How to Clean an Engine Bay the Right Way

Source | Gerard McGovern/Flickr

Do you clean your vehicle? The answer’s probably yes. But do you clean your engine bay? If not, that’s like taking a shower but never brushing your teeth. Don’t be that person; wash your engine, too.

Now you might be thinking that no one sees your engine bay except you and the occasional mechanic, so who cares, right? Well, like with the rest of your vehicle, cleaning prevents damage and keeps resale value high. A car engine bay covered in oil and grit is allowing premature wear in the pulleys and bearings, or hiding serious issues like gasket leaks. A clean engine bay allows the engine to stay cooler, operate efficiently, and keep your value high.

Difficulty

Good for beginners — A new DIYer will be able to complete the project

Time Required

1 hour

What you’ll need

 

Step-by-step guide on how to clean an engine bay

Hose it down

A quick pre-rinse does several things. It knocks off any of the loose dust and grit, makes it easier for the engine degreaser to spread around, and prevents spots from the soap quickly drying out. In short, a pre-rinse is essential.

Step 1: Wait until the engine is cool. It doesn’t need to be cold though—you just don’t want to introduce a bunch of cold water to hot parts. Pop the hood and let it cool for an hour. This is when you’ll put down the drip pans and absorbent pads to stop the chemicals and gunk from going down the gutters.

Pro Tip: Find a local recycling center that accepts both the used pads and the oily water from the drip tray.

Step 2: Disconnect the negative battery terminal or cover the battery with a plastic bag. Water conducts electricity, and you don’t want it to connect and make new temporary circuits. If you have a classic ride, cover the alternator, carburetor, and distributor with plastic bags. On a modern ride, cover the alternator and go easy with the water around the coil packs and fuse box.

Pro Tip: If you are using a power washer, use the low-pressure setting and rinse everything in the engine bay. Low pressure is better than high pressure here, as you want to clean off the crud, not blast it into the small crevices between components.

Spray it up

Step 3: Now it’s time to spray a liberal application of engine degreaser. Why use a degreaser instead of regular car soap? Your average car-wash soap is fine for grit and dirt but just won’t cut it on oil and grime. Go heavy on the engine degreaser on the typically nasty parts, like the starter and oil pan and anything else oily. Follow the directions on the bottle, but usually you will let it sit for a few minutes to get the most grime-lifting action. You can use a wash brush here for the seriously filthy areas. It has soft bristles that won’t scratch the paint or plastic.

Step 4: Rinse with low-pressure water again and take a look at your progress. Some engines that have never been cleaned in 300,000 miles will need the degreaser again. If not, it’s time to get busy with the automotive soap.

Step 5: Use an automotive car-wash soap to finish cleaning the engine bay the same way you would clean the exterior. Use an automotive wash mitt, get it soapy in the bucket, and scrub up the engine bay just like you would a rear quarter panel, then rinse.

Sweat the details

Step 6: Rinse with low pressure again and remove the plastic bags over the sensitive parts. If they need cleaning, professional detailers will remove the plastic fuse box cover or distributor cap and clean it by hand, where the electronics won’t be affected. Once clean and dry, just bolt them back on.

Step 7: Use a dedicated plastic cleaner to polish out fine scratches and restore shine to the engine bay plastics. Apply with a terry cloth and wipe off with a clean microfiber cloth. For the metal bits, a metal polish will brighten them up. They are all a bit different, but in general, grind a bit into the metal surface until the polish starts to turn darker, then wipe off with a clean cloth.

Now step back and enjoy your work.

Any detailing experts around? Let us know your engine bay cleaning tips and tricks!

How to Change Spark Plugs

Keep your engine in good working order. Here’s how to change spark plugs.

To some, a car’s engine may seem like an impossibly complicated hunk of mystical machinery. While that’s not too far from the truth for many modern engines, there are still some easily serviceable items on even the most high-tech cars. Spark plugs, especially, are among the easiest parts to replace in any given engine. All it requires is carefully following some basic steps and a handful of basic tools.

Before we dive into the step-by-step process, you might be wondering how often you need to change your spark plugs, what sort of spark plugs you should use, or whether you need to upgrade your spark-plug wires or other ignition components. Fortunately, these questions are easy to answer. And don’t forget, you may need to replace your spark plug wires every time you change your spark plugs depending on your driving style.

