There is some serious debate among the car community about whether or not detailing increases the value of your car. While I’m no expert, I can safely say this: it can’t hurt.
Of course, detailing won’t fool your Miami Dodge dealer into believing that your car is worth more than it is based on a quick clean up. But, I think most dealers would agree that it is still worth the effort.
Fortunately, I happen to have a few tips to help you get started.
Surface Matters: Detailing Your Car’s Exterior
No one wants to buy a car that looks like it featured in any of The Hangover movies.
Even if you’re not selling your car, do you want people to equate you with Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoons? A clean car fools people into thinking you’ve got your act together, even if you don’t.
Like it or not, we live in a judgmental society where looks are of utmost importance. Driving a trash heap is not the look you want to go for.
Granted, no one wants to pay through the nose for detailing services either.
So, do it yourself. It’s easier than you think and there can be something almost zen-like about going through the steps of a process to improve upon your car’s condition, or at least, the looks of it.
Now, there is no single way to detail your car, no right or wrong way when it comes to where you should start. But it’s a great idea to get started on the exterior. After all, that’s what people notice first.
The exterior of your car is subjected to abuse on a daily basis. Rain, wind, debris, pebbles kicked up from the road, bird droppings falling from the sky, all of these are run of the mill, but daily disturbances when it comes to keeping your car’s surface smooth and shiny.
To start, gather the materials from the following list in order to efficiently and effectively clean the outside of your car.
What You’ll Need for the Exterior Details
When it comes to purchasing your cleaning supplies, you don’t need to go on a spending spree, but you shouldn’t skimp either.
Make sure you choose products that were designed specifically for automotive maintenance.
I’ve made the mistake of filling a bucket with warm water and liquid dish detergent, thinking nothing of it. But, most dish detergents are designed to power through greasy residue, which makes sense, but they are just too strong for the paint. Using inexpensive, non-automotive specific products like that can leave scratches and compromise the paint job.
So, what should you buy?
The Right Soap
You’ll find that car wash soap comes in a wide range of brands and prices. Choose one that fits your budget and automotive needs and check the labels for any special instructions or ratios to follow so that you get optimal results.
Any Ole’ Glass Cleaner
Although you shouldn’t use household cleansers like dish or laundry detergent on your car, when it comes to glass cleaner, any household glass cleaner will do.
The only caveat is to avoid using a glass cleaner that contains ammonium, simply because ammonium can stain and discolor vinyl or plastic surfaces.
You’re meant to remove stains, not add to them.
A Bucket…and So Much More
Before you fill your bucket with soap and water, check to make sure the bucket you have is good enough. The most common sizes are 3.5 gallon or 5 gallon.
This is like a Goldilocks dilemma. Depending on the size of your car, the 3.5 gallon might not be big enough to accommodate enough water and soap. The 5 gallon will, but some car owners might find it too heavy and cumbersome to move around the car.
It turns out, bucket makers have thought of just about everything and some have even designed a bucket that rests inside its own dolly. This might seem silly, but I’m all in favor of anything that can make a cleaning task easier. And it’s more than just a bucket on wheels. The lid allows you to store the rest of your cleaning supplies out of harm’s way for future use. Pretty ingenious, if you ask me.
Car Wash Mitts
Similar to car wash soaps, there is no shortage of selection when it comes to car wash mitts. However, an industry favorite is the lamb’s wool mitt, which is a sound investment, one you will reuse for future car washes. Priced around twenty dollars, lamb’s wool fibers are soft enough to protect your car’s paint, but strong enough to collect loose and debris before they scratch the surface.
Play-dough for Your Car
After you wash you car but before you wax your car, take advantage of a professional secret and go over the surface of your car with detailing clay, often sold as a car clay bar.
Available in an assortment of kits for as low as twenty dollars, detailing clay is prized by professionals for its ability to pick up any lingering dirt, tar, insects, debris, and even rust!
It’s that extra step that ultimately makes the most difference.
