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5 Simple Car Wash Tips to Boost Resale Value

Flipping or reselling your vehicle? It pays to clean it up properly. Most studies show owners who detail their vehicles can expect a 10 to 20 percent increase in resale value compared to unwashed vehicles.

And you only need a couple of hours. Considering many detailing jobs cost $300 or more, you can save quite a bit of money with just a little detailing know-how.

Before you put on the for sale sign, here are 5 basic car wash and detailing tips to get top dollar…without breaking the bank.

1. Clay your vehicle to remove contaminants

Buyers will notice if car paint doesn’t look (or feel) shiny. Even after washing with soap and water, contaminants like tar, brake dust, and industrial fallout will remain if the car hasn’t been cared for.

Rough car paint that needs claying.
Image of a vehicle that needs claying to remove contaminants.

That’s where clay comes in. Clay basically exfoliates your vehicle’s clear coat by removing these stuck-on contaminates. The result: a smooth clear coat that’s ready for a wax or sealant. You’d be amazed at all the contaminants a clay bar can pick up.

Check out our step-by-step tutorial on how to clay a car for beginners if you’re noticing the paint isn’t quite as shiny and glossy as it should be.

2. Thoroughly clean the wheels

You may want to completely remove each wheel if they’re just caked with old grime and brake dust. Normally wheel removal is overkill, but for neglected wheel rims, it’s the best method to get them clean. Some buyers will notice if the back side of the wheel is filthy.

Using a jack, lift the vehicle just high enough to remove one wheel at a time. Once removed, spray on a cleaner/degreaser like Super Clean and/or an iron remover.

From there, use a few soft-bristled detailing brushes for the lug nuts and wheel; use a stiff-bristled brush for tires. Baked-on contaminants can’t be safely removed 100% chemically, so you’ll want to agitate the surface. I recommend picking up a brush pack if you don’t have one.

11-Piece Detailing Brush Set

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Detailing brush set

If your wheels are chipped or the chrome is flaking off, consider touching touch them up with a bit of automotive-grade paint.

Check out our tutorial on cleaning inside a wheel rim to learn more.

3. Clean and condition your seats

Obviously, a good vacuum job and dash wipedown is a no-brainer…but go a step further and really deep clean those seats. This includes the seats, console, doors, and other areas.

You’ll find it easier to clean dirty leather or vinyl seats using a brush, so I recommend a set for the inside AND outside.

Check out these interior cleaning tutorials to learn how to clean each material:

A good conditioner will help your seats feel softer and repel spills and UV rays over time.

Your prospective buyers will notice the difference when they slide into a cleaned and conditioned seat for a test drive. Cloth seats (and even leather and other materials) tend to trap odors and sweat, so your vehicle is likely to smell better after a deep cleaning.

After you finish the seats…don’t forget the carpet.

4. Deep clean the carpets

Since dirty carpet will just look bad on a test drive, apply a spray-on or foaming carpet cleaner.

At a bare minimum, use a diluted degreaser and brush to bring up some of the embedded grit and grime. For best results, use an entry-level spot cleaner; this machine sucks up dirt that’s trapped in carpet fibers and will give you better results than just brushing, blotting, and vacuuming. 

You can find these ‘spot cleaners’ online for around $100. Simply pre-treat the carpet with a carpet cleaner, and use the spot cleaner to spray warm water on the carpet while simultaneously sucking up all the dirty water. You’d be amazed at how filthy your carpets are if you’ve never properly cleaned them. Don’t use extractors or suction if you have a super thin, cheap carpet kit (you may do more harm than good).

Here’s a short post on how to clean carpets for beginners if you need help.

Quick Tip

For extreme cases, you may need the help of a detailing professional that has access to a heated carpet extractor to save time. If you have a trashed vehicle with lots of carpet stains, I would go this route.

5. Apply a glaze and/or wax 

To make the paint really pop, use an easy-to-apply spray on wax after the paint is completely dry. Even if you don’t feel like using a polisher or a paste wax, it takes 10 minutes to apply a quick spray wax. Simply let dry, buff off with a microfiber towel..and you’re done. 

You can keep your car looking shiny for a lot longer by just adding a layer of wax; unprotected paint tends to show dirt a day or two after washing.

Quick Tip

Apply a glaze to make your vehicle look extremely glossy if that’s what you’re going for. I generally don’t use glazes out of personal preference (because they wash off quickly), but they do help fill in scratches and can make your photos stand out.

Up your at-home detailing game—get our video course

Feeling a bit overwhelmed about cleaning your vehicle? Check out our video course, Washing and Detailing for Beginners. It’s loaded with fundamental knowledge and techniques beginners should know to see better results from home.

Ready to improve your washing and detailing skills?

This video course unpacks the fundamentals of washing and detailing. From exterior cleaning and blemish removal…you’ll learn the secrets that will give you spotless pro-level results!

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Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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