But chances are, if you’re here, it’s because you know it’s time to change your spark plugs. So let’s get started.

Holding spark plugs

Difficulty

Good for beginners: A new DIYer will be able to complete the project

Estimated Time Required

One hour

What You’ll Need to Change Spark Plugs

Remember, you can always rent tools from us.

 

Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Once you’ve gathered all of the tools you need, as well as the correct spark plugs for your car and spark plug wires (if necessary), you may want to drape an old blanket or towel over the fenders of your car so that you won’t mar the paint as you lean into the engine bay. It’s also good practice to disconnect the positive terminal on your car battery when working on anything electrical.

Pro Tip: Be sure to let your car’s engine cool thoroughly before replacing your spark plugs, and keep any flammable blankets, towels, or shop cloths away from any surfaces that may still be warm. This will also ensure the new spark plugs are tightened correctly (heat expands the engine threads and limits torque).

Step 2: Thoroughly clean the area around your spark plugs. Once you remove the spark plug, you’ll have an open hole directly into the inside of your engine, and any dirt or debris around the spark plug can fall straight in and cause serious wear or damage to your engine—something that should be avoided, for obvious reasons.

You can use compressed air to blow the area clean, and/or a cleaner/degreaser spray and shop towels to loosen and remove any gunk around the spark plug. Be sure to wear eye protection if you’ll be using compressed air or a spray cleaner.

Once you have the area around each spark plug clear of any oil, dirt, or other debris, it’s time to start the actual replacement process.

Step 3: Keep everything in order by removing a single spark plug wire from one spark plug at a time. This prevents you from reconnecting the wrong wire to the wrong plug when it’s time to button everything back up.

Step 4: Once you’ve removed the first spark plug wire, fit the necessary combination of extensions and swivels to the spark-plug socket to comfortably fit the tool to the spark plug.

Turn the spark plug counterclockwise until it comes free.

Even though you cleaned around the spark plug thoroughly before beginning, take care not to knock any previously unseen debris into the now-open hole into your engine’s interior.

Step 5: Once the spark plug is out, take the new spark plug and use the spark plug gap tool to check that there is a proper gap between the outer (hook-shaped) ground electrode and the center electrode. Most modern spark plugs are properly gapped from the factory, but shipping and handling can result in this small but crucial gap being tweaked, so it’s always good to ensure the gap is correct before installing.

If any adjustment is needed, gently open or close the gap until the tool just fits at the correct gap (which should be specified in your owner’s manual).

Step 6: With the gap verified, carefully insert the plug into the open hole by hand. If your spark plug isn’t factory treated with anti-seize, you can rub a small drop of anti-seize lubricant on the spark plug thread so it doesn’t lock up from the heat. Gently start screwing the plug in with a clockwise rotation, ensuring the threads are properly mated.

Pro Tip: Be careful to avoid cross-threading the spark plug when re-installing, as any damage to the spark-plug threads could require costly repairs to your car’s cylinder head.

Once the spark plug is carefully started into the threads, continue tightening the plug down with the spark plug socket and ratchet/extension combination. Be very careful not to over-tighten your spark plugs! Just tighten it down until the spark plug’s washer is firmly in contact with the shoulder of the threaded hole and the washer is slightly compressed.

Step 7: With the spark plug securely re-installed, reattach the plug wire by twisting slightly as you push the boot back down onto the exposed tip of the plug until you hear and feel a firm click. That means you’ve properly seated the plug wire. You can put a drop of dielectric grease inside the plug boot for better heat dissipation.

Step 8: Repeat the process in Steps 2 through 7 for each of your remaining spark plugs until you’ve replaced them all. If you’re also replacing your spark plug wires, go back and do each one in the same order, one at a time. You’ll notice that the spark plug wires vary in length according to their proper installation position, so be sure to match each wire up to the existing wire before removing the old one and replacing with the new wire. Repeat until all the wires are replaced.

You’re done! Before you celebrate, however, be sure to mark down the car’s current mileage in your maintenance notebook, so you’ll know when you need to change your spark plugs again.

