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 > Technical Articles: / BMW E36 3-Series (1992-1999) >
Concours Corner: The Basics: Washing Your Engine Part II

Pelican Technical Article:

Concours Corner: The Basics: Washing Your Engine Part II

Bev Frohm


1-2 hours






WD-40, wear old work clothes, paper towels, old toothbrushes, old clean shop rags,

Applicable Models:

BMW E30 3-Series (1984-93)
BMW E36 3-Series (1992-99)
BMW E46 3-Series (1999-06)

Parts Required:

Simple Green cleaner or citrus cleaner, Handy Wipes

Performance Gain:

Areas around the engine and on various engine components are now again looking clean and Concours ready renewed

Complementary Modification:

Clean components around the fan shroud
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Seventh in a series...

Now you have your engine steam cleaned and you want to get more grease and dirt out of the engine. There are four primary areas of your engine to attack at this stage. The sheet metal on the sides/front, the painted sides/shelves, the fan/fan shroud and the trickiest - the engine parts. There are many more areas to clean, but lets take this in stages or you might get overwhelmed. We will cover in this article the sheet metal and painted areas of the engine. Cleaning the engine parts will probably be an article in itself, we’ll see.

The sheet metal is probably the easiest to clean. You got most of the grease off when you steam cleaned the engine. A trick I found that works on removing old built up grease is WD40. This works as a great grease dissolvent. Take some WD40 and spray it on the sheet metal. WD40 will not harm your engine, so don’t worry about getting it on something. You will want to spray enough WD40 to cover the grease, but not swim in it. However, if you do get too enthusiastic, too much doesn’t harm anything except your pocket book.

Let the WD40 sit there for a few minutes and then take one of these old toothbrushes I have talked about before and work the toothbrush on the liquid in small circular motions. This will loosen most of the old dried grease cohabiting in your engine. Work the toothbrush in the crevices and edges along the sides of the engine. Next, make sure you have plenty of paper towels, some disposable gloves (it is a dirty job) and a wastebasket. Take the paper towel and wipe the WD40 from the sheet metal. Go over the area with paper towel until you feel you have gotten most of the grease. Grease can be very stubborn and you will probably have to go over the same areas once or twice again to get all the old grease. Now take a citrus or Simple Green type cleaner (others work too, but I like these two products) and spray the area. Take another old toothbrush and use the same circular motion on the liquid. Use paper towel to wipe the area down, making sure you get the crevices and under the lips of the metal. This will pick up more "stuff" and remove the oily sheen from the metal. This is probably the most gratifying part of the job. The metal gleans and you can wipe you fingers along there and not have to wear gloves. If your metal paint is in bad shape, you may want to entertain the thought of painting it. This is what we did, however you have to take the engine out in order to do it properly.

You can use products other than WD40 and some work pretty good. I have had such good luck with it, I do not use anything else on old dried stubborn grease. By the way, WD40 works great on cleaning door hinges, latches pins etc…

The next area of attack will take longer and needs more patience. You steamed cleaned the engine and tried to get most of the yucky greasy stuff off the painted areas. Don’t be too concerned if you did not get it completely clean. The rough paint and crevices make this a bear to clean and maintain. The toothbrushes are especially handy for these rough areas. Spray the citrus or Simple Green cleaner on the paint, let it sit for a few minutes before putting your toothbrush into action. Use the same circular motions we have discussed before to work the dirt and grease from the paint. Be careful not to rub too hard, the paint may be old and can chip off. It is always a good idea to have some touch up paint in the garage, just in case. If you need touch up paint, go to a good automotive paint store and they’ll do a color match for you. As you work the toothbrush, spray more cleaner on the area. This will add new cleaner to attack recently uncovered dirt and grease. Paper towel does not work that great on this part of the engine except to mop up the excess cleaner. Do not try to rub the paper towel as it will shred and become a big mess. Use an old towel or Handy Wipe that you can dip in a bucket to rinse and use again. Make sure you get under the motor mounts and way in the back. The area under the oil filler is a perfect hotel for grease and dirt, kicked up from the fan. Another area that gets forgotten is under you deck lid. This gets an oily film on it from the engine as heat, water, dirt and other materials are mixed together and then rise up to rest under the deck lid. Once you have gone over the painted surfaces, go over them again. The second pass will clean up any old debris that was not picked up the first time and you will be surprised how much cleaner it will look. If any paint flaked off, this would be a good time to touch up the paint. The area is clean of dirt and grease so the paint will adhere to the surface much better and will not flake off the next time you clean it. You noticed I did not say to use WD40. I do not use the WD40 on these areas because the rough surface traps more WD40 than I am able to clean up. If you have nothing to loose and the surface is a mess, give the WD40 a shot. Just make sure you use the soapy cleaners to clean it all up. WD40 has petroleum base, which could keep new paint from adhering and attract more dirt in the long run

Next time we’ll talk about cleaning the fan and fan shroud area. The fan is an area that needs constant attention and I will cover some of the moving parts around the fan shroud as part of this article.

Bev Frohm is the owner of 'Bevees, a 1970 911T that has won many concours events in the Southern California regions of PCA. Her car was chosen by PCNA to represent the 1970 911T at Porsche's 50th Anniversary at Monterey. Bev is also the web site coordinator for the Orange Coast PCA Region.

Comments and Suggestions:
mikelat Comments: Some BMWs. e30 in particular have a yellow tint to the engine components and the interior of the engine compartment. This is old cosmoline that was put on as a protectant that was supposed to be removed by the dealer predelivery, but often wasn't, and now is almost impossible to remove, almost. The way to get rid of it is to use Oven Cleaner on the non aluminium parts anyhow. Just spray it on, wait for 15-20 minutes and use a scouring pad and it is off.
June 22, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional info and feedback. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Bimmer NUt Comments: I removed the transmission to replace the clutch and it was black with old oil and dirt I used simple green uncut and a small tooth brush with a tire brush rinsed washed rinsed and you would think the transmission was new!
June 24, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional information. We appreciate it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  

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