Even on modern reliable cars, frost still forms on the windshield, door locks ice up, batteries run down and seats take longer to warm up. While drivers can't do anything about the weather, you can make small changes in your morning routines to make winter car trips less numbing.
Many vehicle owners often spend hours washing and waxing their car's exteriors and cleaning the interiors. However, they rarely look under the hood except to top up the oil or windshield washer fluid.
Today's fuel-injected, electronically controlled engines are much cleaner than the carburetor fueled engine of old.
A hopelessly dirty engine compartment may require a professional cleaning, though most can be cleaned in your own driveway with a garden hose and some ask-specific cleaning products. Cleaning products used should be environmentally friendly. Or, you can do this at a self-serve car wash designed to handle the greasy run off.
Cleaning should be done with a warmed up (but not hot) engine, that it is warm enough to soften grease & dirt, so it will wash off easier.
Before starting, you should check around the battery and cables. Any corrosion should be rinsed with a traditional baking soda solution, to neutralize any spilled and highly corrosive battery acid, and prevent a further spread during the wash process. Make sure no baking soda gets into the battery itself where it can degrade the electrolyte. Next use appropriately sized plastic bags to cover anything that could damaged by large amounts of water, such as air intakes, air filters, oil dipstick, breather caps, distributors, coils and electronic black boxes. Seal the bags using rubber bands, rather than masking tape, which can loosen under water pressure, or plastic tape, which can be hard to remove when wet. Aluminum foil can also be used and shaped around the part, but must be firmly attached so it won't fly off when hit with the pressure hose.
Spray the warm engine and compartment with the degreaser following product directions. Start at the bottom and work upwards. Since degreasers will remove wax, cover the body to prevent removal by the over-spray, or plan to wax the car again, after the engine cleaning. Let the degreaser sit for a few minutes following the instructions, and then use a small paintbrush to loosen dirt and a scraper for really stubborn dirt, being careful not to damage any components or wiring.
Once you think all dirt has been removed, spray the engine thoroughly with the garden hose. A high pressure spray works best. If any areas need more cleaning, repeat the entire process. Once you are satisfied, the engine and compartment is clean, remove all the temporary protective covers. Dry any water puddles with clean paper towels.
Start the engine and let it warm up to completely dry up all the moisture. Inspect the compartment for any areas that are rusted or there is bare metal that can soon turn to rust. Make the necessary repairs.
Here are a few things to make the engine compartment shine. Use a rubber protectant on all the rubber parts like hoses, gaskets, wire covering, shields, etc. Do not use protectant on belts because it can make them slippery. Apply a coat of car wax to all painted surfaces. On aluminum parts, use a metal polish designed for aluminum. Apply a light coating of WD-40 oil or equivalent to the hood hinges, cables, hood shocks and other externally exposed moving parts.
Once everything is clean, check for oil, fuel, coolant, ATF or other fluid leaks. Drive the vehicle a few miles, then check for leakage. Also check all belts, hoses, wires, battery cables and so forth for damage, and replace as necessary.
One you have invested several hours to clean the engine compartment, follow-up cleanings can be done quickly and with just some paper towels, some degreaser and a few minutes.