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Tom Nichols, CEO and president of AutomotiveMachine & Supply, Inc., Fort Worth, TX, said availabilityis most often the key to why his shop cleans and reuses smallparts. Nichols said each day his shop cleans and reuses many smallparts, including valve locks, shims, springs, retainers, rockerarm assemblies, cam bore caps, nuts, bolts, etc. "Becausewe only rebuild import engines, many times we must reuse partsthat are just not available," he said.

However, not all small parts are cleaned for an engine rebuild.Nichols said there are some small engine parts that AutomotiveMachine & Supply will replace with new during an engine rebuild,such as exhaust valves, timing chains, tensioners, lock tabs andsome head bolts.

Bruce Chapman, president of Ontario Reman, a PER in Etobicoke,Ontario, Canada, said his facility, which remans about 10 enginesa day, also installs some new small parts while cleaning others."It all depends on the wear factor," Chapman said. "Butbecause every block from Ontario Reman is rebored and comes withnew oversized pistons, piston cleaning is eliminated and the pistonsare scrapped."

Lifters at Ontario Reman are either cleaned or installed new.Those that pass a preliminary inspection are contracted out forcleaning. "It also depends on the price, whether it’s moreeconomical to reuse or to buy new," said Chapman. "Youhave to factor in time and labor. For certain engine blocks, itmay be necessary to have the lifters cleaned due to a shortageof available replacements."

Jonathan Smith, president of Motor Replacement Co., Inc., Phoenix,AZ, said his company’s Roadrunner Engines are remanufactured withall new small parts, which result in a higher cost for the finishedproduct. "Most engine remanufacturers use reground valves,refaced rockers, used valve springs and used pushrods," Smithsaid. "We use only new parts in our heads which assures along and dependable service period. Of course this means our pricingin some cases is higher."

Ontario Reman’s Chapman said the type of engine also will dictatedifferences in cleaning times and requirements. "Whereasthe Chrysler 318 has very few small parts, Chrysler’s 3.0L overheadcam engines contain many more, so you’ll have more money and timewrapped up cleaning these engines," he said.

Chapman said cleaned small parts can provide a better method toinspect components for reuse. "Only after parts are thoroughlyand properly cleaned can an effective inspection be made,"he said. "Therefore, all contaminants such as grease, oil,scale, grime and rust must be removed."

Chapman said Ontario Reman has one teardown employee who handlesthe cleaning process. And because Ontario Reman only remanufacturesChrysler engines, cleaning processes can be simplified. Most often,all small parts (of the same material) are just combined and cleanedtogether. After cleaning, the parts are sorted and inspected.

"Sure you may clean some garbage and unusable parts, butit’s far better to thoroughly inspect parts after they’re cleanedthan to spend a lot of time trying to inspect them when they’redirty," said Chapman. "Even if you inspected the partsprior to cleaning, you would still have to inspect them againafter they were cleaned."

Nichols said Automotive Machine & Supply, which rebuilds about200 heads and 20 engines each month, views cleaning and inspectionas the number one step to performing quality work – not as a necessaryevil. Nichols said his shop also combines small parts of the samematerial when cleaning.

"Most of these small engine parts are put in a gallon paintbucket with 1/8" holes drilled all over it and left to soakin either a hot caustic vat (for steel components) or a hot detergentvat (for aluminum parts)," Nichols said. "Other itemssuch as hydraulic lash compensators are washed by hand using spraycarb cleaner. Other parts may be vatted, then wire buffed by handor bead blasted. We do very little hand washing or hand scrubbingin a parts washer because it is not cost or time efficient."

Nichols said cleaning times vary by the component. "Any handcleaning of small parts will take the longest amount of time,such as hydraulic lifters," he said. "But anything wecan just drop in the vat and let soak is least time consuming."

