Watch all of our Autoblog Details videos for more tips on car cleaning and maintenance by professional detailer Larry Kosilla. While you're at it, check out Larry's other video series on how to diagnose, fix, and modify cars, Autoblog Wrenched!
Floor mats take a lot of abuse and can be a good barometer of how well a car has been maintained. The best and easiest solution is to simply replace the old and worn mats with new ones, but that can be expensive. A good cleaning can do wonders to improve the looks of old mats. At the very least, vacuum, fabric clean and scrub. You can even simulate the look of a brand-new mat by creating carpet lines using a brush.
Under the hood
Anyone looking at buying a car is likely to look under the hood. Engine bays collect a lot of dust and dirt, so taking a wet cloth and wiping down all the plastic can improve things immensely. Compressed air helps here, too. Wiping down the plastic with a water-based tire dressing makes things pop, but give it a good wipe to reduce the shine a bit. Subtlety is key, and you don't want to look like you're trying too hard. You should also pull out leaves and anything else that might have collected under the hood.
Go back to when you first bought your car. How did it look? How did it smell? People get used to things after a while, so you really need to take a hard look at what a prospective buyer will see from the driver's seat. Be sure to clean and vacuum the door, seat bolster, center console, door handle, and steering wheel, as those are the basic places you touch and feel everytime you drive the car. Look for other places you would commonly touch and detail those areas, too.
No one wants to buy a smelly car, so taking care of any odors is a must. Some cars have been totalled by insurance agencies because of especially strong smells. First, open all the doors and remove any personal items. If there is an odor, try and find the source. Clean and vacuum that area, but don't try to mask the scent with air fresheners or sprays. They simply create an even weirder smell. If you absolutely need to cover the odor, use fresh or carpet cleaner scents, not something fruity.
Paint and wheels
Obviously, the first thing a prospective buyer will see is the paint and wheels. Flawless paint can increase a car's value, but spending hours hard compounding may not be feasible. At a minimum, you should wash and wax the paint and scrub the wheels and brakes. Take your time with the wheels, too. It's worth the effort.
Do all of these things as close to the time you plan to show the car. You don't want any additional dirt or grime to collect on the car while it's out. Secondly, don't show off the car in the same space you cleaned it. You want the buyer to believe that the car looks like this all the time, and wet cement, wash buckets, vacuums and other cleaning equipment will tip your hand.