How do I prepare my car for sale?

When it’s time to sell your car, what’s required to turn your ugly duckling into a beautiful swan?  

You’ve made the decision to offload your car, selling it online at but the car needs a bit of a refresh to help it sell.  

Let’s assume first of all that you’ve considered when to obtained a roadworthy certificate – if required by law in your state – and the car is in a mechanically sound state. 

Also it is a good idea to check your car’s insurance policy to ensure that if someone other than yourself is driving your car (potential buyers wanting to test drive it) are covered in the event of an accient. 

All that’s really necessary for your car to be the star of the show is some cosmetic work 


Washing up first 

Start with a thorough wash. Remove leaves out of the scuttle ahead of the windscreen or the nooks between the boot lid and the rear quarter panels. Take on the stubborn stains first (bugs, tar, tree sap, bugs, bird poo, etc).  

If you’re at a commercial car wash, raise the bonnet and blast off as much dust and oil as possible, but keep the stream away from any under-bonnet componentry of an electrical or electronic nature. It’s not unknown for detailers to blitz a car’s electrical system while cleaning the engine bay.  

Once all that’s done, finish the car off with a spot-free rinse followed by a brief drive for the bodywork to dry off.  

Apply wax to the paint and buff off gently. Using a cutting compound is not advised. This can bring old paint back to life, but could also cut through too deeply and damage the paint.  


What you’ll need 

If you’re working on the car at home, you’ll need chemical cleaning solutions for these tasks: 

  • Removing stubborn stains 
  • Tyre shine 
  • Alloy wheels 
  • Polish 
  • Fabric stains 
  • Vinyl protectorant 
  • Glass cleaner

All these products can all be purchased cheaply from any aftermarket automotive accessories store.  


On the outside looking in 

Inside the car, clean the windows, windscreen and mirrors, and wipe off with a material that won’t leave streaks – old bunched-up newspapers are good for this.  

Then dust, vacuum and wipe down the seats and upholstery. Get rid of any food or drink stains or spills.  

Dust and wipe the dash top, parcel shelf, centre console and centre fascia (where climate control and infotainment equipment are located, paying particularly attention to finger prints on touch screens).   

Wipe out cupholders and bottle holders. Empty ashtrays, remove everything except the owners manual, service booklet and receipts from the glovebox.  

Shift the front seats back and forward to vacuum underneath as the last phase inside the car; clear out anything that has fallen to the floor and rolled under the seats (coins, old pens, the chocolate bar wrappers left under the seats by the kids). Remove the floor mats and vacuum underneath those.  

Apply the same process in the boot – and why not wipe down the spare wheel and tools as well? 

If cleaning cars isn’t your schtick, sling some money the way of a detailer, or bribe the neighbourhood kids to do the grunt work.  

But if you’re ready to take on the job yourself, you’ll save a few hundred bucks. Just remember however, the key to successful preparation is to leave absolutely nothing unwiped, undusted, unvacuumed, unloved. 

Once the car is looking good as new, you’ll be ready for potential buyer inspections, buyer test drives and hopefully a quick sale. 



Related reading: 

I’ve sold my car. What do I do next? 
Helpful car care and maintenance tips 

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