Ontario Reman’s Chapman said to save time at his facility, mostsmall parts are batch cleaned where a couple hundred similar piecesare loaded into a tank where they soak overnight. "Althoughthe parts don’t need to clean for that length of time, overnightcleaning is an efficient process for a PER like us," Chapmansaid.

R. Anthony Harper, manager of J & HDiesel Service, Inc., Greenville, MS, a diesel fuel injectionrebuilding facility, said no matter what component is being cleaned,an improper cleaning method can be more harmful than not cleaningat all. "It’s important to know your product," Harpersaid. "For example, when cleaning a diesel fuel injector,the nozzle tips are NEVER buffed," he said.

Harper said J & H, a 23,000-sq. ft. facilitywith 20 employees that specializes in diesel fuel injection andturbocharger systems for farm applications, industrial equipment,automotive, marine (including EMD), and heavy duty diesel engines,rebuilds hundreds of diesel fuel injectors each month. Harpersaid processes used to clean specialty components, such as fuelinjectors, are similar to small engine components. "We disassembleall the injectors, soak the parts in an aqueous parts cleaner,wash them out with mineral spirits and polish the nozzle tip withan industrial cleaner that cuts carbon and cleans to a shine,"he explained. "After that, the injector body is buffed."

Automotive Machine & Supply’s Nichols said parts cleaningequipment manufacturers have also improved machinery to make thecleaning of small parts easier. "Today’s ovens have betterfeatures and oil skimmers, filters and pumps have improved sludgecontainment," he explained. "Even spray nozzle designsand basket drives for jet washers have been greatly improved forcleaning efficiency."

Some shops are also experimenting with nontraditional cleaningmethods in an effort to improve the process. Marty Ehman, presidentof Global Sonics, Bountiful, UT, which manufactures The GreaseMonkey ultrasonic parts cleaner, sees ultrasonic cleaning as alogical step toward improved parts cleaning technology. "Ultrasoniccleaning is based on a phenomenon called cavitation," Ehmansaid. "This occurs when high-frequency, high-intensity soundwaves are introduced into a liquid producing countless micro-bubblesor cavities in the solution."

Ehman said these micro-bubbles rapidly form and then violentlycollapse or implode when they come in contact with the surfaceto be cleaned. "It is estimated that pressures as high as10,000 psi are produced in the immediate area of each implosion,"Ehman said. "These countless implosions produce a universallydispersed and highly effective scrubbing on all exposed and hiddensurfaces of the parts removing carbon, varnish, rust, grit andgrime from every surface, nook and cranny."

It’s easy to understand why cleaning equipment manufacturers arelooking at ways to improve their machines. Nichols, an ASE MasterMachinist, said cleaning was the most expensive, time consumingand critical step in engine rebuilding in 1964, when his shopopened for business, and it is still true today. "How partsare cleaned and inspected determines whether or not a machineshop will make a profit or go under," Nichols said. "Yetmany shops pay the least wages to and give little or no trainingto employees who do the dirty work of cleaning.

In our shop cleaning employees must complete a training courseon proper cleaning and inspection methods. Then, depending ontheir score, they receive a pay raise and are put in charge ofscheduling all work going through the shop…making sure eachmachinist receives the correct, clean parts for each item at theproper time."

But Nichols added that while cleaning small parts can save a shopmoney by not having to purchase new replacement components, cleaningcomes at a cost. "Many times we must clean items at no chargejust to ensure that it won’t compromise the other machine workwe do," he said. "For example, it may take 30 minutesto properly clean a timing cover on a chain-driven DOHC Nissan– a value of $35. But getting a customer to pay for that is almostimpossible. Most customers, even professional mechanics, don’tvalue cleaning very highly. But not cleaning the cover may jeopardizethe $2,000 long block we just rebuilt."

Doug Anderson, vice president of Grooms Engines, Parts, Machining,Inc., Nashville, TN, said rebuilders are constantly looking forways to reduce the costs associated with cleaning small parts."For years we had a solvent sink in the assembly area fordetailing small parts, but it became too expensive to operate,so we tried something different."

