Fast Engine Detailing Techniques

April 1, 2012 | By Fred Venturini

It’s Easy to Ignore a Driver’s Engine Bay Because It’s Covered. But You Know What It’s Like…Buyers Will, Too.

ENGINE DETAILING IS perhaps the most grueling—and underappreciated— work you can do for your vehicle’s appearance, especially if you are maintaining a “daily driver” that doesn’t attend car shows with the hood open to display an immaculate engine compartment. In that case, it’s easy to skip detailing under the hood—this is where a lot of filth and grease can hide, but you can always tell yourself, “Who’s going to see this grease and dirt anyway?”

One answer to that question that typically garners attention is that your car’s next buyer will see that engine compartment. Checking under the hood is a routine part of inspection when selling a vehicle to a private party. A well-maintained engine compartment can add to a vehicle’s resale value, and make it much easier to close the deal. Quite simply, a clean engine creates a sense that the owner cares universally and thoroughly for the vehicle, and that creates a strong draw for buyers.

Also, regular engine detailing serves as an opportunity to closely examine belts, hoses and other components for any wear or damage, while at the same time preventing further damage by applying the proper protection products.

Furthermore, engine detailing does not always have to be hard. The best time to start, of course, is when the vehicle is new, but restoring a dirty engine entails nothing more than cleaning the exterior of the engine and compartment, and then applying dressing to protect and beautify the area.

This article will cover a fast, efficient method to keep your daily driver’s engine compartment looking good to add that important resale value and an extra “wow” factor when it comes to overall appearance and cleanliness.

Start With the Debris

First, we must prep the area for detailing. We can accomplish this by removing the build-up and debris that typically collects in the vent openings, hood frame and grille. Chances are you have some old leaves, twigs, dirt and gunk built up in these areas. A blower or compressed air, along with a simple brush will help clear this debris and prep the area for a more thorough cleaning.

Next, examine your engine or owner’s manual to prepare the area for exposure to water. Cover the distributor and spark plugs, and any electrical device areas that may hold water. Using aluminum foil to protect these areas is a cheap and easy way to do it. Once you wrap and cover these areas, your compartment is now ready for detailing.

Degreasing is the first step in the cleaning process. Examine your engine surfaces for grease. If you have a particularly greasy engine, start the engine and let it get warm. This will loosen the grease and make cleaning easier.

Some Recommended Products

Some engine detailing techniques include separate cleaners and degreasers, but from my years of performing engine detailing, one productis all you need to clean—P21S Total Auto Wash ( This serves as a very safe degreaser for engine parts, and has more than enough power to clean up all the other surfaces. This product doesn’t have harsh petroleum-based cleaning properties, so it won’t damage your delicate rubber and vinyl areas in the compartment. Another cleaner with similar effectiveness is Autoglym Engine Cleaner ( or contact Radiant Auto Supply in Brentwood, Tennessee, ). But since the P21S is so versatile, that’s what I keep in my shop.

Going to Work

Start near the lower areas of the compartment and work your way up to prevent drippings from getting on your hands and arms as you work over the compartment. Don’t get degreaser on your adjacent painted surfaces, as this will remove wax or protectant. Let the degreaser work by sitting for about five minutes, taking care to not let the degreaser dry. Lightsoil doesn’t require brushing, but anything dirtier than that will require brush agitation to get the compartment clean. A long-handled brush primed with car wash soap will give you localized cleaning power.Work over the entire compartment and be sure to add “elbow grease” or more degreaser if you hit a particularly thick patch of grease or soil. For more delicate areas, a detailing brush or soft bristle brush will help hit those nooks and crannies. I have a jar of old toothbrushes for just such work. So once the entire area has been hit with cleaner and some brushwork,you’re ready to hose off and examine your progress.

Rinse the compartment with a stiff stream of water to blow away as much grimes possible. Rinse Thoroughly. Allow the compartment to drip dry for several minutes, and check your work. If grease and soil remain, repeat the degreasing procedure for that area and rinse.

Once you are pleased with the appearance, use a blower or compressed air to dry the area without water spotting. If you don’t have a blower, you can wipe down the compartment with a microfiber drying towel or a terry towel to prevent water spotting, then run the engine for about five minutes. The warmed engine will assist with drying so you can complete the detailing process.

Now the engine should be clean. Take a break to let it cool, because the fun part is about to begin—you are ready to coat the compartment surfaces to protect and beautify them. I have found an excellent alternative to using many individual products to dress the compartment area—Sonus Trim and Motor Kote ( This product finishes the engine detail quickly and easily. Simply spritz down the entire compartment, let it dry, then repeat. Once dry, you will have a shiny and protected compartment. If you don’t have this product, treat the rubber and vinyl areas, such as hoses, with a specific rubber and vinyl protectant. Gel dressings last the longest. Any detailing spray will work great on painted or slick surfaces. Don’t run your engine until the gel and dressings cure up nicely.