How to prep your car for the most profitable sale!

Hey everyone, on this special episode of Drive + Protect we’re talking about how to prep your vehicle for the most profitable sale. In this case, I’m working on my buddy Jeff’s 2006 Acura RL which has a KBB trade in value of $1500-2800. The dealer made a lowball offer of $1500 so Jeff and I made a deal that we’d split the profit if my detail could sell the car for more money. Challenge accepted! 

Larrys checks out the Acura RL before detailing

Now if you’re looking to clean up your car for sale quickly, my suggestion is to do 3 things; Clean, Dress, and Stage. I’m going to walk you through my process and how you could successfully prep your car for a hundred dollars and a couple hours on the weekend. First, it’s important to have a few tools on hand and at minimum I suggest the following: Car soap, Wheel Cleaners, Tire Dressing, Interior Cleaners, Leather Conditioner, Glass Cleaner, Vacuum, Water, Brushes, and car wax or similar protectant. 

Prepping tools before cleaning your car is a must

Phase 1 is cleaning, so fill your wash bucket with car soap and microfiber towels (I like to use towels as I can switch to a clean one once soiled). Use a separate bucket for wheels to avoid cross contamination. If you are in a drought or live in apartment, there are hoseless wash products like the Anti-Salt Hoseless Kit that are super convenient for these circumstances. Now give the wheels and paint a thorough wash either with Foam or bucket wash. Don’t forget to wash the engine bay as a potential buyer will likely pop the hood and a dusty engine will dampen your sale. Also keep in mind if you’re working outside, to clean the wheels first to avoid letting soap dry on the paint.

Cleaning a used Acura RL to sell

Now because the Acura sat outside for years, the paint was extremely rough from contamination. A prospective owner is likely to run their hand across a panel so here’s my method for smooth paint. If your paint feels rough, you can use clay bar with Foam Paint Cleanser for lubrication. I like to soap the panel I’m working on then use the clay bar in a patty shape with a vigorous side to side motion. I don’t use a lot of downward pressure as friction is what actually lifts the contaminants. Be sure to kneed the clay bar when it becomes full of contaminants to minimize scratching. This is a quick 10 minute step during the cleaning process that will make a huge difference even subconsciously for a prospective buyer.

How to use clay bar to clean your car before selling

After the wash and clay bar, you can dry the paint with some quick protection and gloss from Hydrate Pro, wax the paint, or polish to remove scratches/swirls. On the RL, I decided to machine polish as the black paint was in very bad condition. However, if your car just has a few “love marks” you could hand polish specific areas or skip polishing entirely. As a professional with a heavily swirled black car, I knew the value would increase significantly with a quick one step correction so keep this in mind if you’re handy with a polisher. In this case I used Rupes DA fine with a yellow wool pad which finished out nicely on the black paint. This one step method didn’t take out the deepest RIDS but since this is a daily driver car leaving paint on the table was the best course of action. As you can see in the video, the 50/50 on the hood and trunk was absolutely insane! 

Larry polished the hood of the Acura RL before listing for sale

After the polish, I turned my attention to the interior which is just as important to clean for increased profit. I started with the door jambs which are often neglected but the first thing a person sees when opening the door. I suggest using your wash bucket or spray wax for added lubrication in these areas as they’re often grimy. Next, I suggest removing all personal belongings, garbage, stickers, floor mats; really anything that wouldn’t be on the showroom floor. Next I used AMMO Lather and a brush to clean the interior surfaces with focus on the steering wheel, center console, seats, dash, and doors. An interested buyer will likely take the car for a test drive, so it’s important that the interior feels and smells new. Can’t stress this enough! 

Cleaning interior of the Acura RL before selling online

Naturally since I’m a detailer I went a little nuts and scrubbed the pedals and kick panels as well with Lather. The small things make a big difference! After a thorough vacuum, I scrubbed the carpets and floor mats with Shag Fabric Cleaner plus a Dual Density Carpet Scrub Brush. The stiff red nylon in the middle pulls the carpet fibers up, while the softer boar hair carries the cleaning product into the fabric. The front floor mats needed more attention so I used the AMMO Steam Vacuum for some additional cleaning power before letting the mats dry outside in the sun. 

Floor mat cleaning with extraction vacuum at AMMO NYC Studio

Phase 2 of the sale prep is “Dressing” which I would compare to wearing a suit or putting on makeup before a hot date. Using wax, tire dressing, interior conditioner, and trim restorers to improve the vehicles overall finish will increase it’s desirability. For the plastic trim and tires, I used Mud Tire Gel which has a nice matte finish for a factory look. I wiped down the paint with Reflex Pro Top Coat which will add some quick protection and deep gloss. On the interior, I dressed the leather and vinyl surfaces with Mousse interior conditioner which has UV protectants. I suggest wiping off Mousse after it has hydrated the material for a clean original look. Greasy interior surfaces are never a good look. Next I added stripes to the carpets with a stiff bristle nylon brush and deodorized the interior with AMMO Restor for a pleasant clean odor.

Larry applies AMMO Mud to tires before listing for sale online

So literally after a few hours work, the Acura RL looked and smelled great. The RL was ready for phase three which I call “staging”. First I called my photographer buddy Mike D’Ambrosio from to take some photos. Having good photos of your vehicle for your online posting is an absolute must as this is essentially your fishing line to reel in private buyers. With some good photos at the ready, I listed the RL for sale on Craigslist and got 5 inquiries over night. 3 were serious with the other 2 being scams so avoid anything that sounds too good to be true!

How to photograph a car for sale

The first reasonable offer was from Karen who offered $4000 for the RL. I invited her to the AMMO Studio to check out the RL and backed it in under the hexagrid lights. Remember staging the vehicle in a nice setting that shows off the detail will increase its desirability. Karen was very impressed with the cars condition and after a little negotiation we settled on a price of $5500. $4000 more than the dealer offered for the vehicle which is not a bad profit for a days work. In this example, I’m working in a professional setting but I do truly believe the more you put in, the more you’ll get out of the sale in relative terms. Hope this fun “flip” has been helpful to all our viewers! Subscribe and stay tuned for more awesome detailing content and thanks for the support! 
 Fully detailed used Acura RL before being sold at AMMO Studio

Written by Larry Kosilla & Jordan Walker
Back to blog