Anderson said because the unit was inside the shop, Grooms alsohad to retain a VOC permit because of the evaporation of "volatileorganic compounds" from the solvent. "In order to maintainthe permit, we had to measure the amount of solvent that cameand went so we could determine how much had evaporated,"he said.

Anderson said the shop also was required to keep the lid closedwhen the sink wasn’t in use, as well as keep a log of the hoursthat it was used. Once a year, a report had to be submitted anda permit fee paid to the city. A few years ago, Grooms purchaseda sink from Grainger, Chicago, IL, a nationwide supplier of industrialand shop tools and equipment, and connected it to a 35-gallondrum that has an electric immersion heater installed in it. Usinga water-based cleaner at about 12% solution heated to 130°F, the sink is located near one of the shop’s jet spray washers.The location makes it easy to pump the solution into the holdingtank when it needs to be changed. "By eliminating the solvent,we have been saving more than $8,000 a year, " Anderson said."And we were finally able to eliminate the need for a VOCpermit."

Rebuilders also need to keep in mind that when it comes to cleaningaluminum parts, the cleaning processes are often very differentthan those associated with cleaning steel/cast iron parts. KansasInstruments’ Dave Cox said although aluminum parts will have manyof the same carbon deposits and oil sludge on them as their castiron counterparts, special care must be used to clean them. "Smallaluminum parts cannot be baked at high temperatures nor cleanedwith harsh chemicals," Cox warned.

Automotive Machine & Supply’s Nichols said his shop has specializedin aluminum and magnesium engines and small parts for 34 years."We have experimented with many different processes tryingto find the best for quality, the environment and profits,"Nichols said. "We think we have found the best for our shop– but we are continually looking for better ways to clean parts.We’ve even tried blasting with baking soda and dry ice,"he added.

Another change in small parts cleaning is the types of solventsavailable. Because of environmental concerns, Nichols said "old-fashionedcarburetor cleaner" is no longer used in the cleaning process."The old soaking kind of carburetor cleaner is too harmfulfor the environment," said Nichols. "We use non-chlorinated,consumer-grade spray cans. This is cheaper than other productsand satisfies the hazardous waste and workplace laws.

Today, more and more parts cleaner manufacturers are creatingwater-based or bio-degradable cleaners and degreasers that meetOccupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and EnvironmentalProtection Agency (EPA) standards.

One such aqueous, non-volatile parts cleaner/degreaser manufactureris Mirachem Corp., Tempe, AZ, which makes a spray can parts cleaner.Founded by Jim Edwards, a former auto racer who sought a solutionto solvent sensitivity as he restored cars, Mirachem addressestoday’s environmental issues which weren’t major concerns forparts cleaning products in the past. "When I first formulatedthis non-caustic, non-corrosive product 20 years ago, no one caredabout the environment," Edwards explained. "I was justlooking for a way to stop the skin from falling off my own hands.

"Now no company that operates in a global business climatecan afford to ignore air quality issues. Workers demand safe solvents,so it helps that these products also work as well as the previoushazardous solvents."

Andy Hernandez, who manufacturers the Green World environmentalparts washer, said today’s biodegradable soaps, along with heatedwater, can clean just as effectively as caustic solutions. Hernandezsaid although separate soaps are available to clean only aluminumor only steel/cast iron, many shops blend the soaps to save cleaningtime. "Biodegradable soaps are blended to clean aluminum,cast iron, steel, plastic and rubber without damage," hesaid, adding the soaps also contain an anti-rust additive to protectparts from corrosion.

Following other cleaning processes, sometimes parts are givena coating to protect them against rust while in storage. KansasInstruments’ Cox said parts that will be in long term storagewill look better with some type of coating protection, adding,however, that many rust inhibitors used in rinse cycles of today’scleaning equipment do eliminate the need for a protectant.

