Engine Detailing
by Paul Gasparola and Angela Brown
Professional Detailers Association

Basic Degreasing and Engine Compartment Detail

Engines are typically viewed as focal points for most automobiles. Just about every car show will feature entries with hoods up. Engine detailing is the way to go here. So if the automobile is a daily driver or a regular used car arena, owners must also be keenly aware of what they are doing when detailing engine compartments in the antique, classic, and specialty car segments. This is critically important for owners of machines, especially if they have ever had intentions of entering concourse competitions.

Detailing an engine compartment is different from washing the exterior of a vehicle. Dirt, grease, and oil are more difficult to remove. This calls for stronger cleaning solutions and different methods. On the other hand, knowledge of the engine components material, surface, which is sensitive to these stronger cleaning solutions are a critical part of cleaning an engine. Major damage can occur to the engine, which could end up being a great cost to you, so it's worth taking extra caution, and time for preparation and using the correct chemicals for the vehicle at hand.

Many different materials and chemicals are needed to detail an engine and the engine compartment. The selection of the materials really depends upon the amount of dirt there is.
The following list are commonly used to clean and degrease an engine . But keep in mind this is your basic detail and not specialized concourse which requires altogether different materials and detailing procedures.

Get with an auto detailer (Concourse Pro) to determine the best products for you. Our web site has the products we use on the show car.

Degreasing motors and parts no longer require harsh solvents and wire brushes. Citric-extract cleaners have revolutionized grease removal. The use of cosmoline remover, citric cleaner and water based degreasers accompanied by a selection of specialized detail brushes and water will efficiently maintain every square of the engine compartment, including the plastic and rubber.

Most automobile owners and even professional detail departments have always relied on pressurized steam for quick, intensive grease removal but this method leaves a lot to be desired. Forced steam removes oil and grease without discrimination. It can cause all kinds of electrical problems by seeping into wiring harnesses, ignition caps, spark plug leads and battery connections, just to name a few . Most people do not realize that steam cleaning can actually remove the paint from the engine block, structural braces and surrounding fire wall parts. It is not uncommon to have to re-apply glazes, sealant and gasket material. There is no easy way out. Strong solvents, household bleach, acid and steam heat are not solutions for degreasing the engine or undercarriage of the car. The above mentioned products can also pit and damage the surface of the metal.

Number of spray-on engine cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, and even plain soap and water all do an excellent job in detailing under the hood. They tend to degrease the engine and its components, rather than strip them of paint. When you chemically clean under the hood (rather than steam clean), repainting is minimized. With chemicals, you do the degreasing largely by hand. That, in itself, poses an environmental problem. Driveway detailing, involving engine degreasing, is illegal in some areas-unless, of course, you have some way of disposing of the grease, solvents, and oily wastewater other than letting them drain to the curb.

We need to look at the work site considerations. The fundamental cleaning of engine compartments most often require use of high water pressure and potent cleaners, you must be concerned about greasy, polluted run-off into store drains and sewers. With this in mind, consider a drain mat prior to greasing. This is done very simply by a heavy mil plastic mat with a raised edge around 2x4 boarder at least 2 foot larger than the car. Drive onto the mat. Now all degreasing can take place. When the wet work is done, a shop vacuum can remove the liquids which can then be transferred into containers for proper disposal.

Protecting the electrical and fuel systems is a critical part of cleaning an engine compartment. Major damage can occur if components are not protected. Use the above material list to aid you. Use a freezer bag or seal a plastic bag with duct tape to have complete water protection on such items as carburetor, distributor cap, and other electrical parts. Valve cover breathers should be removed, and holes in the valve covers can be covered with duct tape.

The hardest components to wet-proof are the spark plugs. One way to make quick work of wet-proofing spark plugs is to shape an aluminum foil barrier around each plug or coil connector, then overlay the foil with two or three layers of towels or diapers. Or you can disconnect the electrical harness around each plug. But be absolutely sure you number each harness wire and the plug it belongs to with masking tape and waterproof marker. Fuel-injected vehicles, important thing is to seal the engine air intake. Seal the open end of the air box with a towel and a plastic freezer bag.