Wax On, Wax Off
Once you’ve cleaned the car properly, and gone over the surface with your detailing clay, you’ll want to preserve your efforts and wax your car for a final finishing touch. Similar to choosing car wash soaps, there is a host of car wax options for you to consider.
A Consumer Reports favorite is the Nu Finish NF-76, a liquid wax that is a cinch to use, and priced at only eight dollars. The beauty of this product is that the finish should remain intact for several months, though some manufacturers do sell products claiming to be once-a-year car waxes.
Check out the other wax products detailed and rated in the Consumer Reports Car Wax Buying Guide.
It’s no good to have a pristine looking paint job if it’s going to sit atop grimy looking wheels and tires.
Choose a wheel and tire cleaning product that is safe for all sorts of wheels, like the Eagle One A2Z, an easy to use, spray-on product that came in tops among ratings done by Consumer Reports.
Again, you have a price and product range to consider, but the experts have done the work for you. Consult this list for other purchasing possibilities.
Satisfied with the exterior? Then let’s move on and assess what needs to be done with the interior, which can often be in worse shape than the exterior.
We all know that the outside of our cars is always on display. But it seems to me that some people treat the inside of their cars like that go-to closet you run to before company shows up. Throw all your crap inside and no one will ever be the wiser.
Well, it’s just a matter of time before some unassuming innocent opens that closet only to be crushed by whatever you’ve hoarded in there. Same goes for giving someone a ride. You agree and then immediately panic, thinking of the fast food wrappers, old coffee cups, and putrid gym bag spilling its contents all over the back seat.
No one likes the gross kid in class. And no one likes riding in a gross car. So, get to it. Rid your car of it’s interior ickiness by following these steps.
What You’ll Need for the Interior Details
You might be surprised by the common household objects that can make cleaning the interior of your car, especially all those nooks and crannies, so much easier.
Before anything else, arm yourself with a big trash bag and another smaller bag, like one from a grocery store. Collect anything that doesn’t belong in the car and set it aside in the smaller grocery bag. Find the proper homes for those contents after you finish this task.
Keep the large trash bag handy for any trash that you’ve accumulated (see above) and any trash you will create during the cleaning process, like spent paper towels, for example.
Suck It Up
Once the clutter is contained and the trash disposed of, I vacuum my car as best I can, with the intention to give it a second and final pass after I’ve attended to the finer details.
After you’ve vacuumed out the obvious dust and debris from the floor and upholstery, use the following items to help you with those hard-to-reach spots.
The Little Things
In order to clean and polish cup holders, in-door storage areas, vents, glove compartments, center consoles, and seat pockets, use any, or a combination of, the following: makeup brushes, soft-bristled toothbrushes, cooking skewers, and Q-tips.
Makeup brushes, which come in all shapes and sizes, make quick work of dusting around gear shifts, buttons, and displays.
Cooking skewers, the disposable kind for grilling, help you angle and pry loose change and other sorts of debris out of areas you otherwise might not be able to reach. Soft-bristled toothbrushes can also help free dirt and debris.
Q-tips are gentle and can help you polish smaller, more delicate interior components, like any technology-related features on the dash or infotainment system.
If your car has a leather interior, clean and protect it with a product designed specifically for leather, otherwise, whatever you use might compromise the oil content. Look for a product that also moisturizes the leather and contains a sunscreen to keep it from fading over time.
No leather inside your car?
Remove any stains or spills with a spray-on cleaner designed for automotive upholstery.
What’s that Smell?
Depending on its condition, you might never get your car back to it’s fresh-off-the-assembly line state; however, you can recreate that new car smell after you have thoroughly cleaned it.
Some people, when they’re trying to sell their house, bake cookies to make the place feel extra welcoming and homey to potential buyers.
If you are looking to sell your car, you can do the same by choosing a subtle air freshener to give your car that extra improvement.
Who knows? Your car might have actually needed some odor-control, anyway.
Rather than wait until the task is overwhelming, commit to routine maintenance so that detailing never becomes daunting.