How to Detail an Automobile Before Selling
Before selling your vehicle, you’ll want to make sure it looks its best. A good, thorough cleaning of the interior, exterior and engine bay will ensure that a potential buyer will be able to see the vehicle’s strong points, rather than the dirt and grime it may have collected on the road. Remember to clean the body of the vehicle after the engine bay and wheels to prevent any harsh cleansers from damaging the paint.
Cleaning the Vehicle’s Interior
Clean out trash and personal items.Before you can do a thorough job of cleaning out the vehicle’s interior, you’ll need to remove any loose trash from the cabin. If you have personal items like blankets, spare pairs of shoes or the like, you should remove them as well.
- Use a trash bag to collect scraps, loose wrappers, or any other trash from the floor, seats or ashtrays in the vehicle.
- Collect your personal items and set them aside to bring inside.
- Don’t forget to clean any trash or personal items out of the trunk as well.
Vacuum the carpets.Either use a shop vacuum with a long hose or take your vehicle to an automotive vacuum center. Be sure to vacuum all of the carpeted surfaces in the vehicle, including the trunk and beneath the seats.
- If you take your vehicle to an automotive vacuum center (usually located with car washes) you will likely need quarters to pay for the vacuum.
- Keep an eye out for stains in the carpet you’ll need to address as you vacuum.
Wipe down plastic surfaces with interior cleaner.Use an automotive interior cleaner to wipe down all plastic trim components in the interior of your vehicle. If you don’t have automotive cleaner, an all purpose cleaner will also suffice for wiping away dust or any stuck on grime.
- Don’t use all purpose or interior cleaner on leather.
- Make sure to wipe in the nooks and crannies of the dashboard where dust tends to collect.
- You can purchase interior cleaners at most automotive and large retail stores.
Use leather cleaner on leather parts.Use a cleaner designed specifically for use on leather when cleaning leather seats or upholstery inserts. This will prolong the life of the leather and prevent it from cracking.
- They make spray-on leather cleaner as well as pre-moistened wipes you can use to simply wipe the seats and trip components down.
- If you wish, you may also use a leather treater after cleaning the leather. This will condition the leather deeper and help it maintain its softness and shine longer.
Wipe down interior and exterior glass.Use a glass cleaner to spray and wipe down all of the glass surfaces on the interior of the vehicle, including the inside of the windshield and the rear view mirror. Pay close attention to wipe away any streaks or fingerprints.
- You should wash the exterior of the windows with glass cleaner after washing the car to ensure there are no water spots.
Use a carpet shampooer or stain remover if necessary.If there are any stains in the seats or carpets that need to be addressed you can use either a spot-stain remover or a small carpet shampooer. Prior to using a stain remover on the stain, test it in an inconspicuous area to ensure the stain remover will not negatively affect the dye in the material.
- After you’ve tested your stain removal method, scrub it into any stains on the carpet or seats.
- Follow the directions for how long to leave it on the stain and how to properly wipe it away to remove the stain completely.
Cleaning the Engine and Engine Bay
Warm the engine up for five minutes.Engine degreaser works best on a warm application. Start the vehicle and allow it to run for a few minutes to bring up the temperature of the engine block and other components. This will make removing stuck on grime significantly easier.
- Don’t leave the engine running for too long or it may get too hot to touch.
Disconnect the battery and cover exposed wiring.Use a hand or socket wrench of the appropriate size to loosen the nut holding the negative cable onto the battery terminal. Slide the cable off and tuck it down to the side of the battery. Then use some plastic bags and tape to cover the battery and any other loose bits of wiring you see in the engine compartment.
- While the engine likely won’t suffer any issues from getting wet, it’s better to protect electronics that could feasibly arc when reconnected.
- If there are any aftermarket wires in your engine bay for things like external amplifiers or subwoofers, make sure they are covered.
Apply engine degreaser.Spray the engine degreaser directly onto the metal portions of the engine and cylinder head. If some of it over-sprays onto plastic components that’s all right, but try to avoid getting it on painted surfaces as it may damage paint.
- Read the instructions on the specific type of engine degreaser you purchased to know how long to let it sit.
- The longer you let the degreaser set (within reason) the deeper it will clean.
Use a brush to scrub stuck on grime.Use a stiff bristled brush to scrub large deposits of stuck on dirt or grime in your engine while the degreaser works. It should loosen the grime, allowing you to remove it with the brush. Be extremely careful not to burn yourself or breath the fumes in too deeply.
- It’s best to use engine degreaser in open, well ventilated areas.
- Remember that the engine is hot, so avoid touching it directly with your hands.
Rinse the engine with a hose.Use a hose to rinse the engine degreaser and all of the grime off of the engine. After you finish rinsing it, look around for areas that you may need to apply degreaser to again. Repeat the process if necessary.
- If certain parts of the engine are still dirty, apply the degreaser again and repeat the process.
- Plastic that still looks dirty can be cleaned with an all-purpose cleaner.
Washing and Waxing the Exterior
Apply wheel and tire cleaner.Before washing the body of the car, apply tire and wheel cleaners to your tires and rims. You may choose to buy a combination tire and wheel cleaner to minimize the steps, or you may choose to purchase cleaners for each portion of the wheel. Allow the cleaner to set for a while and scrub away brake dust or stuck on grime with a soft bristled brush and a rag.
- Make sure to use a sponge or rag that you do not intend to use washing the body of the vehicle.
- Allow the cleaner to sit for a few minutes on the wheels and tires before spraying them off.
Rinse the car with clean water.Use a hose to rinse the wheel and tire cleaners off, then rinse the rest of the car in its entirety. If there are any leaves or other debris on the car, you may want to remove them by hand before continuing to rinse the body.
- A lot of the dirt and road sludge should come off of the car as you rinse it.
- A high pressure nozzle will help get more of the tough to clean dirt off of the vehicle.
Use a sponge and soapy water to clean the body.Fill a bucket with water and a bit of automotive soap. Soak a clean sponge in the soapy water and use it to begin washing the top of the body of the vehicle. Walk all the way around the vehicle cleaning the high portions of the body before moving lower.
- If it is a very large vehicle, you may choose to wash only sections, such as the front of the vehicle, at a time.
- Don’t apply soapy water to a vehicle in direct sunlight or it may dry onto the paint.
Rinse the entire vehicle.Once you have washed the entire body of the vehicle, rinse it thoroughly to ensure no soap can remain and dry on the paint. Just as you did with soaping it up, start rinsing at the top and ensure all the soap has been washed away before moving lower.
- Soap can dry onto paint, causing it to look duller.
- Removing dried soap can remove wax and even damage clearcoat.
Once the vehicle is dry, apply a coat of wax.You can use a towel to dry the vehicle, or you may choose to allow it to air dry. Once the vehicle is dry, use the applicator sponge that comes with automotive wax to apply a fresh coat to the painted metal portions of the exterior of your vehicle.
- Even if you use a towel, you will need to wait until the water dries in the small crevices all around the vehicle before you wax.
- Apply the wax to the entire body of the vehicle, then give it time to dry.
Buff the wax off once it dries.Most automotive wax will turn a white, chalky color upon drying enough to be buffed off. Check by touching the wax with your index finger. If it rubs away beneath your finger without you having to apply much pressure, it’s ready to be buffed off. Use a chamois towel and wipe the wax away in circular motions to reveal shiny paint beneath.
- If your chamois towel gets dirty, swap it out for another one. You don’t want to buff dirty into the new wax.
Video: Why You Should Clean the Engine Before Selling Your Car
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