This is a good time, if needed, to clean the battery. It can be a eyesore if dirty and corroded. They battery should be cleaned with a 50/50 solution of baking soda and water (this cuts acid) then pour the solution onto the top of the battery covering, terminals, and caps. With a nylon brush, scrub the surface and rinse off the corrosion with the solution. Rinse the battery and the tray with a garden hose. Use low pressure taking care not to remove the labels, or letting the solution splash on the exterior body panels. Remember that you are dealing with battery acid The initial cleaning of an engine will require a degreaser, paint brush, soap, an old wash mitt, hand pump sprayer and clean towels and rags.
CAUTION: follow the directions on a product's label carefully. To best apply the degreaser is to placed the chemical in the hand pump sprayer and work systematically around the engine itself. Then spray the chemical cleaner on the firewall, inner fenders and frame. These areas collect grime at about the same rate as the engine. Use a toothbrush and/or other brushes to loosen grime while the degreaser is working (soak time 10?20 minutes). During the chemical time, with a soap and water mixture, along with a citric cleaner, clean underside of the hood. Use caution here as not to wet the hood insulation if your car has it.

This section mat not apply to the weekend warrior - use caution here:

Now it is time to rinse the area with water , using a high pressure washer (1300?1800 PSI). First low pressure, rinse the outside panels of the vehicle - fenders, windshield, cowl and etc. This is to prevent greaser splash in the paint. Thoroughly rinse the underside of the hood then rinse the engine and entire engine compartment with clean water. Pay particular attention to nooks and crannies. Avoid spraying directly at the carburetor, distributor, and taped over opening. Rinse outside car again. Clean the engine and compartment with soap and water. Wash everything including the firewall, inner fenders, accessories, hoses, radiator and the engine. If stubborn grease is found - spray with citric cleaner. Then flush area again with fresh water to remove dirt, degreaser and soap suds. A cosmoline remover may also be needed at this time to finish the degreasing step. WD-40 is also a great help here.

Look at area, if any area did not come clean, repeat above steps.

If flushing is finished now, we go into the drying mode. Dry the under hood first. dry the engine and the rest of the compartment. Use old clean towels/rags to wipe off the bulk of water. Then with a yard leaf blower remove the rest of the water tramped in pockets. Don't leave water on the engine or it will dry and form water spots when the engine gets hot. Don't use a air compressor, as it will remove stickers, paint and the like, where as a leaf blower is more gentle. Now remove all items that was used to wet-proof, and wipe dry. Start engine and run for about 5 minutes. During the time engine is running, now would be a good time with your shop vacuum to suck up all water and etc. out of the water containment barrier around the car and wipe up the grease from engine for proper disposal.

With the engine really clean, you can see some very nice enhancement of the contrast of colors and textures in the engine compartment. Now you are ready to begin the serious and fun part of engine detailing. Fun for some I should say here. Engine detailing may also require touch up paint, polishing, micro cleaning and protection products.

The degree to which an engine detailing is carried out might be divided into three basis categories:

  1. quick degreasing and a simple once over to ready the car for sale or
  2. a conscientious and in depth detail for a special, yet frequently driven car or
  3. a meticulous and labor intensive perfection required for concourse competitions and show car exhibitions.

In each level more intensity of each engine detail is required. Some items will need to be replaced or re-finished for perfection. Taking the cheap way out here is a turn off to judges. Bad painting, polishing and over painting is a sure kill. To mush chrome is also a turn off.

To finish our detailing (2nd category) to the basic engine detail we must wax the painted inner fenders and the firewall, polish all chrome and aluminum parts with metal polish, treat all hoses, wiring, and soft parts with a non-silicone protestant dressing.

Some extra-special touches to put us in the 2nd category is this list.

  1. remove from the bolt threads the rust and/or wax or debris.
  2. wipe with citric cleaner spark plug wires and align in order.
  3. insure a good plating finish by coating with a plastic spray to prevent dulling after polishing caused by engine heat
  4. touch-up painted surfaces with correct paint and brushes
  5. realign radiator fins
  6. new plated hardware adds a bright touch to the engine, when replacing bolts such as those for the hood hinges, replace them one at a time so the hood remains in alignment
  7. replace worn engine decals and information tags or re-glue old ones if they are in good shape
  8. remove all paint overspray
  9. linkage (metal rods) which can be polished with a 000 or 0000 steel wool with metal polish applied
  10. wax the painted underside of the hood so it looks as good as the outside of the vehicle

In closing, of the basic engine degreasing/detailing, thorough cleaning is a critical part of engine detailing. If you are a conscientious auto enthusiast, this labor-intensive love work should only have to be conducted one time on your car. Why? Because , the work of this caliber should make you want to follow a frequent, meticulous, and cleaning schedule from here on out to prevent your engine compartment from ever getting that greasy and dirty again. Happy detailing.

