Woman cleaning car with microfiber cloth, car detailing (or valeting)

Detail for Resale: How to Maximize Your Vehicle’s Value When It’s Time To Sell

When it comes time to sell your vehicle, it’s only naturally that you’ll want to extract as much value from it as possible. And if there’s one universal rule of buying (or selling) a car, it’s that first impressions matter. The better your vehicle looks the first time someone sees it, the more likely you are to hook that person, whether it’s a private buyer or dealership appraiser.

You could certainly earn back more than the cost of a professional detail job before you simply throw your car to the wolves of the marketplace. And while that might be a good place to start, there are good reasons to go a step beyond. Many of the techniques pro detailers use to show off their efforts can, ironically, be self-defeating when you go to sell.

Prospective buyers want to believe they’re buying a vehicle that has always been cared for, both mechanically and cosmetically. In the same way that a stack of service receipts for regular maintenance is somehow reassuring, a vehicle that looks naturally clean (rather than just primped) signals it’s lived a good life by a caring owner. It’s often the aesthetic appeal that truly seals the deal. Facts be damned, perception is everything.

Here are some often overlooked details that can subliminally enhance a vehicle’s value rather than set off warning bells. You can handle them yourself start to finish or use this as a checklist for finishing the job after a professional detailing. Better yet, start incorporating these tricks into your regular cleaning routine and your vehicle will always be ready for a quick flip.

Remove the Wheels for Cleaning

Take the time to remove each wheel for a thorough front-to-back cleaning. While you’re in there, go ahead and clean out the wheel wells and fender liners, as well as the brakes. You can use a good non-acid wheel cleaner and a large detail brush on all these surfaces. Give everything a thorough rinse to reveal a spotless finish but resist the urge to treat the underside with trim conditioners. You want to impress with cleanliness, not raise questions.

Back side of dirty car wheel being cleaned
The only way to get a wheel truly clean is to take it off the car

Clean the Engine Compartment

A lot of people are afraid to spray water on an engine, even though they spend their lives exposed to the elements. With the engine cool to the touch, spray the surfaces with a non-corrosive degreasing cleaner and let it soak. Work the cleaner in with a damp synthetic-fiber engine cleaning brush to remove grease and dirt before rinsing thoroughly with water. Use a towel to blot the entire space dry. Again, for results that look naturally clean rather than “detailed,” skip the usual trim dressings on the underhood components.

A dirty car engine

A car engine after cleaning
Same engine, before and after 20 minutes of light cleaning

Wipe the Door Jambs and Drip Rails

No matter how often you run your car through a regular car wash, you probably never clean the bodywork inside the door and trunk opening. Use a spray bottle to apply a mild solution of diluted car wash soap to door jambs, hinges, latches, and other body openings. A soft tubular detail brush will help break up heavy build-ups before you rinse the area. Towel dry and walk away.

Cleaning door jambs
A detail brush and mild soap are perfect for cleaning door jambs and hinges

Skip the Shiny Dressings

Even if you usually prefer a high-gloss trim conditioner for body moldings and tires, this is the one time you should skip it. Instead, use a water-based, low-gloss conditioner to finish any unpainted plastic or rubber. And don’t leave it wet; you really want to wipe off any excess for full effect.

A clean wheel and tire
A low-sheen dressing gives rubber and plastic trim a finished look without creating a spectacle

Clear Up Those Cloudy Headlights

Most modern vehicles have polymer headlight lenses, and they’re all prone to getting foggy as they age. There are countless headlight reconditioning kits on the market (we like this one) that will make the car look better. As a bonus, they’ll also improve your nighttime visibility as long as you’re still driving it. Spend the time and money on this simple task.

The worker polishes optics of headlights of the car with the hand tool on headlight restore
Hazy headlights will immediately be a point of contention that will cost you

Clean Out The Crumb Trays

Most of us will vacuum our vehicle’s floor mats routinely, but how often do you clean all the dark corners where crumbs like to hide? Start by removing the floor mats entirely; you might be surprised by what can still get under them. Use a narrow crevice tool to vacuum out the spaces between the seats and the console. While you’re at it, move the seats to their full extensions and get at it. Keep a stiff, natural-fiber detailing brush on hand to sweep out small debris from between the folds of your upholstery, and don’t forget to run it along dashboard switches, shifter gates, seatbelt latches, or anywhere else crumbly things end up.

Cleaning seats between the folds
A soft horsehair brush is easy on the upholstery when cleaning between the folds

Say No to Vac Tracks

On the subject of vacuuming, resist the temptation to leave vacuum stripes in the floor mats and carpeting. Detail shops often do this as a way to prove to their customers that they’ve been thorough. And that’s fine, but when you’re selling or trading in a car, you really want to signal that the car has always just been taken care of, not that you’ve just taken care of it. Clean carpets are a must, but this isn’t the time for theatrics.

Vacuum stripes on carpet
No need to call attention to your carpet with these detailer’s vacuum stripes

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