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Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 713
Cleaning/Preserving Engine Internals?

So I’ve got the camshaft assembly and cylinder head from my ‘87NA down in my basement…where I will assess their condition and do what might be necessary to get them into top shape prior to an early Spring reassembly. The rest of the block (crank, pistons still installed) is still up in my garage - but my aim is to get it down to the basement also…either whole or in pieces.

The car had died on me so recently that I did not have time to properly diagnose (fuel pump I think), get parts, fix it and drive it before we got slammed with cold weather (northeast Vermont)…I had wanted to at least take compression and run some fresh oil for a bit so engine internals would be relatively clean prior to disassembly - with the result that these internals are now coated with oil (Mobil 1 10/40) which had run for about 4K miles over six months. This coating looks a bit like thin molasses…and I’m wanting to clean things up before they get “sticky,” and am particularly concerned about the valve lifters.

When I’d dropped the engine from an 85.5 a few years back…I’d stored the lifters in fresh engine oil until reassembly - but I’m thinking that in this case storing the current lifters in fresh oil might not be enough to clean them, and that maybe I should douse them (and other engine components?) with something like WD-40 prior to storage in fresh oil.

Then again…should I go right to something like brake cleaner or some other solvent? My thought is that I’d ultimately want to apply a very light coating of fresh engine oil over these components (keeping in mind that some of these parts will sit for several months before I can get to them) - but am just concerned that simply applying fresh oil to old oil coated parts would not go far enough to properly clean them.

I realize I’m probably seriously over-thinking this - but I just want to do right by my engine…so any advice would be most appreciated. Thanks!

Old 11-11-2019, 04:02 AM
  Pelican Parts Catalog | Tech Articles | Promos & Specials    Reply With Quote #1 (permalink)
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Join Date: Aug 2017
Posts: 522
I'm having trouble discerning what you are asking/wanting to accomplish/why the engine is out/what "died" means, etc. So I'm going to make a few assumptions and hopefully be of use in that process.

I'm assuming your engine did NOT suffer any kind of catastrophic failure. I"m assuming it quit running and you are taking the opportunity over the winter to tear it down, clean and refresh seals and put it back together and then in the spring figure out why it quit running. You seem concerned about 6 month old Mobil 1 oil being dirty and bad for the engine. You are concerned about properly "storing" the engine. And you are thinking of using a very strong cleaner such as brake cleaner.

In an overall sense, yes you are completely overthinking this. Your 6 month old Mobil 1 is an excellent preservative to leave in place while you do whatever your plan is. Your lifters are not in any danger and apparently working just fine now or you'd have said something. So check them for wear and don't try opening them up and using a harsh cleaner on them. Whatever you do, mark anything you take off (especially lifters/valve lash adjusters) in a permanent fashion so you can put the engine back together EXACTLY as it was. That's Job #1, #2 and #3. Bag and label things ruthlessly and let your anal retentiveness run amok on this task.

Your "sticky" concern is similarly unfounded. Motor oil has to be crazy old to actually become sticky like molassas and to evolve into something you don't want in your engine. That would take a decade or more to happen and my impression here is this process will take perhaps 6 months or a year. For that length of time, there is absolutely zero work needed to place the parts into a "storage" type coated condition. The natural coating they have from operation will be fine - especially as you are storing them indoors vs out in the rain under a tarp, etc.

There is no need to "clean" the inside of your engine, as normal oil deposits are fine and often loosening that crap up can cause it to go places you don't want it to be. An exception might be the oil pan, where fines settle and it's a great time to clean that out completely if you are disassembling the engine.

So. Be conservative on cleaning the engine. Lots of folks have caused engine issues thinking they are doing the right thing cleaning the inside of a block with brake cleaner and a toothbrush. Don't sweat it. Either fully strip the block and send it off for a professional cleaning if that's your thing, or leave it alone. Wrap and protect it from grit getting into it and then deal with the head so it can be replaced on the engine block in the spring. Once it's all assembled again would be the time to clean the outside conservatively with holes blocked by quality tape, etc. Don't be scrubbing on a block's outside if it's partly assembled. Your brushing and other activities are likely spewing super hard sand and grit INTO the block at times and that's the equivalent of thousands of miles of brutal wear when the whole point of the exercise might have been well intentioned.

84 944, 87 Vanagon, 88 Mitsubishi Van Wagon, 88 Supra Targa, 1990 Audi 90 20V Quattro sedan, 1992 Lexus LS400, 1993 LandCruiser, 1997 LandCruiser, 2017 Subaru Outback.
Old 11-11-2019, 03:04 PM
  Pelican Parts Catalog | Tech Articles | Promos & Specials    Reply With Quote #2 (permalink)
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 713
Doug...thanks for the reality check!

The engine has 170K miles...but has been very well cared for and, from what I can tell from service records and speaking with the P.O., quite "sensibly" driven.

I was actually thinking of doing a complete engine rebuild for no other reason than to do this at least once in my lifetime (I'm 65)...but I'm starting to think otherwise. I do know that the engine needs a general reseal (I know the signs and I've done this before), and I may just take a look at the rod bearings while I'm at it.

There are other areas of this car which I want to attend to replacing the old rubber fuel lines, hoses under the intake, rebuilding calipers, cleaning/repacking bearings and CV joints, etc., and I feel that attending to these other items might be a wiser use of my time and resources than doing an unnecessary engine rebuild.

At any rate...thanks again!
Old 11-11-2019, 04:38 PM
  Pelican Parts Catalog | Tech Articles | Promos & Specials    Reply With Quote #3 (permalink)
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 713
Then again...completely stripping the blasting externals...powder coating cam housing...replacing all bearings, rings, and, so tempting!

Old 11-12-2019, 04:28 AM
  Pelican Parts Catalog | Tech Articles | Promos & Specials    Reply With Quote #4 (permalink)

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