Engine - Concourse d'Elegance Show Car Preparation and Tips

In this section we reveal the tips and tricks may give you an edge to the best in show winners if you are just starting in the car shows or a veteran. One must now look at restorations and the varying degrees will some what be governed by the restorer's overall expertise, time and money limits. If you wish to go all out then look at either a custom restoration or restore to original factory specifications. With the factory restoration is where the concourse winners go. So with that here are some items that may help.

If the paint on the bolts are a factory mark made by a worker to let other workers know it had been torqued and secured to factory specifications. Factory markings like those are important to concours competitors and those restoring cars to perfect factory originality. Photos taken before dismantling a restoration will serve as a reference for reapplying identical marks later.

If your engine compartment had been subjected to repeated multipurpose dressing applications on hoses wires plastic and rubber pans, chances are surrounding metal body panels are saturated with silicone dressing residue. In extreme cases silicone has been known to penetrate paint layers and impregnate the metal surfaces. This is why you do not use an Armor-all type product in the engine compartment. In that situation the paint will require a fisheye eliminator additive when you repaint the engine body surfaces.

The difference between a concourse winner and a consistent fourth place finisher is generally in relation to the amount of time each person spends taking care of small details. The time and effort is rewarded with first place.

Perfect gloss and balance uniformity - To balance the appearance of hose clamps adjust each one so its screw mechanism has the same relative position as the others.

Wiring must be rooted for correct curvature boot position connection angles etc. Wires should not be blemished with any paint overspray and their gloss should be uniform and subtle.

High gloss on anything is not necessarily good for concourse. This is where a rookie concourse participants frequently makes mistakes. But at shows where the cars are customs (Ultra mods - hot rods - street rods and high customs) highly polished engines with a lot of shiny metal then glossy finishes are the norm. The use of color is more important than gloss.

Use a cotton swab attached to a long wooden handle like those seen in a doctor's office to remove hints of oil from along an engine gasket edge. This is truly attention to detail . These types of cotton swabs are great for reaching into extra tight spaces to remove traces of dirt or oil just before judging time.

The heavy cloth covers over hoses on some cars tend to fad into light brown color in time. A small amount of black shoe polish applied and rubbed in with a soft toothbrush brings the material back to a pleasant and uniform black finish.

Notice the number of very small parts located throughout the engine compartment. From plastic knobs on top of the injectors/carburetors to hose clamps, there are a multitude of parts that must be cleaned polished or dressed in preparation for car shows. The best to approach this type of meticulous engine compartment detail is by dividing the compartment into a series of small sections. Once one section is completed move on to another.

One thing that a detailer must have at a car show is their "Final Detail Kit". This is for the last minute touches.

In this kit it should have some of the following a plastic bag full of clean soft cloth baby diapers, an assortment of mild polish and wax products, last minute "detailer" products, wide mashing tape used to pull tint off the carpet and so forth. Some soft tooth brushes, cotton swabs, an assortment of artist's paintbrushes, touch up paint, a black tip felt marker to touch up minor scratches or blemishes on the black parts, a bucket of clear water and a cotton wash mitt works best for wiping off areas under the engine especially for those cars driven or towed in open trailer to the show. We personally carry two tackle/tool boxes full of detailing tools and three cases of detailing products for pre-show prep. These are a few items that will be handy at the show.

These are a few items to keep in mind if you are going to car shows. In-depth engine and engine compartment detailing can be fun and rewarding when it is approached with realistic expectations.

A quick power washing and light scrubbing will improve many engine compartments but those efforts are short-lived and potentially dangerous to the electrical system of the car. . Along with that hurried attempts at painting blocks and other engine parts will always look as if only a small amount of effort was put into the work and offer no more than a flavor of amateurish detailing. As you become more aware of how well your work efforts are paying off don't be surprised if you end up taking three or four days more than normal to complete a meticulous and very satisfying quality engine compartment detail.

Plan the job - take your time - enjoy yourself, whether they are for simple self-rewards, car show trophies or Best of Show Concourse d'Elegance awards.

Happy Detailing…………

© 2000 Paul Gasparola and Angela Brown (Member Profession Concourse Detailers Association)