How do dirt, dust and debris affect trucks?

By: Christopher Lampton
Engine Image Gallery A ranch truck's engine can get really dirty -- really fast. See more pictures of engines.
© Law Cain

Trucks are ideal vehicles if you're living on a ranch or even just working on a ranch. You can use them to haul tools and machinery around a large property and, if you don't drive them on public roadways, you don't necessarily have to keep them in shape to pass inspection.

Of course, you don't want them to fall apart either. Ranch life can be tough on a vehicle, mainly because they're often used on dirt and gravel roads or even where there's road at all. It doesn't take long before dirt, dust and debris are covering the vehicle on the outside -- and not much longer before they get on the inside, too. It's easy to hose down the exterior of the truck and a vacuum cleaner plus a little elbow grease can take care of the cab -- but what about the engine?


If you're working on a ranch and use a truck, you know that the engine gets dirty fast. This can degrade performance. For instance, a dirty air filter changes the air-fuel mixture, and this can reduce mileage by as much as 10 percent. Worse, fine debris that finds its way into the engine's moving parts can shorten the lifespan of those parts. And there's plenty of dirt, dust and debris on ranches.

If you want to keep your ranch truck around for a long time, you need to clean the engine periodically, more often than you would if you only drive your truck on paved roads and highways. A ranch is a special environment and it can be rough on your truck.

Since you'll likely be cleaning your ranch truck's engine regularly, you'll probably want to do it yourself rather than incur the extra expense of having it done professionally. In this article we'll give you some tips on cleaning truck engines so they can better handle the ranch-life environment.


Keeping Your Truck Engine Clean

With a little practice, you'll find that it's not too difficult to keep your truck's engine clean.
© Liivaar

If you keep a truck on a ranch, chances are you know your way around its engine compartment and feel comfortable under the hood. Cleaning the engine, however, might be something you haven't tackled before, especially if you've only recently started using your truck on the ranch. Life on a ranch with a truck brings with it some unusual cleaning needs, so let's take a look at what cleaning a ranch truck's engine can entail.

The first question that might come up is whether you should clean the engine while it's hot or cold. There are some advantages to cleaning it while it's hot -- for instance, caked-on dirt, mud and grease will loosen up when warm and be easier to remove -- but there are also dangers to working with a hot engine. You can burn your hands and other body parts. And if you're using cold water, you don't want it to get it on certain hot surfaces, like the exhaust manifold, because they can crack when cold water hits them. A reasonable compromise is to turn the engine on briefly, just long enough for the engine to warm up but not long enough to get hot. Or you can drive around for a while, then leave the engine off for about 20 minutes and do the cleaning then. Caked-on dirt and grime should still be loose, but you're not as likely to burn yourself.


What tools should you work with? For the most part, you can use tools you have around the house. For instance, a paint brush is good for cleaning debris out of small spaces. There are also detailing brushes designed for truck and automobile exteriors that can be used for cleaning the engine, too. A small detailing brush can be useful for reaching dirt in tight nooks and crannies.

A hose should be enough for more serious cleaning, though you should observe the cautions we just mentioned about cleaning hot surfaces with cold water. Even when surfaces aren't hot, you want to be mindful of where the water goes. For instance, you don't want water to get into the carburetor. Try placing a plastic bag over the air intake and secure it with a rubber band until you're finished cleaning.


Cleaning the Engine with Air

A safer alternative is to use air to clean the engine instead of water. For instance, a leaf blower is handy for removing light debris from inside the engine bay. Just turn it on and aim it at the accumulated dust. Caked-on dirt might require more drastic measures, however, so compressed air might be what you need. If you have an air compressor, you can blow most of the dirt and debris out of the engine without worrying about the problems associated with water. You can even rent an air compressor if you don't happen to have one on hand. Once you have a source of compressed air, several companies sell engine-cleaning guns that you can use to direct the air into hard-to-reach places. Some even come with a special suction hoses that will pump solvent or a citrus-based cleanser, if more intense cleaning is required. The same warnings apply here as with water, however.

Finally, don't forget the air filter. Sure, you're fine at changing the filter as often as the truck manufacturer suggests, maybe even a bit more often. But if you drive down dirt and gravel roads every day in your truck, more frequent changes will be necessary. The increased mileage should cover the cost of the filters.


All things considered, cleaning dirt, dust and debris off of your truck's engine isn't a terribly difficult chore, and if you're working on a ranch or just enjoying ranch life in your leisure time, you might want to do it more often.

For more information about ranch trucks, ranch life and other related topics, mosey on over to the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Carlson, Matt. "Engine Cleaning: Getting rid of motor muck" (Dec. 3, 2009)
  • ClickonCowboy. "The Ranch Truck." June 18, 2007. (Dec. 3, 2009)
  • "Proper Engine Cleaning." (Dec. 3, 2009)
  • Quinn, Sheryl. "Tips to keep your truck engine clean." 2009. (Dec. 3, 2009)