Tuxlee Shares His Oil Change Tips

oil change tips

Hey, Tuxlee here. I’ve traveled to tons of Advance stores and automotive events, and one thing people always ask me about is changing their own oil. (My parents say I’ve done so many oil changes since I was a puppy that it turned my fur jet black—it’s a small badge of honor to me actually). I also hang out with some pretty knowledgeable people, and I’ve picked up a few tips over the years that will make your next DIY oil change a breeze, whether it’s your first time or if you’re on your 70th bottle.

My first tip is to buy a good pair of latex or nitrile gloves to keep your paws hands nice and clean. With the oil type, you have a few options on whether to go conventional, synthetic blend, or full synthetic (there’s also high mileage varations). I suggest you first stick with your car’s recommended oil viscosity—this is usually printed on your engine’s oil cap, or if not then in your owner’s manual—and then go from there. Conventional oil gets the job done, but synthetic oil lasts longer and performs better under heat and cold. I like both types, so you can read more about it here to see what works better for you.

Oil Change Tools and Supplies

Alright, you have your oil. You’ll need a few other supplies, all of which are sold at your local Advance store. P.S. You can get awesome deals on oil filters when you buy one of our oil change specials!

While you’re in the store, grab a free reminder decal to record the date and mileage of your next expected oil change. Or write it down in your car maintenance journal like I do.

•Oil filter
(Regular filters go with conventional oil, heavier duty filters pair better with synthetic oil)

•Oil filter wrench
(Some can get by using their hands or an old belt, but this is good to have)

•Oil drain plug gasket or crush washer
(Keeps leaky drips away)

•Oil drain pan
(So your oil doesn’t end up all over the driveway)

•Wrench for drain plug
(Look in your owner’s manual to find the size you need)

•Funnel
(For a smooth, no-mess pour. Trust me you’re going to need this)

•Rags
(To wipe off old oil and keep things neat)

•Safety glasses
(I don’t like barking out orders, but safety first!)

•Gloves
(Unless you want to look like a black Yorkipoo)

Oil Change Steps

Now you’re ready to give your car some tender love and oil!

1. Securely raise your vehicle on ramps or jack-stands (use a jack lift for the latter). Makes sure to put blocks behind your tires. If you can safely get under your vehicle without needing to raise it, then go for it.

oil change tips2. Warm up the engine for a couple minutes to get the oil warm (but not too long or the oil will be hot). Raise your hood and open the oil cap on top of your engine to let the old oil drain faster.

3. Get under the car and position your drain pan under the oil plug (account for the initial stream of oil shooting out further than directly under the plug).

4. Using your wrench, loosen the plug a few turns. Then finish loosening the plug with your hand, quickly pulling it away when the oil is starting to drain out. Be careful of hot motor oil (gloves help in this case).

5. Wipe the drain plug while the oil drains and inspect it for bent or broken threads. Replace the sealing washer if cracked or worn, or use a new metal crush washer if needed.

6. After the oil has drained (give it 10-30 minutes for a good drain if you have the time), wipe away oil residue from the oil pan and put the drain plug back in. Tighten it firmly, but don’t overdo it. Your owner’s manual will have the exact torque required.

Do me (and other animals) a favor, clean up oil leaks and don’t dispose of oil in your yard, streams, or waste-water drains. Your favorite Advance store will safely dispose of your used oil for free! Available at most of our 3,500 stores (unless prohibited by law).

7. Reposition your drain pan by the oil filter and remove it using your oil filter wrench (or hand if it will budge). Some wrenches work from the end, while others wrap around the filter.

8. If your filter still won’t budge, puncture it with a screwdriver at its lowest point to drain, then use the same screwdriver to spin off the filter. A little more oil will come out when you spin off the filter, so have your rags handy.

9. Apply a film of clean oil to the top of the new filter gasket. Then spin the filter on using only your hand. Go ¾ of a turn after you feel the gasket make contact with the engine after spinning it on.

oil change tips10. Double check the filter and drain plug for tightness, then fill your engine with the recommended viscosity and amount of motor oil. (Again, your owner’s manual will provide this).

11. Determine your oil level using the dipstick, then check for any leaks. Start the engine and check for leaks again. Bring used motor oils to Advance for proper disposal or recycling.

Well, that’s a wrap. You can now safely do your own oil change or you learned some tips. Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?!

Find satisfaction in knowing you’re taking good care of your car. Your car will be sure to return the favor! For more oil change tips and a helpful video, click here