Now that it’s summer, it’s a good time to consider cleaning your car’s engine. If you haven’t in a long time, you’ll probably notice that it’s pretty dirty, especially if it’s a higher-mileage engine. But what’s making it dirty? Your engine is comprised of several sealed systems. In theory, it shouldn’t be getting very dirty at all. However, time and use take a toll on your car and its components.

Aside from road salt and dirt sticking to your engine, there are other items to watch out for. If you’re seeing a buildup of sludgy, dirty grime on your engine, chances are that it’s leaking or seeping some fluid or other that’s causing dirt and dust to stick to your engine. The constant heating and cooling your engine experiences causes seals to expand and contract every time you drive your car. As a result, a car that sees a lot more highway miles than in town stop-and-go traffic is less likely to leak in the long run, as the seals will have experienced less expansion-related wear and tear. Cars that are driven in colder, northern climates will see more of this type of damage as well.


Before you clean your engine, take a look at how and where dirt is building up. If you’re seeing a lot of sludge, look near it for anything that might incorporate a seal – a cooling hose or other cooling system component, your power steering pump, your valve covers, the oil pan, etc. If you’re seeing increased buildup around any particular component, chances are you’ve found a component that needs maintenance or repair. If you can’t seem to localize a leak, don’t worry just yet.


There are many commercially-available engine cleaners and degreasers. The first step in cleaning your engine is to warm it up a bit. This will help to loosen up the built-up grime. Next, shut your engine off and cover up electrical components with plastic so that they don’t get wet. From there, spray on the degreaser, paying particular attention to especially dirty areas. Let it sit a few minutes. If the dirt is very thick and sticky, you can help it along with a brush. An old toothbrush will help you get into tight areas to clean.

Once the engine is scrubbed, you can rinse it off with a garden hose. Be sure not to get electrical components and connections wet. From there, you can start the engine and let it warm up to help it dry. If you weren’t able to determine the source of a leak when the engine was dirty, pay attention to the clean engine for fresh leaks. Once you know what you need to fix, you can replace whatever parts or seals necessary.

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