How To Clean Your Engine Bay

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Beneath your hood lies a vast array of pipes, hoses, turbochargers, intercoolers, radiators, wires, fuses, intakes, and other engine components. Although you’d think a closed hood would protect the engine from the elements, there’s no floor to keep them pristine. Likewise, hoses fail, oil leaks, and all manner of things can drip and drop, each requiring a good cleaning.

Unlike a car’s exterior, which we regularly wash, engine bays aren’t pampered nearly as much. Without attention, that dirt, debris, and oil can gunk up your car’s workings, potentially start a fire, and cause engine, steering, and suspension issues—yikes.

That’s why The Drive’s info team suggests popping the hood, grabbing the hose, and going to town on your car’s engine bay every time you wash your car’s paint. For those who’ve never washed a car’s engine bay before, don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it! Follow our steps, and your ride will come out the other side looking so fresh and so clean!

A very dirty, rusting engine.

Engine Bay Basics

Estimated Time Needed: Half hour

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Engine

Common Dirt, Debris, and Oils You’ll Find In An Engine Bay 

Here’s a list of common spills and splatters you’ll find in an engine bay as curated by The Drive’s editors and their decades of experience. You’re welcome.

Dirt/Mud

The most common spill or splatter is dirt and mud. Puddles, off-road adventures, and the daily dirt and debris you encounter all have a habit of entering your engine bay. 

Engine Oil

Engine oil can seep out of gaskets, explode from hoses, and spill across the top of the engine when you’re doing an oil change. Oils can also be thrown up into the engine bay from the ground.

Transmission Fluid

Like engine oil, transmission fluid has the potential to spray across the engine bay if something catastrophic happens. That said, if you see a big spray of transmission fluid, you likely have bigger worries than a clean engine bay. 

Brake Fluid

Because the brake master cylinder is mounted near the top of the engine on most cars, spills and splatters can quickly dirty an engine bay.

Coolant

We’ve all been there when a radiator overheats, blows its top, and shoots scaldingly hot coolant over the piping-hot engine bay. Steam and the fluorescent liquid erupt, and the bay looks like you just murdered an alien. 

Powerwashing an engine bay.

Car Cleaning Safety

Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and that you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless—hopefully.

  • Nitrile gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Mask (optional)

Everything You’ll Need To Clean Engine Bay

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done. 

Tool List

  • Pressure washer
  • Bucket
  • Microfiber towel

Parts List

  • Car wash soap

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You still won’t need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Cleaning an engine bay 101.

Here’s How To Clean Engine Bay

Cleaning your engine bay is all about how detailed you want to go. And by all means, go as deep into every crevice and cranny as you’d like because there’s always more hidden dirt and leftover oil. But to get you started, here’s The Drive’s guide for how to clean your engine bay. Let’s do this!

Get Help With Cleaning Engine Bay From a Mechanic On JustAnswer

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs.

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

Now that it’s clean, we can overnight parts over from Japan.

Pro Tips To Clean Engine Bay

The Drive’s editors have washed countless rides over the years, and we’ve picked up a handful of pro tips along the way. Lucky for you, we’re in a sharing mood. Check these out. 

  • Wash your engine bay after your car has cooled down. If you wash it while it’s hot, it could produce steam that can crack plastics, corrode wires, or scald you. 
  • Wear clothes with soft surfaces. Jeans, for example, have metal that could scratch the car.
  • If you’re washing your engine bay by hand, use the two-bucket method so as to not bring dirt, contaminants and debris back into the engine bay.

FAQs About Cleaning an Engine Bay

You’ve got questions, The Drive’s info team has answers! 

Q: How Much Does It Cost To Clean an Engine Bay?

A: Almost nothing. All you’ll need is a hose and some soap. You’ll maybe spend $15-$20 all in.

Q: Is It Safe To Spray Your Engine With Water?

A: Listen, your engine bay is always getting wet from the pouring rain, water puddles, or because you need to get across an overflowing river (Don’t try that, Ms. Oregon Trail). It’s a-ok to wash your engine, just be careful where and how close you use the pressure washer. Always dial the pressure down to prevent damaging plugs or tearing things off.

Q: Can I Pressure Wash My Engine Bay?

A: You absolutely can! All you need to pay attention to, however, is your pressure washer’s pressure. Too high of pressure could damage your engine’s hoses, wires, and other parts that aren’t metal. If you see something dangling or loosen while you’re using it, stop. 

Featured Products

Mothers California Gold Carnauba Wash & Wax

Chemical Guys Bug & Tar Heavy Duty Car Wash Shampoo

CarGuys Super Cleaner

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com

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