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Car Engine Cleaning Tips

Car Engine Cleaning Tips

Lavaggio motore

Car engine cleaning tips are important for many reasons. A clean engine runs cooler and helps improve fuel efficiency. It also prolongs the life of your engine. So cleaning the engine properly requires the best practices available.

A Clean Engine will Increase a Vehicle’s Resale Value

Another benefit is when you sell or trade-in a vehicle. A clean engine will increase resale values. This is why car dealers always have their vehicles fully detailed with shiny engines.

Unfortunately, since there are many ways that an engine can be damaged, you need to make sure you follow the procedures.

A Heated Pressure Washer is Preferable

Car engine cleaning is easier when you have the correct chemicals and equipment to do it. A heated pressure washer (aka steam jenny or hot water pressure washer) is preferable but not a necessity to properly clean an engine.

With a heated pressure washer or a steam pressure generator you can use less chemical and degrease the engine faster.

Cold Water Works Too

If you don’t have access to heat, cold water works too. FYI, it is possible to clean an engine without a pressure washer. The trick is to focus on the chemicals and attempt to use the least amount of water as possible.

PRO TIP: A hose from your home will generally push out water flow at approximately 5 to 10 GPM (gallons per minute) at 30 to 50 PSI (pounds per square inch). Most light-duty pressure washers, the kind you buy at any of the big box stores, will pump out 1.5 to 1.7 GPM at 1750 to 1850 PSI. Engines and water don’t work well together. Your goal is to clean the engine with the least amount of water possible. It makes sense to rely on chemical degreasers and a pressure washer with high PSI but low GPM output.

As mentioned above, blasting a bunch of water on your engine for the length of time required to clean it is a bad idea. This is why pressure washers are a detailer’s friend.

Wipe the car engine

When Cleaning an Engine, Less is More

I have already mentioned this a few times, but I’m going to repeat it, yet again. With regards to water and engine cleaning, pressure (PSI) is good as long as gallons (GPM) is low.

Forcing water into an engine is something you don’t want to deal with. Especially since it’s probably a customer vehicle. So use less water and more pressure. And rely on the cleaning chemicals. Let the chemicals and degreaser do the work for you. Anywhere from 1,000 PSI on up to 2,000 PSI is more than sufficient when used with lower GPM and degreasers. Any more than that and you run the risk of injecting water into places you don’t want water in your engine.

Engine Running or Not?

This topic alone could fill several blog posts. For now, let’s just say that the great debate among car detailers for many decades has been whether to keep a car engine running while cleaning it. This is one of those areas that we need to add our standard disclaimer about how we take no responsibility for any damage that you do to an engine. We can only tell you how we’ve done this and you use this information at your own risk.

PRO TIP: If you want to get better at anything, practice. A few years after I started my detail shop, I was always trying to give my new detailers more hands-on experience. Unfortunately, when you put a new detailer on a customer car, you run the risk of something being damaged. So I bought a clunker. See the ‘Shop Dart’ section below to learn more about our lovely practice car.

We Started Out Leaving the Engine Running

At our shops, our process changed over the years. At first, we started out leaving the engine running. I ran the car engine for about 15 minutes to warm it up. Then I would cover up air intakes, electrical boxes, wiring harnesses, and spark plugs.

A generous amount of cleaner/degreaser solution was applied and allowed to soak for 15 to 20 minutes. After the soak, the engine was started. A heated pressure washer on the high heat/steam setting is used to spray the engine clean. We never had an issue with any of the thousands of cars that were cleaning in this way.

Process Changed as Degreasers Got Stronger

Even in industries as slow-moving and stale as auto detailing, car chemical companies still attempt to make better products. This is what happened that caused me to rethink our engine cleaning process. I started noticing that the degreasers we were buying were showing improved results over the course of a few years. Our engine cleaning process changed as degreasers improved. It made sense since we no longer had to apply so much water and steam to engines to clean them. We were still careful to cover delicate electronics and wiring harnesses, but we were able to use a lot less water. 

Your car engine cleaning chemicals make a world of difference. Don’t just buy a cheap degreaser. If you are doing this professionally, then set yourself apart from every Joe Schmo who can buy cheap cleaners for their engines and do it at home.

