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Video | Here's Why Detailing My Ferrari Engine Was Terrifying

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author photo by Tyler Hoover April 2018

The condition of the engine bay in my newly purchased 1995 Ferrari F355 was pretty embarrassing -- but until now, I was too scared to do anything about it. Dust, grime and slime from its recent catastrophic heat exchanger hose failure had my glorious 3.5-liter V8 looking horribly neglected -- but detailing this engine bay didn't come without serious risk.

When I first purchased my 1992 Acura NSX, I didn't hesitate about dropping it off at my local detailer -- and his standard practice is to power wash the engine bay. For my Acura, this resulted in a few shorted ignition coils -- but since it was a cheap Honda part, this wasn't the end of the world. With my F355, parts prices are insane, and there are many more of these fragile electronics that could easily short out if they're inundated with water. For example: A new set of ignition coils would cost me $1,500, the rear shock actuators for the active suspension cost $1,500 each and there's two $2,865 electronic control stations for each engine bank. This is just barely scratching the surface of all the Italian electronic wonders -- so cleaning this engine needed to be done very carefully.

I decided that if anybody was going to create a multi-thousand dollar repair bill from an engine cleaning, it was going to be me -- so I set out to clean the engine myself. Before getting started, I was sure to disconnect the battery, as this would prevent any electrical problems while I was cleaning. I decided to use a plant watering can to thoroughly rinse the areas of the engine bay I wasn't concerned about, and I used spray bottles for the more delicate areas. From my experience, dish soap works best to clean grease out of an engine bay -- but since I didn't feel comfortable enough to pour it over everything, agitating all of the surfaces with soapy water was a very time-consuming process. I was surprised to discover how much water pooled on top of the transaxle, as well as on the exhaust headers. Given how fragile (and expensive) those headers are, you certainly want to wait until the engine is dead cold before getting any water on them.

With the engine bay rinsed of all the soap (I used another spray bottle of straight water to rinse and wipe the electronics) I gave the engine enough time to dry before the real detailing began. For that showroom-level finish, I applied a plastic restorer product to the dark plastic and rubber surfaces, and I methodically attacked the numerous stubborn dirty places that remained -- even using an old toothbrush for those hard-to-reach spaces.

The whole process took two hours, but the final product looks fantastic. Thankfully, after waiting an hour for everything to dry, none of the electronics seemed to mind their trip to the spa. It's great to finally have an engine that looks as good as it sounds -- and when it does eventually break (it is a 355, after all) at least I'll have clean area to work with.

Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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Video | Here's Why Detailing My Ferrari Engine Was Terrifying - Autotrader