar and dirt all day long, right? But, failure to maintain, clean and dress your tires can lead to cracking and hardening, both of which which will negatively affect your tire’s performance. Temperature changes, moisture exposure, brake dust and road debris can cause tires to dry out and a hard tire can’t provide the same grip in slippery conditions and could even fail suddenly. For all of these reasons, not to mention the cosmetic ones, it's important to clean and maintain your tires regularly.

How to Dress a Tire

If you make maintaining and retreating your tires a routine part of your car wash, you’ll never have to deal with these drying, cracking or loss of grip. Best of all, dressing your tires doesn’t take a lot of effort and you'll love the look of your shiny clean tires afterward. There are many products out there designed specifically for cleaning wheels and dressing tires.

Be sure to clean the wheel thoroughly before dressing tires to seal out as much brake dust and road grime as possible. Next, apply a layer of tire dressing to nourish the rubber compound and bring out the black in your tires. These compounds serve to restore the tire at a molecular level and should be applied roughly every other time that you clean the car. For very dry environments like deserts and high-altitudes or places where the tire is exposed to lots of humidity, you should apply them more frequently. Not only will such maintenance extend the life of your tires but will take years of the appearance of your ride!

Simple Maintenance Tips to Keep Your Ride Feeling New

We've made it to the end and we hope you've found the tips in this guide useful. We intend to keep adding tips and tricks to keep your old car looking new so be sure to let us know if we've missed anything. Before we go though here are three parting tips for keeping your ride feeling as new as it looks:

  • Don't Skip Regular Oil Changes
  • Fix Problems that Cause Road Noise
  • Perform Regular Maintenance

Good luck out there and we wish you many more years of driving fun to come.

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