Did you know a detailed engine increases the resale value of your car?  It's a well-known fact that people who take the time and effort to detail their engines also take better care of their cars.  Mechanics, too, realize that a clean engine belongs to someone who cares for his or her car, and they will take the time to do the repair or service work correctly.

Engine detailing is nothing more than cleaning the exterior of the engine and the engine compartment, and applying dressing to protect and beautify the engine.  It's very easy to do, and requires no more than 45 minutes to an hour every couple of months.

Mini Mania
A beautifully detailed engine, like this one, is crisp, sharp and neat.  This engine compartment is as tidy as the rest of the car.  The attention to detail is excellent, and it shows.


The first step in cleaning your engine is to remove the excess debris that gets trapped in your hood, grille and vent openings.  This is particularly true if you live in an area with four seasons.  If you have compressed air available, this is the best way to remove old leaves, dead cats and such.  If you don't, a simple hand brush will suffice.

Notice the use of a rag on the intake of this 911 engine to protect from water flooding.

The next very important step is to prepare your engine for getting wet.  You must cover all sensors, the distributor, spark plug openings and any electrical devices that have the potential for water accumulation (which could cause a short).  Use plastic baggies to cover these items.  Be sure to use tape or rubber bands to hold the plastic bags in place.  You're only trying to prevent the majority of the water from getting in; it does not need to be watertight.  The engine environment should already be waterproof.  The baggies are just a precaution.

To loosen the grease accumulated on your engine and the engine compartment, start your engine and allow it to warm for a few minutes.  The best temperature for cleaning your engine is warm to the touch, but not hot.  If you're able to hold your hand to the engine without saying "Ouch," then the temperature is just about right.

Aluminum foil is an excellent wrap to protect engine components. This works for spray-cleaning, painting and washing. The aluminum foil is easily molded around parts to keep them masked.  Since the foil fits tightly, it doesn't hamper your view or make it hard to get into tight spots.  It's faster and cheaper to use than tape and fits around odd shapes better than rags or paper.  Tip and photo by Brad Bloomquist.

Applying Degreaser

After warming the engine and protecting sensitive areas, you're ready to apply your engine degreaser.  Although they are quick and easy, I warn people against the use of harsh petroleum-based cleaners in the engine compartment.  They quickly cut through grease and grime, but they also deteriorate your rubber and vinyl components (not to mention what they do to our environment!).  As an alternative, use a citrus- or water-based cleaner.  My  favorite is Autoglym Engine & Machine Cleaner.

Use a degreaser on the top side of your engine.  Good degreasers are strong enough to cut through the heavy grease and dirt, but some scrubbing is necessary to remove the remaining dirt film.

When applying your engine degreaser, it's best to start from the lower areas and work your way up.  This prevents the degreaser from dripping on you as you clean the underside areas.  One important thing to remember: the engine degreaser will remove the wax from the painted surfaces of your car.  If you get degreaser overspray on your fenders, plan on re-waxing these areas.

When you have applied your engine degreaser, be sure to wash any excess cleaner from the exterior painted surfaces of the fenders, hood and grille.  I like to spray these areas with water first.

Depending on the amount of accumulated grease, allow the degreaser to soak on the engine for 3 to 5 minutes.  Do not allow the degreaser to dry on your engine.  For light to mild levels of grease, you will not need to use a brush on the engine and other surfaces.  For heavy soil, you can use a long-handled brush (parts brush) and car wash solution to provide additional cleaning action prior to hosing off the degreaser.

Use a soft parts cleaning brush get into cracks and around parts.  If your engine compartment has a heavy accumulation of dirt, you may need to spray with cleaner, brush, and rinse several times.
An old toothbrush works great in tight areas that other brushes can't reach.

Hosing Off

When you are ready to remove the degreaser, hose down the entire engine compartment and surrounding surfaces with plenty of water.  If you're using a high-pressure nozzle, be careful that you don't get the nozzle too close to the covered electrical connectors.  Allow your engine to air dry for several minutes before using a towel to wipe down all accessible parts.  Remove the plastic bags.  The heat from the engine will assist in the drying process; however, do not allow the engine to air dry, as this will result in water spots.  When dry, start your engine and allow it to run for a few minutes.

Rinse with a stiff stream of water to remove as much of the grease and grime as possible.  Be sure to avoid electrical connections and other sensitive areas.  After rinsing, start the engine immediately.  Allow it to run for about 5 minutes to help dry things out.
Here's a handy tip for you.  After your final rinse use your vacuum (if it can blow forced air) or an air compressor to blow water off the engine for a spot-free finish.  This Vac B' Blow vacuum makes quick work of the job.

Protect & Beautify

When everything is dry, and your engine has cooled, you should apply a coating of engine protectant.  If you don't have an engine protectant, use your rubber and vinyl protectant to coat your hoses, wires, and plastic shields.  To add a quick shine and protection to the painted surfaces in the engine compartment, use a high-quality detailing spray.  Just spray it on all surfaces, and wipe off the excess with a clean terry cloth towel.

After drying the engine, spray all of the rubber hoses and plastic parts with a rubber and vinyl protectant, like Sonus Total Eclipse.  Wipe off excess protectant and buff to a nice satin finish.  NOTE: This is only short-term protection.  For long-term protection, you will need to apply a coating of Sonus Trim and Motor Kote (shown below) of the latest sealant product, Ultima Tire & Trim Guard Plus. 

Don't underestimate the need to protect your engine after detailing.  The factory applies a heavy coating of high temperature wax that protects for several years.  When you remove this coating corrosion will begin.  One of the few products available to do a proper job is Sonus Trim and Motor Kote.  It is a spray on and walk away product.

Before using a product like Sonus Trim & Motor Kote mask off with plastic or large detailing towels.  This will help avoid a big clean up mess.
Apply Motor Kote liberally.  Make sure it reaches every surface that received degreaser.  Use a damp sponge to dab up puddles.  Do not wipe!  Allow the product to dry.  A heavy coating is necessary for proper protection.
Here's the engine after just 30 minutes.  The Sonus Trim & Motor Kote is nearly dry and the finish is perfect.


Many car enthusiasts find that detailing their engine is just the beginning of a long road toward engine beautification.  Other embellishments include polishing aluminum parts, painting key parts with bright colors, and adding chrome.  Whatever you choose, make it your style, and have fun.