How to Prepare your Car for Sale

A clean car always sells. Don’t put your customer off by showing them a dirty vehicle.

That one customer, may be the one and only person you’ll get to look at your car.

Ensure its presented in tip top condition and you’ll sell.

Here are some pointers on preparing your car ready for selling.

Car Upper Areas

Pay particular attention to the following areas. All window glass, windscreen, side windows, rear window, glass fitted to headlights. There are proprietary glass cleaners on the market.

Use one of these to get results without leaving annoying smear marks on the glass. Ensure that when you are cleaning the glass to lower the opening windows and clean off any marks which are not visible when the window is closed.

I knew a dealer years ago, who made sure that all the cars he had on his forecourt had the cleanest glass possible. It’s so important when someone takes a car for a test drive that the potential purchaser is looking out through spotlessly clean glass with no visible dirty marks.

The dealer I knew said this worked so well for him. You can polish glass, but you can’t polish off rust from the bodywork and when the customer gets inside a car for a test derive, the clean windows are all they can see. Rival dealers never understood as to how well this strategy worked.

This dealer could sell cars which whilst they had substantial rust and other defects – the cars he sold had the cleanest of clean windows.

Car Bodywork Preparation

Firstly, wash down the car’s bodywork with a bucket and sponge. Add car shampoo as directed and starting with the roof, use the sponge to clean the car. Work your way around and down the car. Rinse off with a hosepipe.

Before the water has chance to dry completely, use a chamois leather (this is a piece of leatherette, available from motor accessory dealers) to dry off the paint work.

Drying off with a good quality chamois ensures that the paint surface is left totally clean without smears. Minor paint blemishes, if revealed, should be dealt with now and carefully repaired using a car touch in stick also available at most car auto accessory outlets.

For an exact match, look at the cars vehicle identification plate which should be secured under the bonnet area. There should be a paint code shown on this plate. Make a note of it and when you go to buy the paint touch up, quote this number.


Polish the car’s bodywork using a good proprietary brand of car polish. Apply using a clean soft cloth. Read the instructions and apply the polish as directed. I find that it is best to do one area at a time, starting with the roof, the bonnet and frontal area, sides and lower portions, finishing at the rear.

Most brands of polish recommend that you leave to dry then polish off with a clean cloth to give the car’s paint work a beautiful glossy sheen.

Do not forget the door shut areas. Ensure all the polish is completely cleaned off. Pay special attention to the areas around rubber seals and trims cleaning out excess polish where these meet with the body work, avoiding unsightly white polish residue. Once finished scrutinise your work from different angles to check for areas which you may have missed.

For metallic paint works, there are special polishes available which are colour co-ordinated to a car’s paint colour. These are perfect for hiding minor blemishes and scratches. These are now also available for non metallic paint work.

Under the Hood

If you think that the engine area lets down the rest of the car, use a pressure water and detergent or hire a steam cleaner, but be aware that this may cause damage to electrical components fitted in the engine bay.

Although waterproofed by the manufacturer, the electrical components are normally only subjected to water spray from rain splashing up from under the car, not from above.

Consult the car’s handbook to see if there is any mention of using a pressure washer or steam cleaner in the engine bay area. If you are unsure, leave well alone.

Electrical faults caused by water ingress can be a big problem.

If you decide to go ahead, ensure that the engine has recently been run before starting the cleaning. In case there is some water ingress, as the heat from the engine will help to dry things out if you unfortunately get a faulty component.

Unless you have been off roading or engaged in some other muddy activity, then I would leave the engine bay alone.

Just to give the engine bay a cleaner, brighter and sparkling look without using water, with the engine cold, lightly spray on some dash cleaner. This will give a nice glossy effect to the engine.

Inside the Car – Interior

To get the best possible price when selling your car, the car interior should be super clean. Starting at the highest point, take a look at the rooflining. Subject to it needing cleaning and dependant on the type of material used, there will be a suitable cleaner available.

If there is a sunroof fitted the glass should be cleaned to remove dirt and smear marks. The car upholstery should clean up nicely using one of the many cleaners on the market. Most have a foaming action.
The upholstery to be cleaned should first be dampened to help loosen the dirt and then the cleaning foam applied. Depending on the severity of the dirt, leave the foam to do it’s work. After a couple of minutes, sponge off the foam and let the upholstery dry.

If it still looks dirty once dry, try another application, lightly scrubbing the area with a scrubbing brush. Again sponge off the surplus foam and leave to dry.

The dashboard and other plastic areas should be dusted off and apply a dash cleaner. I prefer the satin finish as it does not appear too shiny, just clean and fresh.

For the difficult to get to corners use a clean small paintbrush to get the dust and dirt out thoroughly. Pay extra attention to the area immediately in front of the driver, especially the speedo cowl. Make sure this area is really clean and shiny.

If the handbrake is in between the seats, this is another area which is overlooked and where it needs to be clean, so get your paintbrush inside this area to ensure all the dirt and accumalated rubbish is removed. Then give the car a thorough clean with a vacuum cleaner.

If you find that the carpets can easily be removed, take them out and clean them out of the car. Often a stiff bristle handbrush works well together with the vacuum cleaner to remove ingrained dirt and dust from car carpets.

Wheels and Tires

Without a shadow of a doubt, wheels help sell a car. No matter what type of wheel they should be presented in a tip top condition.

Alloy wheels often take accidental parking knocks and unlike a steel wheel can easily be badly damaged cosmetically. Whilst retaining it’s strength the wheel looks shabby and will let the car’s appearance down.

There are companies who will restore an alloy wheel, but often it’s easier to buy a good secondhand wheel. Check out eBay or look in the Freead papers. Some people can tell as to how well a car has been looked after by just checking out the wheels.

The more scuffed they appear, the more likely it has been poorly looked after. Often with hard kerbing this will affect the car’s tracking and this should be checked.

Steel wheels are normally covered with a plastic wheeltrim or hubcap, some of which are quite effective in giving the appearance of an alloy wheel, whilst cleverly disguising the fact that the car is fitted with steel wheels. Unfortunately, kerbing during parking often damages these plastic wheeltrims.

They can be repaired if only slightly damaged and then repainted in matching silver. If thay are too badly damaged and beyond repair, consider buying a single new cover. If it is no longer available maybe it is a good idea to buy a new set.

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