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Car Talk: What does ‘just cleaning it up’ mean?

Dear Car Talk: What is it that dealers do to a car once I’ve signed the papers but before I drive it off the lot? This has happened during my last two car purchases, a Buick and a Ford: They take the car in the back, out of sight, and they keep it for quite a while. They tell me they’re “just cleaning it up.” But it doesn’t look any cleaner. Are they removing something I purchased on the car? Are they dismantling a theft monitor, something required by the government or their insurance company? What are they doing to my car once I have purchased it? Thanks for any insight into this puzzle. Love your column, love your show, great sense of humor, and I trust your opinions. Thanks. – Anita

Dear Anita: What are they doing? They’re depreciating it by about 30 percent.

Seriously, I don’t know what they’re doing. I’ve never been present during this mysterious process.

I’m guessing that they do wash it. And they probably clean the glass, inside and out. They remove the plastic coverings that protect interior parts from getting coffee stains on them while other people test-drive the car.

They probably check the tire pressure and the battery output. They may set the navigation system for your region so the first time you use it, you don’t get the question “What part of Manitoba would you like to visit?”

They put your license plates on it, and make sure the oil and windshield-washer fluid are topped off. They may install whatever last-minute accessories they talked you into – like the down-filled velour floor mats. They even might drive it down the street and put some gas in it.

If the car’s been sitting on the lot for a while, it also might need an update to the software, or even an adjustment from a technical service bulletin.

And there are two possible reasons why it takes so long. One is that the 19-year-old kid who is in charge of removing the plastic wrap from the doorsills is busy or out to lunch. So the car sits there for half an hour until he gets back.

The other possibility is that it gives the “finance office” an extra 45 minutes to sell you an extended warranty and some gold-plated fuzzy dice.

But I don’t know for sure. Maybe some of our readers who are dealers can tell us exactly what they do during this final delivery inspection. Does my description sound right?


Don’t get stuck with a lemon. Be a smart buyer. Read Click and Clack’s guide “How to Buy a Great Used Car: Secrets Only Your Mechanic Knows.” Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Car Talk/Used Car, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803.

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