Click & Clack: Getting Your Machine Clean

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1984 Nissan pickup with only 64,000 miles. It runs great, but the engine is so dirty that I am embarrassed to have it worked on. How should an engine be cleaned? Is steam cleaning appropriate? -- Roy

RAY: You can certainly steam-clean your engine. Usually, a really filthy, disgusting engine is a sign of an oil leak or three. When oil leaks out, all kinds of dirt and junk stick to it, and the engine becomes bathed in a thick layer of grime.

TOM: So by steam-cleaning the engine, you not only send a signal to your mechanic that you care about your car (and therefore, so should he), but you also make it easier for him to find any leaks. When the engine has been cleaned recently, it's a lot easier to see where those leaks are coming from.

RAY: So, go to a car wash or auto-detailing place that offers steam cleaning. It's not something you want to do in your driveway, because the stuff you wash off is toxic, and you don't want it going down the drain and into your local waterways. Find a place that has a grease trap, so they can dispose of the runoff properly.

TOM: Bring a good book, just in case some important electrical component gets steamed under high pressure by accident and prevents the car from starting until it dries out.

RAY: Then drive around with a clean engine for a week or so before having your car serviced. Your mechanic probably will be able to tell you exactly where the oil leaks are coming from.

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