Car valeting a step by step guide

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Prepping the car for resale is really important if you are flipping cars for a profit, but it can also be worth doing if you are considering part exchanging a vehicle at a garage, and if done correctly it gives you the edge over your competition and adds thousands to the value of a vehicle. So wether you are flipping a car or trading it in presenting a car in its best light is essential if you want to get top money for it, and if the car looks great it’s doing half the job for you. In this article we will guide you thought the process you should follow to effectively valet a car, and offer you advice on the gear and products you will need to valet a car to a high standard.

You can valet cars outside, but its is best to avoid direct sunlight. Especially when applying products to the outside of the vehicle and the glass. Ideally valeting should take place in a dry well lit garage or workshop with plenty of ventilation and room.

Valeting vs Detailing 

Your aim here should be to get the car in a presentable condition as quickly and efficiently as possible. But valeting a car for resale is very different from detailing. The car needs to be clean, but if you are spending all day cleaning a single car, you are doing it wrong. Ideally you should be aim to valet two average family saloon cars per day.

Cleaning the exterior

Starting with the outside. Give the bodywork a good wash down with a sponge and a clean soapy bucket of water, pressure clean the arches removing any mud or road grime. Alloy wheel should also be cleaned with with wheel cleaner at this point. I alway view this as doing half the job.

The car should then be dried and the door shuts cleaned. I still favour an old fashioned chamois, but lots of other products work equally well.

The Interior

With the car now washed and dried it time to turn your attention to the interior. I like to start by opening all the doors and boot. I then take a micro fibre cloth and dust down all the interior surfaces and rub off any stubborn mark. After that stage is completed I then use a small 2” paint brush, to remove any dirt in any hard to reach areas. Working it in to the air vents and tight gaps between trim.


Then I recommend cleaning the windows. I start by cleaning the outside of the drivers window then move to the inside. Then drop the window slightly and cleaning the top third of the glass, before raising it again. Then simply mover around the car repeating the process.

There are lots of products available. It the glass isn’t very dirty I normally use a liquid spray cleaner. You simply spray a mist across the window and remove it with a clean paper towel. But for dirty glass and particular for the front screen I prefer a window polish. This is simply applied with a micro fibre cloth and removed with a separate clean cloth.

You should also inspect the interior mirrors at this point.Now for often the most time consuming part, cleaning the carpets and seats. Again I start in the drivers area. Its normally the dirtiest area and I like to get it out of the way. The carpets and seats need to be hoovered thoroughly, you may need a firm brush to remove the most stubborn particles.

This is a good time inspect the spare wheel area under the carpets, making sure the spare and tools etc are clean and secured. If the car has leather it’s at this point that a leather should be cleaned. Once the carpets and seats are cleaned, the only thing left is to apply a quality dash dressing. 

Exterior paintwork and trim

With the interior now clean its time to inspect the exterior. The first step is to look for any obvious marks on the paintwork. These should be removed with some polish, or compound for more stubborn marks or scratches. Once done the rest of the paintwork should be polished following the manufactures instructions.

Once you have polished the car, I like to touch in any deeper scratches if need be using touchup paint. A small touch-up pen or pot of paint can be purchased from a quality motor factors or often on Amazon.

All thats left is the exterior plastics, the vinyl and rubber should be finished with a quality plastic & vinyl restorer. 

The engine bay

Personally and with all the modern electronics I largely leave the engine compartment alone. If anything I just wipe the plastics and covers over with a damp cloth. If the engine bay is particularly dirty you can lightly pressure clean the engine bay, but you need to be carful to cover any venerable electronics before you start cleaning.

Recommended car valeting products

So now you understand the basics of car valeting you need to know what products to use. There are thousand of products to choose from varying massively in cost and effectiveness. Below you will find a list and of products we have been using for over 20 years. We purchase all these products online ourselves and have included the relevant links.

