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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dashboard diners lose resale value and gain inches

By Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON Are you a dashboard diner?

By that I mean: Do you frequently eat in your car?

I'll confess. I eat in my car. So do my kids. We spend so much time going from here to there that it's hard not to munch on the road.

However, my husband and I recently bought new vehicles for the first time in more than a decade and we have pledged to drastically cut down on our meals on wheels.

Good thing, too, since eating less in your car is a smart financial move.

Vehicles in excellent condition and appearance both inside and outside can be valued thousands of dollars higher than those in good or fair condition, according to the results of a national survey conducted by Kelley Blue Book Marketing Research and Taco Bell Corp.

The random survey of more than 1,200 drivers who own or lease a car was conducted on kbb.com from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1.

Nearly 60 percent of all vehicle owners eat or allow someone to eat in their vehicles, according to the survey.

But does a food-stained seat or carpet matter as much as a car's exterior or engine when it comes time to resell a car?

Many of the survey respondents didn't think so.

More than 90 percent of vehicle owners believe exterior attributes have more impact than interior condition on a car's long-term value. Only 3 percent thought that the seats matter and only 1 percent ranked carpet condition as important. When given a choice of 13 attributes to rank in importance with regard to eventual resale value, stained seats and carpets were numbers 10 and 11.

Yet while it's true that keeping your car looking good on the outside can help increase its resale value, a nasty interior has as much impact on its long-term value as the exterior.

"I was surprised people put relatively little emphasis on the value of the interior of their car," said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "What we find is a lot of people are losing a lot of money by not paying attention to retail value."

The interior of a vehicle contributes to roughly 30 percent to 35 percent of a vehicle's overall resale value, according to Kelley. The three major areas that affect a vehicle's value are interior, exterior and engine/transmission. Each contribute about a third to a car's overall resale value.

Although I'm trying to keep my new car tidy and ding-free, as the years go by I won't really care how messy it gets. I won't be stressing about the scratches it's bound to get. It won't matter because I keep my automobiles for years. I don't typically trade in a car or resell it. When I need another vehicle, I usually give the old one to a relative.

I keep my cars so long that folks start to feel sorry for me. One Sunday I came out of church to find one of my fellow congregants had placed his business card under my van's windshield wiper.

He was a car salesman.

Someone else might have been embarrassed. Not me. I laughed knowing that my van was paid for. However, far too many people trade their cars like children swap trading cards. On average, vehicle owners trade in their cars every three to five years, according to Kelley.

I just don't understand why someone would trade in a perfectly good car, especially since technological advances have resulted in vehicles being much more durable than before.

Personally, I'm not trying to eat less in my car just to increase its resell value. I'm eating less because those meals have a tendency to increase my hips.