Remember when car engines used to be painted different colors? Ford’s motors were blue, Chevy’s were orange and Mopar had pretty turquoise engines. So why are virtually all automotive engines today black? The official explanation is that black radiates heat better, so engines will run cooler. The unofficial reason is that black motors have fewer warranty claims, because people can’t readily see “minor” things such as fluid leaks. Same goes for a grimy engine; it’s difficult to see leaking oil when the engine’s covered in gunk. So clean up your act, so you can sing the lyrics from “Penny Lane” when you look at your sparkling clean machine. You might catch a small problem before it becomes a large one. You might even discover your engine is painted a pretty color.
Cleaning your boat’s motor may be the cheapest, most rewarding project you can do. And with the excellent cleaning aids available, it’s easier than you think. There are a number of schemes for cleaning your boat’s motor, whether it’s an innie or an outie. The first method is steam cleaning, often used by used car dealerships to make an engine look showroom-new. Does it work? You betcha, and it’s really fast, but most of us don’t own steam cleaners and would have to rent one. Plus, there can be problems associated with inexperienced people spraying delicate parts with high pressure and forcing water where it shouldn’t go. Besides, there are cheaper, more motor-friendly ways that are very effective.
People clean engines with some pretty crazy stuff. While they might be effective, some are not environmentally friendly, and others have nitpicky problems such as being highly flammable. Here is a partial list of don’t-use-its: oven cleaner, acetone, starter fluid, carb cleaner, diesel fuel, gasoline, brake cleaner and kerosene. While some of these might be acceptable for small jobs (or the ones they are intended for), an entire motor is a larger project, so you should use something that is nontoxic to the environment and won’t require you to wear a Darth Vader respirator outfit.
There are a number of products that work really well and are environmentally and people friendly, such as Spray Nine Marine Grez-Off, Mean Green Super Strength, MaryKate Grease-Away, Custom Compounders L-44 WCD, Krud Kutter and POR-15 Marine Clean. While that is by no means a complete list, the products have all received overwhelmingly high marks from experienced boaters. Before using any product, first read the instructions and the complete product description carefully, and use as directed.
Most products work best with a slightly warm but not hot engine, so run it for a few minutes before getting down to business. After you shut down the engine, disconnect your battery to avoid shorting out anything. Since most of the products have to be rinsed with water, cover everything electronic with plastic bags and slip on a rubber band to seal them. It’s especially important to cover distributors, alternators, carburetors and air intakes. It’s not a bad idea to wrap tape around spark plug wire-cap bases to make sure moisture doesn’t get inside.
A degreaser/cleaner usually takes a few minutes to penetrate the grime, so spray it on the areas you want to clean and let it sit for 15 minutes or the time specified on the instructions.
Where’s This Stuff Going?
Even a product labeled safe for the environment is going to have some greasy crud that shouldn’t go on lawns and driveways or down storm drains, when you rinse it off. The best place to perform the final few tasks is at a carwash with an industrial wastewater treatment system designed to handle such runoff. If the motor is really dirty, you’ll probably need to do some scrubbing to get rid of all the residue. Companies such as Shurhold have a wide range of brushes and microfiber rags to help you get into every nook and cranny. You might have to reapply the degreaser and use some elbow grease on really dirty spots. While you are going over every area of your engine, make a note of any rusty areas, and when you get home, sand, prime and touch them up with rust-resistant paint.
When you rinse, use a low-pressure setting to avoid forcing water into places it shouldn’t go. If you have an inboard, this would be a good time to tackle the bilge. Take a microfiber rag and dry areas where water is still standing, if needed. Make sure all the water has exited the drain hole before you leave.
When you get home, remove all the plastic bags and tape, reconnect the battery, start the engine to dry it and stand back to admire your handiwork. Then post a before and after photo on Boating World’s Facebook page to win a “special prize.” The first person to post wins the grand prize of a weekend stay at managing editor Mike Werling’s house. The runner-up has to stay the entire week.