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  1. #1
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    How To: Detail Your Engine Like a Professional

    How To: Detail Your Engine Like a Professional

    *Note* DP has been replaced with McKee's 37.

    One of the most overlooked aspects of car care and detailing is our engine bay. Why? Because when you polish paint, there is no fear of damaging a $283 sensor or having water go into your intake, causing potential engine failure. Take a second and think back to the first time you started researching paint correction and the proper steps necessary to ensure success. At first, the thought of touching your precious paint with a power tool made you cringe, until you learned that, like anything else, there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things. Fast forward to present time and try to imagine going without your Flex XC3401 or Porter Cable 7424xp and picture all the swirls, water spots and scratches that you previously ignored until you discovered a machine polisher. Now if that doesn't make you cringe, nothing will.

    Step outside for a minute, pop the hood on your engine bay and take a look at what you see. Unless you're one of the few that details their engine bay on a regular basis, what you're going to see is dirt, grease, and more dirt. At this point you're probably asking yourself..."How have I neglected to clean my engine all this time?!" And the answer is simple: you didn't know how. With this guide and a little help from one my favorite product lines - Detailer's Pro Series - you'll be on the fast track to an engine bay that's as clean as your BBS wheels that you meticulously detail after every wash.


    This is what your typical engine looks like on a daily driver. There is literally years upon years of built up dirt and grease.

    *Warning: These pictures are not for the faint of heart.*

    Looks pretty nasty, right? Let's dig a little deeper and zoom in.

    What to be aware of

    Modern engines are complicated machines that are monitored by various computers all ran through a complex electrical system. While most of these components can safely get wet, you want to err on the side of caution and cover them up when detailing an engine.

    Components to cover up on a modern car:

    • Alternator
    • Intercooler
    • Coil Packs
    • Electronic Control Unit (ECU)
    • On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) Port
    • Air Intake Systems (Exposed)
    • HID Ballasts (Headlights)
    • Alarm Housing
    • Electircal Plugs

    Now if you look at the above list and go "HUH?!" Don't worry! You don't have to be an ASE certified mechanic to safely detail an engine. You can pretty much narrow that list down to three key things:

    • Alternator
    • Air Intake Systems (Exposed)
    • Electrical Plugs

    To make it simple, an alternator is the heart of your vehicle's electrical system. On most vehicles this is a very expensive component to replace. The alternator is generally easy to locate and regardless of the vehicle, they all look the same.

    *Photo courtesy of HowStuffWorks "Auto"*

    The air intake, as the name implies, is how the engine breathes. Air goes through a filter and is fed into the engine. Most new vehicles have an air intake system that's not exposed. If your vehicle has an aftermarket air intake system, it will be exposed. If your air intake is exposed, simply cover it up with a grocery bag. You do not want water going into your air intake when you detail your engine.

    And the last thing to look out for are electrical plugs. A modern engine is filled with dozens of electrical plugs that run various sensors. Below are two very dirty examples of what an electrical plug looks like.

    Covering up the important stuff

    An effective means of covering electrical plugs is with saran wrap and masking tape where needed. This will ensure no unwanted components will get wet when you detail an engine.

    It's better to spend a couple extra minutes doing it the right way. It doesn't have to look pretty for photographic reasons.

    To cover major electrical components when detailing an engine, aluminum foil works best. Aluminum foil is easy to work with and although it doesn't create a watertight seal, it still protects components from getting wet. When you're cleaning an engine, you'll be using a gentle stream of water, not a full blast. The components aren't getting dunked in pool so they don't have to have a watertight seal.

    Alternator covered with aluminum foil. Remember, when detailing an engine, you don't want the alternator to get wet.

    To play it safe, you should also wrap the dipstick with masking tape or saran wrap when detailing an engine.

    Getting started

    First and foremost: Never detail a hot engine. Once the necessary components are covered up, it's time to get started! Start by spraying a low-pressure stream of water all over the engine. You do not want to spray a high-pressure stream of water when detailing an engine. The goal with the initial rinse is to remove loose dirt and grease.

    The Good Stuff - Doing it right the first time

    If you've read any of my previous how-to articles, then you already know I'm an advocate of working smart, and not hard. When it comes time to cleaning anything with dirt, grease or grime, I like to use a product that's strong enough to clean effectively, but I also don't want to use a product that has a harsh chemical smell. The obvious cleaner of choice for this how-to article was Detailer's Engine Degreaser.

    Detailer's Engine Degreaser doesn't overwhelm your senses with a harsh chemical smell, but at the same time it has the power to cut through grease and grime without a struggle. Its formula is VOC compliant and biodegradable. What sets Detailer's Engine Degreaser apart from other degreasers is the fact that its formula doesn't contain any butyl ethers or acidic detergents, which means its safe on rubber, plastic, clear coated and painted surfaces.

    Simply spray Detailer's Engine Degreaser on every dirty surface in the engine bay, let it dwell for a couple minutes, and then start cleaning!

    The brush of choice for the majority of the cleaning was the Mothers Wheel Brush. Don't let the name of this brush fool you because it can clean anything. It features bristles that are tightly packed together and a soft, ergonomic rubber handle. For around $7, you simply can't beat it.

