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CLICK AND CLACK TALK CARS: Cleaning dirty engine is a courtesy, and helpful too

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? Thanks. -- Roy RAY: Well, ...

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? Thanks. -- Roy

RAY: Well, you're very considerate, Roy. Most people don't give a second thought to forcing their mechanic to fight through sludge and dirt and garbage just to get his work done.

TOM: And that's just the passenger compartment.

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.

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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 -- or creating your neighborhood's first Superfund site. Find a place that has a grease trap, so they can dispose of the runoff properly.

TOM: And 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. It happens.

RAY: And 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 (the ones that made such a mess in the first place) are coming from. And he'll have to spend less time at the sink before eating his lunch. Everybody will be happy, Roy.

Wait! Don't buy another car without the mechanic's checklist that's included in Tom and Ray's pamphlet "How to Buy a Great Used Car: Secrets Only Your Mechanic Knows." It will help you get a good used car and avoid the clunkers. Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Used Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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Get more Click and Clack in their new book, "Ask Click and Clack: Answers from Car Talk." Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at www.cartalk.com .

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