Trying keep to keep a car show look for your daily driver could be quite a challenge. Going to the auto detailer every so often is a viable option. But the time you spend going there and the cost can be a struggle for some car owners. If you want to have a car show look but can’t go the detailers all the time, then maybe this can help. Lets start under the hood. My definition of a detailed look is cleanliness… as if a vehicle just came out of the factory: not the showroom look where you see some rubber and metal parts shining like the sun. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see cars with engine bays all shiny and everything, but I find it more of a challenge to keep the factory look even if there were some accessories added or some fabrication done. It must look as if it came from the factory.
Now, how to get started. Make sure you have the whole day free as things like this can take a while. It would be better if you had an air compressor to help you dry the engine bay. It makes life easier and it would pay off for itself in the long run. If your engine bay is just dusty and there are no signs of fluid leaks, then you could start by wiping off the dust around the engine. Make sure you disconnect the battery when the engine is cold. You may have to disassemble some things around the engine bay, say for example the air filter, to access some areas. If there are stains on the engine and on the body, you could apply Wipe Out. This product is very easy to use. I use a paint brush to apply it and a disposable rag to wipe it off. You could also use an old toothbrush to help remove those stains. For heavy oil stains or sludge, you can use a degreaser to loosen things up.
If I can avoid hosing down the engine with water, I will do so. Why? If I miss a spot where the water and the dust have mixed, it would be harder for me to remove it later on. The heat in the engine bay can bake the water and dust mixture. If there’s a lot of oil stains, then use a degreaser and let it stay for a while to break things down. Before you start, make sure you cover all the components that are sensitive to water—the alternator, distributor, fuse box etc.
You may need to do some scrubbing to help remove those stains. To wash things off, you would need a pressure washer to remove all that grime. Even if your garden hose has strong water pressure, it will not be enough. A power wash unit has about 1,000 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure. Don’t forget to clean the fins of your radiator and air-condition condenser while you’re at it.
Avoid using kerosene and laundry soap for cleaning. The kerosene will compromise the integrity of the rubber components of your engine and around your engine bay. The laundry soap can harm the paint and leave stains. Use an air compressor with an air duster attachment to dry the engine. Warning: not all degreasers are made the same. Some may be harmful to aluminum, plastic and rubber products. Make sure they compatible with the materials found in your engine bay.
After drying the area, make sure that all the electrical connections are dry to avoid any problems when you start your engine. Now that the engine bay is basically clean, you can now start detailing. Make sure the spark plug wires, electrical wires (with all the colors visibly clean), the radiator hoses and the valve covers are clean with no stains.
If you want some plastic or rubber parts to shine a little, you could apply a product specifically for such applications from Meguires, Adams, Mothers, Auto Glym, Ma Fra or other brands as long as it states that it is safe for use on components in the engine bay. Avoid using tire-dressing products. Not all them are safe for rubber and plastic components under the hood. Others would insist that it is safe to apply such products. Yes, it may be, but with heat from the engine, it is a different thing.
A few years ago, I inquired from Meguires about purchasing their product for detailing. They said I could purchase a starter kit for detailing shops and they could train me how to use their products. After trying to use other make-do products, they ended up eating up too much of my time and my hands were getting itchy whenever I would have to use kerosene or laundry soap—which is another good reason why not to use them. I didn’t push through with them because of the initial cost. Once the car was detailed, it would be a while for me to use the products again. I have to admit, these products do work and it saves you time. It’s a bit pricey, true, but if you have other friends who are into the same thing as you are, you guys can divide the cost among yourselves. Think of it as a club discount.
A big benefit of having clean engine bay is you could tell if a leak is starting and when you do some work under the hood, it’s much easier. You become more attached to your car and you have little bragging rights when you lift the hood at a club meet.