Cleaning Car Engine Use an Ultrasonic Cleaner

There’s something magnificent about a beautifully restored antique classic automobile. One look under the hood of a 1930 Model 734 Packard Rumble Seat Roadster or something like Amelia Earharts’ 1931 Reo and you have to think, “They sure don’t build them like that anymore!”

While many of us can’t afford the classic cars of the 1920s or 30s there are those who like to work on old engines, coaxing new life into a recalcitrant block of 4, 6 or 8 cylinders as part of our own auto restoration project. Since it has to run to have worth, an automobile engine is usually first to be tackled. An ultrasonic cleaner is the best friend a restoration fanatic can have for a project like this.

Ultrasonic cleaners are widely used to clean engines of most any size and shape. They replace the old-fashioned solvent degreasers used in neighborhood garages of yesteryear. Perhaps you recall seeing mechanics holding engine parts under a faucet and manually scrubbing away grit, grease and grime as the solvent is re-circulated through a filter-equipped holding tank.

Now mechanics place disassembled engine parts in an ultrasonic bath. Yes, we’re talking carburetors, fuel pumps, oil pumps, pistons, connecting rods, crankshafts, camshafts, bearings, all the various gears, chains and components that together comprise an internal combustion engine and for that matter, transmissions and differentials too. The magic of cavitation does the work faster, much more efficiently and safely than any amount of hand scrubbing in a volatile solvent.

Why an Ultrasonic Cleaner Cleans so Clean

Like the old solvent cleaning system an ultrasonic cleaning system consists of a tank that holds the ultrasonic cleaning solution. Biodegradable and safe, the solutions usually come in concentrated form and are diluted to manufacturers’ specifications. Along with the tank an ultrasonic cleaner consists of an ultrasonic generator and ultrasonic transducers that are firmly attached to the bottom or sides of the tank.

When the unit is turned on the ultrasonic transducers create billions of microscopic bubbles in the cleaning solution. Engine parts are placed in a mesh basket, on a rack, or otherwise suspended in the solution and the cleaning cycle begins as the bubbles implode with tremendous force upon contacting the parts. Dirt, grime, grease, carbon deposits – all contaminants are stripped off of the parts without damaging them.

So tiny are the cavitation bubbles that they penetrate cracks, crevices and blind holes – areas impossible to reach by manual scrubbing.

At the end of the cleaning cycle parts are removed, rinsed and dried. A rust inhibitor is applied and the parts are ready for reassembly.

Operating Tips

Because it contains air, fresh ultrasonic cleaning solution should be degassed by letting the cleaner operate in a degas mode for at least 10 minutes before immersing the parts into the solution. This is because air bubbles interfere with cavitation action and slow the cleaning process.

Oils and residues that rise to the surface should be skimmed off and safely recycled. Filters can trap other contaminants and should likewise be safely disposed of. Used biodegradable solutions can be disposed of in sanitary drains. The tank itself should be periodically cleaned according to manufacturers’ recommendations.


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