Let’s not bury the lede: of course, cars can appreciate in value. But why do some cars hold their value over time, while most do not? That is (in some cases, literally) the million-dollar question.

First off, let’s acknowledge that a majority of cars from all manufacturers are mass-produced, or at least, produced to meet demand. Not only that, but the original pricing of a car does not dictate its future value. Just because a car costs a quarter of a million dollars doesn’t mean it will hold its value or appreciate for years to come. However, as with all things in the automotive industry, there are exceptions to every rule.

What cars depreciate?

So, what cars depreciate? Simply stated: “A-to-B” cars. When we talk about A to B cars, we’re referring to the basic models that car manufacturers produce for the purpose of getting consumers from point A to point B with no other particular objective in mind. These cars are often produced in large quantities, which means that their value tends to depreciate over time. Base model specifications exacerbate this phenomenon because they don’t offer any significant additional features beyond what comes standard with the car. On the other hand, optional extras offered by car manufacturers can help make a vehicle more unique and add luxury features that can help maintain or even increase its value over time.

In the case of cars, often times the more you put in, the more you can expect to get out. Old technology is generally less desirable than new and improved technology, and this reality can often be applied to many aspects of a car. Examples include improvements to interior materials, ride feel, tire technology, engine efficiency and output, and the various buttons and features throughout the car. If you’re unsure where your car stands in terms of these factors, you can always visit a dealer and ask a salesperson if the car on the showroom floor has significant differences from the model you currently own.

But how can you tell if a car will appreciate from the start?

Now, this is a tough one. However, limited production numbers, being a first-of-its-kind in the class, having historical value to the brand, and being purposefully built are all quick indicators that a car could be a good investment. When it comes to limited production numbers, the smaller the production, the stronger the investment argument. This is especially true if production is under 1000. This most often applies to cars built by the manufacturer and not aftermarket body shops. There are exceptions to this, of course, as famous tuner companies and aftermarket parts can also help a car hold its value, or even increase it.

All car brands have a certain history that car enthusiasts can appreciate, which creates a demand for historically significant projects from the manufacturer. One prime example of this is Porsche’s development of the Porsche 911R, which pays homage to the 1970s Porsche 911R designed for the sole purpose of enjoying the driving experience. This particular model came with a 6-speed manual transmission, more horsepower and torque, and lightweight materials to enhance the power-to-weight ratio.

But why does this matter for the car’s value? In 2016, as many car manufacturers were moving towards electric powertrains, Porsche purists still appreciated the old ways of Porsche engineering. With a more traditional Porsche design and engineering, people coveted this perfect model. The car originally retailed for $250,000, but on the secondhand market, prices skyrocketed to close to a million dollars due to the limited production of only 991 cars. Even after the hype cooled off around the car, prices still sit around $500,000, double the retail value.  With the historical value, purpose-built design, and limited production, more than a thousand car collectors and enthusiasts would love to get their hands on this car.

Let’s take a look at a more recent example: the 2019 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ. This car has some significant historical lineage, as it pays tribute to the Lamborghini Miura SV Jota from the early 1970s, which was designed to be the most extreme, hardcore sports car of its day. With such a legacy to uphold, Lamborghini knew it had to produce an outstanding vehicle. The Aventador SVJ had an MSRP of around $517,000 and a total production of only 900 units. It was the most powerful V12 Lamborghini ever made, with close to 780 brake horsepower. And it didn’t disappoint. The SVJ set a new lap record around the Nürburgring Nordschleife track in Germany, which is known as the most challenging and demanding track in the world. It clocked in at an incredible 6 minutes and 44.97 seconds, much faster than its predecessor, the SV, which lapped the same track in 6 minutes and 59.73 seconds and was the first Lamborghini to break the 7-minute barrier. Nowadays, the SVJ commands prices of over $950,000, three years after its initial release. While we’ve only looked at two brands here, there are many other cars out there that meet these criteria. Companies like Ferrari, McLaren, Bugatti, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and Ford have all found that combining history, cutting-edge technology, and limited production can be a winning formula for automotive investment.

How do you preserve and grow a car’s value?

So, you’ve found a car you want to collect. How do you give it the best chance to hold or increase in value? As with all collectibles, maintaining the asset in impeccable condition is key. However, for cars – a collectible that’s often meant to be driven – this is easier said than done. Aside from avoiding scratches and dings, older cars with less technology can be particularly challenging to maintain.

One important step is to store the car in a temperature-controlled space, such as a garage or warehouse, and of course, to keep it clean. It’s also crucial to have electrical ports available to plug in trickle chargers and keep the car’s battery charged. However, it’s important to be cautious with the wires from the charger and to place a specialized cloth to protect the paint from being rubbed. Maintaining the paint is also key to preserving the car’s value. Both new and old vehicles can experience paint problems, and correcting, polishing, and covering the paint can be essential. Some body shops and dealerships offer clear plastic films that can protect the paint from rock chips, dirt, and bugs, as well as from the sun, which can cause the paint to swirl and deteriorate.

People often have mixed feelings when it comes to modifying their rare or exotic cars. While some modifications can be done beautifully, such as painting, adjusting suspension, new rims, exhaust systems, and body kits, these changes can sometimes negatively affect the car’s value. However, having the car’s manufacturer perform the alterations is a surefire way to increase its value. Many car brands have subsidiaries, like MSO for McLaren, Ad Personam for Lamborghini, and TaylorMade for Ferrari, that can offer customizations that boost the car’s worth. There are also aftermarket companies like Brabus for Mercedes, Alpina for BMW, RUF and Guntherwerks for Porsche, and Hennessey Performance for Ford, Jeep, Dodge, and Chevrolet that specialize in customizing cars and increasing their value. These companies are popular choices for enthusiasts who want to modify their cars while preserving or even increasing their worth.

On another note, there are several ways to keep a car in collectible condition. Regularly driving the car is important to keep it running properly and to prevent fluids and mechanics from going bad. It is also advisable to minimize the amount of gas in the car when it is sitting for long periods of time and to only add fuel when needed. Using higher-octane fuels in sports cars and older cars can help keep the engine clean and running smoothly for longer periods. This is especially important in high-performance track cars where the engines are pushed to their limits. For instance, a Bugatti Chiron, which has a W16 engine producing 1500BHP, requires fuel no less than 95+ octane due to the nature of the car’s engine and ability. It is also essential to keep records of the car’s maintenance, such as annual service, dealer maintenance records, the options list and MSRP/price of the car, the car’s manual, and any additional objects received upon purchase. Some rare and expensive cars come with custom luggage sets, watches, tool sets, driving gloves or boots, and race suits. Having these objects in pristine condition can increase the value of the car and make it more attractive to potential buyers.


As we discussed in our recent post on collecting fine art, managing any collection requires a combination of passion, research, and careful consideration. And by keeping these elements in mind, you can make prudent and thoughtful decisions.

If you would like to connect with a Cerity Partners Advisor that specializes in the management of high-end collections, please contact us.

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