Do-it-yourself car detailing

When you want to sell your car, first impressions are key. Sure, you’ve gotten used to the gunk on the hubcaps and the lint in the coin holder, but a prospective buyer might see these as a turn-off. Here are ways to increase the appeal of your car, without ever raising the hood.

Before you begin washing or waxing your car, make sure it is parked in the shade. Rinse off any loose dirt with a hose set on a firm spray. Do not use dish detergent, as it is too abrasive and may harm your car’s finish. Use only a specialized automotive cleaner, mixed to the recommended proportions, and a plush wash-mitt or soft foam sponge. Wash your car carefully from the top down, rinsing periodically so that the suds don’t dry. When you have finished washing, give the car an overall rinse. Use a soft clean towel to wipe off all excess moisture so that you don’t leave water spots.

Apply WD-40 or a similar product to your wheel wells, let them sit for a while, and then wipe them down. Spray a household grease-cutting cleaner on your tires, rims and hubcaps. Use an old toothbrush and Q-tips to clean out every nook and cranny of your tires. A toothbrush or scrub brush is also good to clean out the grill, bumpers, door handles and lower windshield (where leaves and dirt collect easily). Finally, clean all of your windows with a high-quality, streak-free glass cleaner.

Inspect your car fully before you begin. If there are any scratches or spots where the paint is chipped, you may want to touch them up first. Clean the areas well and use a color-matched automotive paint. Most automotive stores will be able to help you find a touch-up kit with the right color paint.

Select a wax that is suitable for your car’s finish. A non-abrasive automotive wax is the best option to protect a clear-coat finish (the most common kind). If you use an all-in-one product, you won’t have to wax and polish as separate steps. However, if the paint on your car is oxidized, you should consider a polishing compound to remove the oxidized layer and freshen up the color before you begin waxing.

Make sure that your car is completely clean, to avoid rubbing in any dirt particles and scratching your finish. Apply a light layer of wax with an applicator or soft cloth, using a circular motion. Let it dry, and then rub the entire area again with a clean towel. Use the same circular motion to bring out the shine.

If you have applied too much wax, you can remove the build-up with some laundry detergent diluted in warm water and applied in circles with a clean cloth. If there is any wax rubbed onto the side mirrors or window seals (or any other black trim), use a tar and wax remover to clean them.

The rule of thumb is to clean everything. Clean and condition all vinyl and rubber parts of your car’s interior, including the dashboard and the insides of doors. Check the label on your cleaner to make sure that it is safe for vinyl and rubber, or purchase a specially formulated interior cleaner at an automotive store.

Clear out cubbyholes and coin trays and wipe them down. Use Q-tips to get into tight corners where lint and dirt build up. Apply upholstery cleaner to your seats and carpet stain remover to your carpets. If you have removable carpets or mats, take them out and wash them thoroughly.

You may want to apply a carpet deodorizer before you vacuum, or simply sprinkle some baking soda on your carpets. Vacuum the inside of your car thoroughly, using small attachments to get into all the corners. Clear out everything from your trunk and vacuum it. Arrange any items that need to stay in your trunk neatly in a milk crate. If you want, you can rent a steam cleaner to shampoo your upholstery and carpets. Finally, clean the insides of all the windows with a streak-free glass cleaner.

It won’t be as hard to clean up your car for sale if you maintain it properly. It’s a good idea to wash your car – or take it to a drive-through carwash – every week or two, and clean the interior whenever it starts to look grungy. You will only need to wax your car once or twice a year.

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