First impressions count—especially when selling your car. It’s not enough that your vehicle looks shiny and clean outside; the interiors should also be neat too. A potential buyer wants a car that looks presentable, and the last thing they want to see are the half-eaten fries you ate a week ago and your gym socks that smell like a dead rat.

If you want your car to sell at the best possible price, you have to make sure that it looks good not only on the outside, but on the inside as well. Just washing and vacuuming it is not enough. You have to get down and do some intense, nitty-gritty work here. It will require a lot of time on your part, but we’re sure it will pay off in the end.

How to detail your car

Detailing is more than cleaning. In fact, cleaning is just one aspect of it. Cleaning means just that — getting rid of dirt and grime. Detailing means inspecting every nook and cranny of your car for dust, dirt, grease, soil particles, pollen, and other bad elements that can damage or lessen your car’s value.

Also, imperfections like stain, rust, and scratches are removed. Once it’s done, then every inch is cleaned, vacuumed, shampooed, conditioned, and waxed / polished. So how do you detail your car like a pro? Here are some tips on how to detail your car before selling:

Inspect your vehicle

The first step in detailing your car is to do a thorough inspection. Under direct sunlight or bright light, inspect for chipped paints, hazing, swirl marks, dull patches, scratches, cracks, dents, and other imperfections.

Don’t skip any area no matter how small they are. If you’re tempted to do so, just think of the Titanic. Studies show that it was the weak rivets that caused Titanic to sink fast when it got hit by an iceberg. Stronger rivets would have saved enough time for most passengers to be rescued. So it’s really all in the details.

Wash the car’s exterior

It’s so easy to ruin a perfect finish by incorrectly washing your car. How will you know? Look for swirling patterns and scratches. Chances are you haven’t rinsed it correctly, or you used a rough cleaning material.

Here’s how to clean your car:

Use the three bucket rule. Label each buckets 1, 2, and 3. Place grit guards in all three buckets.
The first and second buckets should contain only water and grit guards. The third bucket should have color-coded wash mitts (we recommend good-quality microfiber towels in large hardware stores) for different parts of the vehicle, a grit guard, and car wash shampoo.

Dip the wash mitt on bucket 3, and starting at the centerline of the vehicle, work your way down. Make sure to rinse the wash mitt first in bucket 1 and then in bucket 2 before you soak it again in bucket 3. Repeat these steps in other areas of your car, making sure to use the appropriate wash mitt for each area. For hard-to-reach areas, use a soft-bristled toothbrush, instead.

Clean the tire wheels, rims, and hubs by filling bucket 3 with a gallon of warm water and a teaspoon of dishwashing liquid. Dip your wash mitt / sponge (for use on tires, rims and hubs only) into the bucket, squeeze out the remaining soapy water, and scrub the tires until the grease and dirt are all gone. Again, don’t forget to rinse it in buckets 1 and 2 before soaking again in bucket 3.

Dry the exterior

We recommend you only use chamois to dry your vehicle off. Not only do they thoroughly dry off a surface, they don’t leave nasty swirl marks behind. Many detailers recommend Aion Plas Chamois (formerly known as Kanebo Plas Chamois). You can buy it at any Ace Hardware store or Car Wash / Auto Detailing shops along Banawe Street in Quezon City.

Sometimes, streaks do occur, especially in glass, so when drying them off, do it in two directions. Make it a habit to do a final wipe of your interior glass horizontally, and the final wipe on the exterior vertically. That way, when you find a streak, you know if it’s on the interior or exterior portion of your car. This saves you less time getting rid of the marks.

Detailing a car

Apply a coat of wax

Apply a thin coat of wax when you are in a shaded area or during cloudy days. Otherwise, it might harden and be very difficult to wipe off. Wait for a couple of minutes, and use that time to clean and detail your interiors.

Once the wax has settled, use a buffer to apply it, and then a dry towel or chamois to remove it. This will help you avoid damaging your car’s paint.

Warning: if you’re not used to waxing, skip the buffering part and let the pros handle it.

Clean the interior

Many often jump to their vacuums to clean their car, but sometimes, the good old stiff nylon brush (for car mats) and softer brush (for door panels and seats) can do the job better. Use them first to clean the interiors, as they are more effective when loosening dirt and grime. Once it’s done, you’ll find that everything is easier to vacuum off.

Drivers often complain of pet hair on carpets. We recommend getting a pair of latex gloves available in boxes of 100 (you can purchase them at most home improvement stores). Rub your hand over the carpet, and remove them by hand or vacuum. If you don’t want to look like a surgeon, just buy a lint-free cloth in home improvement stores. They’ll do the job much better.

Clean the dash and gauge area with a lint-free cloth or microfiber. Don’t use abrasive towels or cleaners on the instrument clusters or gauges, since they are soft plastics that scratch easily. For hard to reach crevices, use canned air that you buy in computer shops.

Detailers often avoid cleaning the headliner because the glue can come off in time. Brush gently, and avoid using too much moisture when cleaning it. Never soak the outer fabric in water — that’s the surest way of weakening its adhesion.

When getting rid of odors, use a combination of anti-bacterial spray and ozone machine. You can also place an apple or potato together with Bounce dryer sheets (available at S&R) to absorb odors. Yes, it’s tough to get rid of that cigarette smell – another reason to quit smoking, isn’t it?

A final word

It takes around an hour to clean a car and around 3-6+ hours to detail it. If it sounds too much for you, just let the pros do it. Generally, it can cost around P250.00+ for a small-sized vehicle, P300.00+ for a medium-size vehicle, and P400.00+ for extra-large cars. We think it’s worth it, since the entire package generally includes the following:

  • Carpet Detailing
  • Upholstery Detailing
  • Leather Cleaning, Detailing & Protecting
  • Vinyl Detailing & Protecting
  • Trunk and Cargo Area Shampooing and Vacuuming
  • Polishing or Waxing
  • Paintless Dent Removal
  • Undercarriage and Chassis Cleaning
  • Headlights, Taillights, and Exterior Trim Cleaning, Polishing, Protecting
  • Odor Removal
  • Engine Bay Cleaning and Protecting

There you have it—tips on how to detail your vehicle like a pro. Now that you have a nice, spiffy car, we’re sure you’ll be proud to present it to your buyer. Good luck in getting that sale!