Clean out car before getting it serviced

No matter how many fast-food wrappers, drink containers, old newspapers or empty windshield-washer fluid jugs have accumulated, a trip to the dealer for vehicle service is one way to guarantee I'll clean out my car.

I'm not a slob, by any means, but for some reason I don't worry too much about those little details, unless there's an overall-sporting, wrench-turning stranger in my vehicle.

In my books, first impressions count. After that, it's just too late to right the wrongs. As well, I find that if my car is clean as a whistle that the boys in the shop are more careful around it because I at least appear to care and I just might be the very-fussy-pain-in-the-behind type of owner.

You might be familiar with the story: Stuff accumulates in the back seat, under the front seats, in front of the passenger seat and sometimes even on the passenger seat. And while you'll probably clean it to make room for passengers, it usually just ends up in the trunk. Eventually that gets cleaned out -- usually when something large needs to be transported in the trunk--- when there's a chance someone will witness the Category 5 carnage going on back there.

But it often takes a trip to the garage to inspire some organization.

I think it's because mechanics have to do their job in my car -- and I don't like to be the cause of workplace stress -- whereas when it comes to my passengers, well, they can live with a few stray business cards and a sandwich bag. And if you're thinking "big deal," maybe you just like the car to have as much stuff as the inside of your purse or briefcase. And maybe you think all that stuff somehow personalizes your vehicle. That's your business and more power to you.

But sometimes I wonder about my little compulsion. Like when I start sizing up the interior, the glove compartment and the trunk, suddenly turning a critical eye toward every single item that isn't actually bolted to the car. I suddenly find myself wondering, "What constitutes garbage, exactly?" The short stack of parking receipts and unopened mail hiding in the glove compartment? The extra pens and pencils tucked in the holder between the seats? What about the CDs that have lost their cases? Honestly, that's all personal stuff that I don't want people picking through and I definitely don't want that stuff getting in the way of the techs doing the job. But is an empty plastic water bottle "garbage" if you plan on using it again? If you have to ask, you should probably get it out of there.

Of course, what good is a sparkling interior when the outside is filthy? You need to be consistent, right? Maybe it's too cold outside to take care of it or maybe your dealership actually cleans your car as part of the service and that's understandable, but it's pretty tough for the shop to vacuum around all that junk, right?

Then again, you can't very well leave a pile of dirt and grit built up on the floormats or stains on the seats or crumbs in edge of the shifter boot. Soon, you might be wondering about taking the car to the detail shop before it goes to the garage for service. Great, but then you still have to clean it out for the detail shop. But does your service department even care? Probably, since most will dutifully cover the floor with a paper mat before getting inside ... unless that's just to keep their shoes clean.

Among her numerous accomplishments, Courtney Hansen is the author of "Garage Girl's Guide," the host of Spike TV's "PowerBlock," the former host of TLC's "Overhaulin'" and a writer with Wheelbase Communications. You can e-mail her by logging on to