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Engine cleaning tips and tricks.

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Engine Cleaning Tips and Tricks

Shown above is a 1986 Acura Integra. Besides the obvious painted valve cover and new battery, the only thing different between the two photos is a good cleaning. Total time spent, including paint only comes to about 2 - 3 hours.

A lot of people wash their cars multiple times a week but ignore the engine bay. A clean engine is the first step to a good working long lasting engine. This article will explain some tips and tricks I use to keep my own engines bright and shiny.

Some people I talk to won't clean their engines because they are scared to get them wet. I can't stress enough that accept for a few parts, a factory engine and components are designed to get wet with no lasting affects. I have even been known to use a pressure washer on some parts of my engine. I will now guide you through the cleaning process used above.

Step 1:
With a cold engine cover all sensitive parts with plastic or foil. In the case of this motor, which is mostly all factory, that is only the distributor. Other parts you may want to consider are, the alternator, any aftermarket ignition boxes or parts, an open air filter element if you have one, and any exposed wiring. Leave the plug wires in place, as they will keep most if not all of the water out of the spark plug wells.

Step 2:
Once everything is covered up and secure, start removing any thick deposits of oil and grease by use of a heavy degreaser and brush. Since all engine degreaser is basically the same, go ahead and buy the cheap stuff. I used the Advance Auto Parts equivalent to Engine Bright brand degreaser. Do not wet the engine before using the degreaser; since the degreaser is an oil based product, water will keep it from doing its job. Read the instructions on the can but it usually amounts to letting the stuff soak for a few minutes, brushing off the thick gunk, and then spraying off the engine with a hose. Repeat as necessary (though is mostly all the time is).

Step 3:
Now that the engine is wet and all the thick oil and dirt is gone, I like to spray the entire engine down with a light water based degreaser such as Greased Lightening or Purple Power. This will remove any left over light dirt as well as remove all of the oil based engine degreaser. Be careful around polished aluminum parts as this cleaner WILL spot them up. It will not hurt stainless steele. Let the cleaner soak for a few minutes and spray the engine clean.

Step 4:
Dry off any big parts or polished parts to prevent spotting. Remove the foil or plastic and start the engine. If the engine does not start, or starts but misfires badly at idle, shut off the engine and look for water. On Hondas a lot of times water will get inside the sparkplug wells on the top of the engine and cause a misfire. This happens quite frequently and is no cause for concern. If the water is light, the car may run fine at idle and only misfire under load. If this is the case, let the engine warm up completely at idle, shut it off, then remove the spark plug wires. The water will quickly evaporate out of the wells. Compressed air or a shopvac can be used if there is a lot of water. You should always check the sparkplug wells for water after cleaning, even if the engine is running fine.

Step 5:
Once the engine is dry, this is the time to do any paintwork you may want to do. I chose to paint my valve cover. To do this, remove the part you want to paint, clean it thoroughly with some dish detergent and follow up with some lacquer thinner. You want to make sure all oil residue is gone. If the part is painted, you're going to want to remove any loose paint and sand the part with some 300 grit sandpaper. Paint the part using several thin coats of high heat paint (800F degrees or higher). Since this is a cleaning guide and not a painting guide, I won't go into any of the many many painting techniques.

Step 6:
Once the entire engine is dry as well as any paintwork spray a light mist of Son of a Gun protectant on everything. Armor All will work also but Son of a Gun is better for this. Make sure everything is wet and then wipe down any large or polished parts, close the hood, and let the spray soak in. Don't worry about any white droplets that form on hoses. They will soak in. Wait a few hours and then go check out your engine. The Son of a Gun does not have much of a smell when it's burning off, but the degreasers do so you might notice a strange smell for a day or so.

WARNING: DO NOT spray any protectants in or near your air intake, intake filter or air box.  Most protectants are silicone based and will foul o2 sensors, making them read incorrectly or not at all.  A silicone fouled o2 sensor will need replaced.