Nichols said after most small parts are aqueously cleaned at AutomotiveMachine & Supply, they are dried in a bake oven followed bya shot of WD40®.

Just as some small engine components are treated following thecleaning process, J & H Diesel Service’s Harper said his shopwill cold blue the nozzles of some fuel injector models to prohibitrusting while in the engine. "Some injectors are also paintedbefore they are returned to the customer," he said.

The issues of sorting and storing small parts can also be an obstaclefor remanufacturers. Dana Pickup, president of Cuba SpecialtyMfg., Inc., Fillmore, NY, a manufacturer of automotive parts baskets,said there is growing interest by rebuilders for an inexpensiveand organized method to sort, clean and store their small partsfor cleaning. "There’s a lot of rebuilders out there usingvarious sized paint cans or coffee cans that are drilled withholes in order to clean and store parts," Pickup said. "Butthere really isn’t much in the way of an inexpensive, convenientparts basket system available to the industry."

To accommodate that need, Pickup said Cuba has added two sizesof Small Parts Keepers to its popular Gee-Z line of parts baskets."These Parts Keepers are specially designed to hold and organizethe small parts associated with carburetor, engine, electricaland transmission rebuilding," Pickup said.

Pickup explained his Gee-Z line of parts baskets were introducedat the Engine Rebuilders Association (AERA) show in April of 1997.When talking to rebuilders, Pickup learned many shops were searchingfor a smaller version of his economical baskets that could holdsmall engine parts. Pickup then designed a smaller-mesh basket,calling it a Small Parts Keeper. "We took prototypes to theAutomotive Parts Rebuilders Association Show (APRA) in Octoberor ’97 and were met with tremendous response," Pickup explained."We sold thousands of the baskets at the show, mostly toelectrical rebuilders. When we returned from the show, we wentright into production."

Cuba said the Parts Keepers are made of size 8 mesh (1/8"-holes)galvanized wire and can be used in aqueous spray washers, spraybooths or tanks to soak small parts. Pickup recommends using thebaskets in non-caustic solutions. "We are experimenting witha stainless steel wire design because the galvanized coating willwear off in a caustic solution," explained Pickup. "Thestainless steel wire will be more expensive, but we’re continuallylooking at ways to accommodate the rebuilder’s cleaning needs."

The following are some component parts cleaning tips providedby rebuilders and parts equipment manufacturers interviewed forthis article. Other forms of cleaning may be just as viable dependingon the quantity, materials and equipment employed.


  • Pistons – Disassemble and remove rings. The piston may be initially cleaned in an aluminum-safe spray washer or soak tank. The second process will be to glass bead the piston top only.

Piston cleaning is usually not done as laborcosts are usually too high and potential part failure rates toohigh. Blocks usually have wear areas and require reboring anyway.Nichols said pistons are usually replaced new in his engines,although those that are reused are soaked in a hot detergent vat,rinsed with water and the tops carefully and gently wire wheelbuffed.


  • Intake valves – soaked in hot caustic and wire wheel buffed; stems are polished with a 600-grit belt and inspected for burrs, etc. Valves also can be cleaned in a media tumbler with a solvent where stem protectors are used on the valve ends. Valves can then be glass beaded for cosmetics.

  • Non-hydraulic lifters – hot caustic soak.
  • Hydraulic lifters are hand washed with spray carb cleaner.
  • Steel rocker springs – soaked in a hot caustic vat.
  • Crankshafts can be soaked in hot caustic vat, later they can be wire wheel buffed or bead blasted. Heat cleaning is another option.
  • Camshafts can be cleaned the same as cranks with the exception of the bead blasting process.
  • Rockers – may be cleaned in steel media tumbler for 10-15 minutes or may be cleaned in a spray washer or soak tank. (Many shops recommend that aluminum rockers should be soaked in a non-caustic hot detergent vat).
  • Valve springs – cleaned in a media tumbler with solvent or spray wash or soak tank.

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