  • Bucket, sponge/mitt and shampoo
  • Chamois and microfibre towels
  • Wheel cleaner and brush
  • Tyre shine
  • Car polish
  • Wax and sealant and applicators
  • Exterior plastics spray
  • Machine polisher
  • Compound and machine polishing pads
  • Masking tape
  • General purpose spray bottles
  • Multi purpose microfibre clothes
  • Window cleaner
  • Interior brush
  • Car vacuum cleaner
  • Carpet and seat cleaner
  • Leather cleaner and conditioner
  • Spray foam carpet and upholstery cleaner
  • Interior spray cleaner
  • Interior pastic trim dressing
  • Electric fan heater
  • Work lights

1. Bucket, sponge/mitt and shampoo
Starting at the very beginning. Buy a good quality bucket and sponge/mitt will do most of the exterior work for you. You will also need a grit guard, that’s the little round divide that sits at the bottom of a bucket and stops you picking up dirt in your sponge.

Lots of detailers suggest the two bucket setup. Where you use one bucket for soapy water and another with fresh waters to clean and rinse your sponge in. Keeping the soapy bucket as clean as possible. Either approach works just fine.

quality car shampoo will provide maximum cleaning power but without stripping away any existing waxes or polish. There are many good quality car shampoos available. But look for a high foam example and never ever use dish washing fluid!

2. Chamois and microfibre towels
For years I used a chamois as my only item for drying a cars paintwork, but in recent years microfibre cloths have largely replaced the chamois. A chamois can look expensive but always buy the best you can afford it will save you time and money in the long run. It’s a similar story with microfibre towels and always buy towels that are ”lint free”.

3. Wheel cleaner and brush
The wheels on your car are will need to be cleaned with a quality wheel cleaner to remove baked-on brake dust and road grime. You will need a wheel brush to get the wheels super clean. A brush needs to be tough enough to shift the  grime, but not so hard that they damage the wheel. They also need to reach the inner rim and between spokes.

4. Tyre shine
Another essential for a valuators kit is tyre shine. This product making tyres look brand new. It should be applied liberally and any excess wiped away. Find our favourite one here

5. Polish
A good car polish is easy to use and allows you to improve a cars paintwork easily and efficiently. Polishing the paintwork can remove small scratches and swirl marks caused by dirt and debris. I have tried so many products over the years but the only one you need is Autoglym’s super resin polish. It’s easy to apply and remove, even if left on for hours. Temperature doesn’t seen to alter its effectiveness and it leaves little dust or residue. 

6. Wax and sealant and applicators
While polishing the paintwork removes small scratches and swirl marks. It’s waxing or sealing the paintwork the provides a layer of protection and real shine. 

My go to waxes are the Zymöl products and for dark colours Pete’s 53 paste wax by the Chemical Guys. With are superb and super easy to apply. If you are appealing wax you need and applicator pad, they are cheap, machine washable and essential!

These products aren’t available on Amazon and we get our supplies from – https://www.cleanyourcar.co.uk.

7. Exterior plastics
All exterior plastics should be treated with a quality trim restorer. There are lots of products to choose from. But I recommend Meguiars ultimate black restorer, and for more a permanent restoration Gtechniq C4 permanent trim restorer is the best.

8. Machine polisher
A good duel action machine polisher can make you a small fortune. It can transform the value of a car like no other bit of equipment you can buy. A good machine isn’t cheap but it will pay for itself on the first car you polish. Modern duel action machines almost eliminate the risk for damaging the cars paint and are super easy and efficient to use. The RUPES Bigfoot and the DAS-6 PRO are the best. I own both and they achieve amazing results.

9. Compound and machine polishing pads
Again lots of great compounds about. These car either be applied by hand or by machine. My normal go to product is the 3M Perfect-it products. 3M offer true trade compounds as used by most bodyshops. But I have also had great results using the Menzerna product line.

I pretty much always use the green 3M Perfect-it compound pad. It’s just amazing for cutting paint. 

10. Masking tape 
You will need masking tape whenever you machine polish a car. Use it to protect plastic trims and rubbers from being damaged.

11. General purpose spray bottles
Moving from the outside to the inside. You can never have to many spray bottles, they are cheap and super useful. Wether applying tyre slick or interior cleaner a truly essential car cleaning item. Autoglym make the best and you can find a link to them here.