The Shop Dart

A friend of mine asked if I knew anyone that wanted an extremely old Dodge Dart with a few hundred thousand miles on it. I asked him how much. He said a few hundred bucks. So I gave him $300 and became the proud owner of an incredibly ugly Dart. We eventually named her our ‘Shop Dart’.

Car Engine Cleaning is a Skill

Over the next few years, our team high speed buffed the paint straight down to the metal. We removed dents, did bumper repairs, and scratch removal. And the car was painted and repainted so many times that none of us could remember the original color. All the upholstery was ripped and repaired hundreds of times. Two of my guys even wanted to learn how to rewire a car. So they practiced on the Dart.

Like anything, car engine cleaning is a skill. And skills need to be learned through practice. Our Shop Dart had an engine that was cleaned so often, it shined like it was in a classic car cruise.

If you want to get better, it’s all about practice. If you want to know what happens when you fill fuel injectors with water, then do it on purpose to your junker car. Then learn how to fix it.

Curious about what happened to the infamous Dodge Dart? There’s a cool story about it. My team tore down and rebuilt that car so many times that it looked better than it did when it was brand new. Then one day, my shop manager asked if we could get a few different clunker cars to practice on. I told him we could look around and find some.

Then I had a somewhat brilliant idea. During our morning meeting the next day, I announced that we could put the Shop Dart out in front of our building and sell it. And if the guys wanted to make it perfect, they could all split whatever we sold it for between them. So they repainted it, again, made sure it was running perfect, and detailed it like it was a Lamborghini. It was fantastic.

Then we sold the Shop Dart… for $5 grand. No kidding. $5 thousand dollars. It looked amazing and it ran great. The guy that bought it loved the look. And my team was beyond excited when I handed them the money.

So that’s how we got great at detailing, reconditioning, and cleaning car engines. Hands-on practicing every day on an old clunker car.

We can only tell you how we did it for years and you decide how to proceed from there.

Have fun and enjoy the process. You shouldn’t have any problems as long as you follow the tips outlined above and use common sense along with a good safety regimen.

We hope you enjoyed this how-to on Car Engine Cleaning Tips. Access more tips, training, and insight by subscribing to the E-Newsletter.

Suggested Pages to Check Out

Detail Shop Liability Insurance Page with Info on Garage Keepers Liability Coverage

1099 Contractors and Other Detail Shop Tax Issues

Specialty Cleaning Services

Specialty Cleaning Services

Specialty Cleaning Services

When you are out looking for work as a detailer, creativity is your friend. If you only focus on cars, then your job will morph into a full-time salesperson that occasionally details cars. Nobody wants that. So step back, take a deep breath, and think outside the box for a minute.

I’ve already covered many types of specialty cleaning services in other areas of From commercial fleets, to heavy equipment cleaning, pressure washing, and more.

But that’s not the type of specialized cleaning I’m talking about now. This is about cleaning something that other people don’t think about. Sometimes not even the people that own what you want to clean for them.

Playground Equipment

One of these specialty items that I made a great deal of money cleaning is something you see every day. Playground equipment.

Most communities today have a local playground. They’ve been around for a long time. In the United States, the first ‘playground’ was built in Salem, Massachusetts in 1821. Back then they called it an outdoor gymnasium. It wasn’t until 1837 that the name playground was used in any official capacity.

Now your first instinct will be to approach local municipalities like townships, boroughs, and similar towns. Most will have parks with playgrounds. But that would be a mistake.

Baggage, Idiocy, and Incompetence

Outdoor parks with playground equipment are clearly everywhere. But I want to dive a bit deeper here and find an even better market than the public side of cleaning playground equipment. Don’t misunderstand, there is potential with business from local governments and municipalities. But anyone who has ever dealt with local municipalities will attest to the ridiculous level of baggage, idiocy, and incompetence that comes along with it.

So work on local governments if you want, but spend more of your time on the more profitable and less complicated potential profits found in local businesses that have playgrounds.

Indoor Playgrounds

I’m talking about indoor playgrounds too.

Think McDonald’s, Burger King, and Chic-Fil-A, with the big glass-enclosed playgrounds in the front of their restaurants.

Regardless of where they’re located, they need to be cleaned. Look at what playground equipment is made of. It’s all plastic, fiberglass, and steel. Or plastic, wood, and steel. Or all four.

