car restoration

How to make an old car look new

Maybe you’ve had your beloved car for many years, or perhaps you’ve bagged yourself a bargain set of wheels second-hand. But driving an older car model doesn’t need to be anything less than a sleek experience. With a little elbow grease and a few tricks, you can get your good old motor looking as good as many newer models. Take a look through our how-to guide to get your old car looking like new again.

Give it a thorough clean

Have you heard of hinching? It’s all the rage on Instagram right now, though it’s mainly focused on getting the house spick-and-span. Well, get your hinch on with your car! Giving your car a thorough detailed clean inside and out can make the world of difference.

Interior cleaning guide

Before you begin, take a big black bag and clear out all the rubbish from inside your car. Drinks bottles, McDonalds wrappers, papers, whatever you’ve shoved in the glove box and forgotten about, the air freshener that lost its scent several years ago. Check the chair pockets, and the door storage, and the boot.

Headlining and sun visors

Start at the top. If you’ve never cleaned your car’s headliner and sun visors, you might be surprised just how much difference it can make. The fabric covering the interior ceiling can become discoloured and cling on to odours, so it is worth taking the time to give it a good clean.

To give your headliner and sun visors a thorough clean, spray the whole headliner with upholstery cleaner. Foam-type upholstery cleaners are recommended for this. Follow the instruction on the product, then use a soft-bristled brush to gently brush the headliner. Then, let it dry for a few hours.

For seriously unclean headliners and sun visors, you can deep-clean it with a steam cleaner, but this can damage the glue holding the layers of your headliner together.

Grab handles and pillars

With a clean microfibre cloth, wipe down your grab handles and the pillars of your car. Depending on the material, you can use the same upholstery cleaner as you used for the headliner and sun visor, or an antibacterial spray.

Seat belts and seats

To clean your seatbelts, pull them out as far as they will go, then attach a clip at the top to stop them pulling back. Using the same upholstery cleaner as you used for the headliner, clean down the belt with a cloth. Leave the belt clipped to dry for a few hours before letting them roll back in.

For car seats, if you have cloth car seats, vacuum them then grab either a window squeegee or put on a damp rubber glove. Run the squeegee or damp glove over the seats to pull up deep-set fluff, dust, and pet hair. Then, go at it with the upholstery cleaner too.

Windows and mirrors

Rinse off your window squeegee if you used it for the seats. Then, spray some window or glass cleaner onto your car windows and mirrors and wipe away with a squeegee or cloth. Wind your windows down a little to get the grime away from the top of the window and achieve a streak-free finish.

Door panels

Vacuum over the door panels and any nooks and crannies in your door. Then, using a leather cleaner where needed and a vinyl cleaner for the rest, wipe down the whole interior door panel. Be sure to check on a small area that the cleaner you are using is safe to use on your door’s interior material.

Air vents and drinks holders

If you have removable air vent filters, it’s time to change them up. Give them a clean down, as well as any drinks holders or trays your car may have.

Dashboard and steering wheel

You can buy dedicated dashboard cleaners and wipes, but warm water and a mild soap will also do the trick. Be sure to go lightly with the water though, as you don’t want to risk water running down into the electrics. To get rid of grime and grease, a glass cleaner will do the trick. Also, wash your dashboard in the shade to avoid the sun from drying the product too quickly.

Wipe down your indicator sticks too, and give your steering wheel some serious focus — it is one of the dirtiest parts of a car interior.

Boot, carpets, and floor mats

Bring out the vacuum again and give your boot and carpets a thorough hoovering. If the floor mats look worse for wear, throw them out and get them replaced — a rubber floor mat is a good way to ensure no mould develops from wet shoes going in and out of your car.

For a really deep clean, brush your carpets with a nylon brush before going at it with the vacuum cleaner. This will bring up any deep-set dirt buried in your car’s carpets.

Exterior cleaning guide

With the inside taken care of, it’s time to wash the outside of your car. You can head to the car wash if you like, but if you have the time to spare, giving it a clean yourself usually produces better results. This is because you can spend more time on the areas that really need some attention.

It’s recommended that you use the three-bucket system to clean your car:

  • Clean, soapy water bucket. This bucket is just for soapy water. No dipping your dirty cloth in here!
  • Water bucket. Use this bucket to rinse off your dirty cloth before dipping it back into the soapy water bucket.
  • Wheels and tyres bucket. As the wheels are particularly dirty, have one bucket of soapy water just for this.

First, wash down your car. Use a hose or a microfibre cloth wet with just water and rinse down your car. The idea behind this is that you want to wash away any large amounts of dirt before you get the soapy water involved.

If your car has bugs and insects stuck to the exterior, these can be difficult to remove due to being dried on under the sun. Soap will have a hard time peeling these critters off your car, but there’s an easy trick to remove them. Get a few tumble dryer sheets and a bucket of warm water. Wet the dryer sheet in the warm water, then wipe down the bugs. They will come away much easier this way.

Then, you can go at your car with the soapy water. Remember to rinse your cloth in the water bucket as you go along. For tougher spots, try using a clay bar instead.

To shine up your headlights, use normal, white-paste toothpaste (not the gel kind). With a soft cloth, apply the toothpaste to your headlights. Then, rinse away the toothpaste with water.

With the car clean, polish it down with a hand-polish or dual-action polisher to give it a like-new shine. Then, apply a final coat of wax to protect the paintwork and that hard-earned shine. Use a power buffer to apply the wax, but then remove it with a soft cloth to ensure an even finish.

Don’t use product on the tires though; simple water will be enough. It’s time to tackle the wheels. Make sure to use your designated wheels bucket, as brake fluid smeared across your windows next time is not preferable. Don’t use product on the tires though; simple water will be enough

Replacing parts with new

With the car as clean as it can be inside and out, you can now evaluate the condition of your car. Some parts could use replacing, and it will help the overall appearance of your vehicle. These don’t need to be expensive replacements!

  • Seat covers — seat covers are a great way to spruce up your car interior without splashing out on expensive re-upholstering. Plus, you can add a little character with many different designs and patterns to choose from.
  • Use a cherished number plate cherished number plates are registration plates with no year identifier on them. This is a great way to make an older model of car look newer!
  • New speakers — if you’re a music lover, upgrading the car speakers will improve your experience without breaking the bank.
  • New wheels — if your wheels are looking worse for wear even after cleaning, it might be time to replace them.
  • A fresh coat of paint — if your budget allows, a new paint job can work wonders for an old car.



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