12. Multi purpose microfibre clothes.
Smaller than a towel and used for anything from dusting the dash to applying polish. Best bought in bulk and easy to wash and reuse. But never wash with softener. Here is a link to the ones we use – microfibre cloths.

13. Window cleaner
Cleaning the windows on a car makes a huge difference to how a car looks. There are lots of products available. It the glass isn’t very dirty I normally use a liquid spray cleaner. You simply spray a mist across the window and remove it with a clean paper towel. But for dirty glass and particular for the front screen I prefer a window polish. This is simply applied with a micro fibre cloth and removed with a separate clean cloth.

14. Interior brush
You will need a small 2” paintbrush or detailing brush set to clean and remove any dirt in any hard to reach areas. Great for working into the air vents and tight gaps between trim. This simple tool can save you a huge amount of time. But again don’t but a cheap brush, you don’t want the brush leaving hairs everywhere.

You will also need a firm bristled brush for the carpets and mats. I normally use small wire brushfor really stubborn carpets with heavy debris.

15. Car vacuum cleaner
This is the hardest working bit of a car valuators kit. But the good news is you don’t have to spend fortune to have the best. For years I have used either a Henry or George vacuum cleaner. I really couldn’t recommend them highly enough.

16. Carpet and seat cleaner
Another essential car cleaning machine is a vax. Most cars will benefit from the interior seats cleaned with a Vax or similar. I currently use a Vax 3 in 1. You could also use it as your primary vacuum cleaner. But the benefits of having it ready to go as a wet cleaner means I have both.

17. Leather cleaner and conditioner 
Lots of great leather cleaning products available. Most are simple to use and give great results. You can’t go wrong with Autoglym’s leather cleaner. You will also need an aggravating brush to scrub all the dirt out. Soft cloths give the best results when conditioning after the shampoo phase.

18. Spray foam carpet and upholstery cleaner
Used on seats, upholstery, roof-linings, carpets, seat covers and even Alcantara. A can of spray foam cleaner is a quick and easy way to remove stains when you don’t need to breakout the Vax. An essential product you always need on your valeting kit. Find a link here.

19. Interior cleaners
A good quality interior spray cleaner can make cleaning a the dash and door cards a doddle. I have used lot of different cleaners of the years. But I normally buy a high foam cleaner to help lift the dirt. My current go to is Meguiars all purpose. It can also be used on the exterior for cleaning up hoods and removing mould.

20. Interior pastic trim dressing
The final touch to a cars interior and again I use Meguiars. This time I favour their Hyper dressing, its easy to apply and water based.

21.Electric fan heater
Cheap and essential for drying out a freshly vaxed interior. Here’s the one we use – Warmlite heater.

22. Work lights
If you are working in a dark environment good lighting is essential when valeting a car. I use a simple standing lamp.

23. Tar and glue remover
Since the very first car I valeted I have been using Autoglym’s intensive tar remover. Wonderful product which I’ve never needed to look to replace.

24. Metal polish
Autosol is perfect for cleaning up all polished metal surfaces. Use sparingly as its strong stuff.

25. Convertible top cleaner
303 Fabric and vinyl cleaner is the only product you need when it comes to cleaning a convertible roof. This stuff is the best.

26. Gloves
Black Nitrille powder-less gloves are essential for keeping unwanted chemicals off your hands. I where these whenever I valet a car.

27. Stanley blades
These blades come in handy when cleaning overspray from glass to removing old stickers from rear screens. An absolute must have item.

28. Heat gun
Great for removing old stickers. But you can also use it to restore faded plastics. Gently heating hard plastics with a heat gun can restore them to almost new condition. We recommend this one on Amazon.

Conclusion

That’s the basics of valeting a car for retail. But with so many skills, techniques and products available. I really is just the tip of the iceberg. Some car flippers also run a valeting business as a second income source. This can also be highly profitable, you can also build a customer base and bring in a steady income. I have seen car flippers build big valeting and detailing business this way.

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