And who better to clean something made of metal, plastic, and fiberglass, than a professional detailer. It’s a no brainer. My sales pitch to managers of fast-food restaurants was simple. I made up a one-page flyer with pictures of beautiful, shiny, Corvette’s, boats, and other cars that I had detailed. Between the pictures was the following:

Your playground equipment needs to be cleaned. Fortunately, it’s made of the same materials that I’m an expert at washing, buffing, waxing, and polishing. So now you have a choice. You can choose to be the restaurant that just sprays its dull plastic playground with a hose. Like everyone else.

Or you can be the place parents talk to their friends about. You know that restaurant that cares about its customers. The one with the playground that shines like a newly polished Corvette on a sunny afternoon.

The cost is affordable. The reaction by your customers is priceless. And if you schedule this week, I will include sidewalk pressure cleaning at no additional cost ($149 value). Call, click, or tap to schedule today.

Specialty Cleaning Service

This specialty cleaning service will keep you busy with clients that truly appreciate your cleaning skills. I had many of our local fastfood restaurants on a monthly retainer. So that consistent monthly income helped when my regular detailing business slowed down around the holidays.

When I said no-brainer above, I meant it. These playgrounds are climbing areas, catwalks, and giant slides for children. And they are made of metal, fiberglass, and plastic. The same materials any detailer is an expert at cleaning. Kind of like a car. Or a boat.

And who knows how to clean vehicle exteriors better than a professional detailer?

It’s not that difficult to get these jobs either. I hadn’t ever thought about how they cleaned those indoor playgrounds until I was there with my son, who at the time was 4-years-old.

As my son was climbing up one side of the indoor playground equipment, it occurred to me that the heavier traffic areas near the big slide appeared dull and dirty.

Ask How They Clean It

When I noticed the manager walking by, I mentioned to him how a section looked dull and asked how they cleaned it.

I happened to be wearing one of my car detailing golf shirts with my logo. So he looked at it and said, “oh, at first I thought it was a weird question. But, wait, do you clean these things? Please say yes because we can’t find anyone to replace the guy who just retired after 15-years.”

So, of course I said yes.

You’ve seen the plastic multi-color slides and playground pieces that I’m talking about. McDonald’s is very careful to keep them in perfect shape and to clean them often.

Most of the time it’s one of their employees spraying it down with a hose.

That is until you approach the manager about actually detailing or utilizing your specialty cleaning services on these valuable play areas.

Doing What You Are Already Doing

Think about it. Specialty cleaning services are doing what you are already doing. You detail cars with the same exact materials as these playground units.

Like I mentioned above, what’s a Corvette made of? How about a boat? They are both made out of the same materials as indoor playgrounds.

So it’s a matter of scrubbing and power washing the playground pieces. Then you buff wax the pieces to shine them up. They look great and the kids love them because the slides are so much faster when they are clean and waxed.

Polish the Slide with a Nanoceramic Polymer Coating

Here’s a pro tip for you to think about. If you want to impress your customer through all the positive feedback they will receive, buff and coat the slide with wax. But if you want it crazy fast, polish the slide with a nanoceramic polymer coating. Use that instead of wax on the big slide.

One of the managers at a larger location with multiple slides asked me if we used something different on the slide. He said all the kids loved it, but they were having problems keeping the big kids off the slide because of how fast it was.

When I told him what we used, he politely asked me to switch back to regular wax because the kids were flying down the slides too fast.

The other items you can offer through your specialty cleaning services are cleaning the outdoor carpets of those indoor playgrounds along with the many other businesses that have outdoor carpets. High-end steam cleaning equipment for vehicles is great for outdoor carpets.

Cleaning Outdoor Carpet on 36 holes of Mini Golf

One customer that my team and I always enjoyed visiting was a huge mini-golf business. The place had 36 holes and each one had an outdoor carpet. They were closed Monday, so we would show up early and spend the entire day cleaning and detailing everything.

Most people don’t realize this but outdoor carpet will turn black with mold and mildew. The only truly effective way to clean it is to lightly powerwash the carpeting and then remove the remaining mold and mildew through heated carpet extraction.

It cleans-up perfect and looks great. Most power washing businesses don’t have the ability to do that level of specialty cleaning services.  So you need to make everybody aware of the fact that you can do this.