    To clean the nooks and crannies, I once again relied on Mothers. The Mothers Detail Brush features feathered nylon bristles attached to a soft, ergonomic rubber handle. As an added bonus, the brush features a rubber tip which works great for removing dried on wax out of seams. This brush is a must-have for engine detailing.

  2. #2
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    Re: How To: Detail Your Engine Like a Professional

    How To: Detail Your Engine Like a Professional

    Some areas of your engine bay will require a miracle brush, and like every other aspect of car care and detailing, Autogeek has you covered. The miracle brush for engine detailing is the Daytona Speed Master Jr. With its soft, 2 inch bristles and flexible stem, the Daytona Speed Master Jr. has the ability to clean parts of an engine that no other brush could.

    Part of engine detailing, or any aspect of automotive detailing in general, is the details. No small detail should be overlooked in a detail. To ensure every square inch of this engine was squeaky clean, I used Lake Country's Detail Sticks. If you find yourself looking at your engine bay, scratching your head while wondering how the heck you're going to get it spotless, pick up a set of Lake Country Detailing Sticks and wonder no more.

    Once you're finished with the cleaning process, spray a low-pressure stream of water in the engine compartment. Another aspect of Detailer's Engine Degreaser that makes it so good is the fact that it rinses freely. When detailing an engine, you don't want any cleaner or residue left behind.


    After a thorough rinse, you can either dry the engine with a towel, which is time consuming, or you can use what I refer to as "my little friend." That little friend is the Metro Blaster Sidekick and don't let its size fool you, this little thing packs quite a punch. The Blaster Sidekick, like other vacuums and blowers manufactured by Metro, features a quality, all-steel construction. The motor inside the Blaster Sidekick has a peak HP of 1.3 which is enough to blast out an air volume of 160mph/85CFM. Best part about the Blaster Sidekick? It's made in USA!

    Dressing the engine bay

    Once the engine is clean and dry, it's time to beautify and protect all the plastic, rubber and vinyl surfaces. My product of choice for dressing up an engine bay is Detailer's Trim Detailer. This is one of the newest products in the Detailer's line of car care products and it's fantastic. This aerosol-based polymer spray evenly coats all plastic, rubber and vinyl surfaces leaving a low-gloss, like-new finish. If a little over spray occurs on bare metal or painted components, it won't cause any harm. Detailer's Trim Detailer dries to the touch and it will not attract dirt or dust like oil-based dressings.

    To ensure even application on components that have ribs, simply spray Detailer's Trim Detailer on a clean, dry microfiber towel and work it in to the desired surface. Remember that no small detail should be overlooked when detailing an engine.

    The finished product

    Check out the before and after!

    And again.

    Now that you have the knowledge to detail your engine like a professional, all you need is the products and a sunny Sunday afternoon. From here on out, there should no longer be any dirty engine bays on

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  4. #3
    Member Mike Phillips's Avatar
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    Re: How To: Detail Your Engine Like a Professional

    Nice work Nick and excellent write-up.

  5. #4
    Super Member TimmyG's Avatar
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    Re: How To: Detail Your Engine Like a Professional

    Fantastic write up Nick, thanks!

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  6. #5
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    Re: How To: Detail Your Engine Like a Professional

    Wow, that was great! Thanks Nick. For me, the hardest part is getting the right tools to reach all the nooks and crannies inside the engine bay. I forgot about the mini Daytona speed detail brush. I have the large speed brush and it's great for wheels. I've added the small brush to my car (waiting for the CarPro wash mitt to come back in stock to order).

    I have to grin a little, I have an electric car so there's no grime, oil, alternator, air intake, etc. But it won't be pretty if I short out the 24KWh battery!

  7. #6
    Super Member Bunky's Avatar
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    Re: How To: Detail Your Engine Like a Professional

    Nice Nick. How long did it take you?
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  8. #7
    Regular Member Alex22's Avatar
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    Wonderfull job there.
    Extra Tip:
    Once your car starts to get dusty and gunky again just spray some foaming tire cleaner like notouch tire cleaner let sit and rinse away. Should leave the engine shiny as well if not some quick detailer ir trim proctectanr should do the work. Always rememver not to give full blast of water and to cover tjoes areas Nick mentioned. Enjoy. :-)
    When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice. ~William James

  9. #8

    Re: How To: Detail Your Engine Like a Professional

    Quick question:

    What do you do when you have a Heat Shield under the hood? Some shields are made of some sort of dense foam, very rough to touch and it easily absorb oil and gunk over the years... Any tips on cleaning those?

  10. #9
    Super Member flyinion's Avatar
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    Re: How To: Detail Your Engine Like a Professional

    Awesome write-up. Just a quick question (2 really), do you not need to cover the battery and protect it from water? Second, for some reason I envision the alternator as being directly connected to the battery, so this isn't the case and foil on it won't give you a big jolt?

    I'll definitely be using this as a guide next time I clean my Jeep's engine bay. It was dirtier than the one in your example after just one day of off-roading on a dusty trail with 20 other Jeeps lol. It didn't have the grease/baked on grime, but was full of dust/dirt EVERYWHERE.

  11. #10
    Super Member Robert8194's Avatar
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    Great write up Nick. How long did that job take?

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