Those mini-golf businesses can’t keep their stuff clean. It’s constantly being walked on and it looks horrible every month they are open.

So you offer to do a monthly cleaning of the entire mini-golf area and shine their statues along with it.  The great thing about this is that nobody cleans these places and the mini-golf people don’t even consider the idea that you will do it for them because nobody has ever offered.

Your competition also doesn’t do it because they don’t think of these kinds of things either. They are too busy out trying to close dealerships for whatever low-ball bid they are going to lose money at.

Highly Profitable Niche Markets

Specialty cleaning services work because they are highly profitable niche markets that you can exploit by being one of the first in your area to market and service.

They are highly profitable jobs because nobody else is doing it so where else are your customers going to go? Plus, you’ll pick-up the business of the management and owners of the place simply because you develop that level of trust with them by doing their other business.

Try adding specialty cleaning services to your detailing business and you’ll be impressed with how much more profit you make by adding them to your service listing.

Pressure Washing Services

Pressure Washing Services

Pressure Washing Services

Another great area to market as a mobile detailer is in the pressure washing services industry.  Many detailers forget about this end of the business, but it’s very profitable. You are a mobile detailer and that’s your main business, but you’ve already got the equipment on board to do pressure washing services, so why not?

Because pressure washing services aren’t your only source of income you can cherry-pick the best jobs and leave the crappy ones to the guys who do that for a living.  You can market your pressure washing services to restaurants to clean off their sidewalks, awnings and dumpster areas.  Office buildings to clean sidewalks and lower level walls that get dirty.  Another area of pressure washing services to consider is graffiti removal, but we address that in more detail in another update article.

With pressure washing services, you charge by the square foot like your competition.  The fact that this isn’t your main business though allows you to be more competitive with lower rates and flat-rate pricing based on what you believe it will cost to do the job.  If you are already loaded-up and trying to find some cars to do because you are slow with your detailing business, stop by some local businesses and offer pressure washing services at a discount.  Most restaurants hire pressure washing services on a regular basis. So if you can prove you’re insured and you can offer excellent pricing, then you might have a shot and getting some side work.

These businesses will appreciate the fact that this isn’t your main line of work as the reason you can charge less. You have to remember many times the low bid is looked at as a low-quality unreliable business, so you should explain why you can keep your prices lower than the competition.  If you are offering quality pressure washing services and lower costs, you will get the business.

Keep in mind also that when I say low prices, I don’t mean the bottom of the barrel.  Many times if you can beat your competition by even 10% you’ll get the work simply because of your price.  If you look professional with a logo t-shirt uniform, offer a solid and concise estimate and contract forms and give them a good price, then you will cover all your bases.  This is what they get from their other pressure washing services vendors and what they expect from you.

The other important item to remember with pressure washing services is that you make sure you don’t take enough jobs to kick your total amount of this type of business to over 70% of your total income.  If that happens then your insurance company will consider you a pressure washing services business instead of a mobile detailer and either drop you or dramatically increase your business liability insurance premiums.  Neither of these is a good thing.  Insurance companies don’t like businesses that only offer pressure washing services because there is a lot of potential damage you can do to a property with a pressure washer.  So it’s hard to insure pressure washing services.  So be careful and watch the income level from that part of the business.

Pressure washing services are an easy business to start.  This is why everybody with a pick-up truck and a home depot special power washer is now an expert in the pressure washing services industry.  Mobile detailing services are much more intricate and a lot more training is necessary to get good at your job.  Pressure washing services offer a guy pulling a pressure washing wand trigger and then cleaning things with water pressure and possibly some degreaser if it’s dirty.  Don’t get me wrong, there are things you want to stay away from and leave to the power washing pros.  Things like new concrete can be scarred and marked.  Brick cleaning for new construction is always easy to damage.  And you may be excited about the prospect of larger jobs like shopping center sidewalks that may look easy, but it’s not.  Try spending all night walking behind surface cleaners hooked to hot water pressure washers.  The hours are very long, the work is labor-intensive and overall it generally really sucks.  So with some jobs, you are going to want to leave those to the guys who choose to make that their main source of income.  You stick to the detailing and pick and choose some profitable side pressure washing jobs to handle and you’ll do great!  Pressure washing services are a great add on service and can be very profitable if you do it right.