Soot and other deposits are the natural byproducts of your engine burning fuel. Carbon deposits occur in direct injection engines, and they can cause problems in the intake valves and other areas in the engine if they’re not addressed.
Cleaning carbon buildup from your engine may cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500+. The cleaning method, vehicle make and model, and the amount of buildup will determine how much the exact price will be. Most people should expect to pay between $600-$1,200 for the service.
- How Much Does it Cost to Clean Carbon Buildup from an Engine?
- Cleaning Methods for Carbon Buildup
- How Carbon Builds Up in Your Engine
- Signs and Symptoms of Carbon Buildup
- Preventing Carbon Buildup
- The Bottom Line
How Much Does it Cost to Clean Carbon Buildup from an Engine?
The price to clean carbon buildup from an engine depends on several factors. The vehicle’s make and model, how much buildup needs to be removed, and the cleaning method will all have an impact on the price. You should plan to spend $600-$1,200 for this service.
Cost to Clean Carbon Buildup
The make and model of your vehicle, along with the engine size, will have an impact on the price range for cleaning carbon buildup.
For some vehicles, it’s a common service to remove carbon deposits and for others it will require a more extensive (and costly) job.
Example Carbon Cleaning Costs by Vehicle
|Vehicle||Estimated Cost Range|
|Volkswagen Golf GTI||$750-$850|
Of course, where you have the work performed will also affect the cost. Dealerships nearly always charge higher fees than smaller shops.
For example, an Audi owner reported being quoted over $1,100 for carbon cleaning at the dealership, where another shop may be able to do this work for around $800.
Cleaning Methods for Carbon Buildup
There are a variety of ways to clean your engine, internally and externally. However, most shops that provide carbon buildup cleaning use either walnut blasting or good old fashioned soaking and scraping.
On older engines, carbon buildup is usually detected easily as performance issues are easily noticeable. Cleaning methods on these engines typically include pouring water through the carburetor, using various solvents, and other traditional methods.
However, these processes were not as effective for the soft and gummy carbon deposits in newer engines, which have led to the development of new techniques specific for modern gasoline direct injection engines.
Walnut Shell Blasting
Walnut blasting involves removing the engine’s intake manifold and valves and using finely ground walnut shells as an abrasive to remove carbon buildup. The crushed shells are blasted onto the engine surfaces using pressurized air.
Unlike an abrasive like sand, the walnut shells will burn away during the engine’s operation without causing damage to internal components.
Because this method involves disassembling parts of the engine, it can be a costly solution for carbon buildup. Walnut blasting typically costs between $250-$1,000, depending on the engine’s size and the vehicle make and model.
Much of the cost is determined by the amount of time that the technician spends removing the intake manifold and valves and then reassembling the engine.
Some vehicles, like certain BMW models, include walnut blasting as part of the maintenance schedule because of the issues associated with carbon buildup. It’s recommended that this service is performed every 30-40k miles.
If more extensive cleaning is needed, some shops perform services such as removing the cylinder heads to clean carbon deposits manually, using scouring pads and chemical solvents. In other cases, the technician may use a wire brush to remove buildup from the manifold and heads.
Like walnut blasting, much of the cost for manual cleaning depends on how much time it takes to disassemble and access the areas that need to be cleaned, perform the work, then put the engine back together.
This can vary based on the vehicle make and model and how extensive the buildup is. Manual cleaning typically costs anywhere from $350 to $800.
Of course, the final price may be much lower or higher depending on your specific vehicle type, the engine, and how much buildup needs to be removed. Where you’re located may also impact the cost.
For example, one Volkswagen CC owner reported being quoted $1,500 for manual cleaning at the dealership.
Another owner of the same vehicle was quoted $1,200 for carbon buildup removal. In both cases, the bulk of the cost was due to labor, as the job can be very time consuming.
Chemical Cleaning Solutions
There are many chemical solutions on the market that are designed to help clean inside the engine and remove or prevent carbon buildup.
Fuel additives and other chemicals sometimes cause the fuel to burn at a higher temperature to remove deposits or dissolve them away.
Other recommendations include using high-quality motor oils that include additives to reduce carbon buildup. Because part of the problem (particularly in direct injection engines) is due to oil seeping into areas where seals and gaskets start failing, these specialized oils can withstand the processes that cause breakdown and buildup when they start to seep into the manifold.
There are many different types and brands of chemical additives available which claim to clean carbon buildup from your engine. These chemicals range in price from $20-$275.
Another related method is hydrogen carbon cleaning. This method involves connecting a hydrogen power decarbonizing machine through the intake pipe.
This method is typically less expensive than others, and owners have reported mixed results.
How Carbon Builds Up in Your Engine
Recent changes in emissions standards and the desire to create cleaner-burning engines have created new challenges when it comes to carbon buildup.
These gasoline direct injection engines require different cleaning and maintenance strategies compared to the engines of years ago.
Modern engines typically run hotter, with leaner fuel mixture and thermostat settings. These higher temperatures lead to increased burn off and fumes from the various internal engine components.
Mixtures of unburned fuel, along with other vapors, are vented back into the intake manifold. When heated, these byproducts become residue and buildup inside the intake valves and manifold.
In addition, oil can sometimes seep past various seals and gaskets. In older engines, these small amounts of oil would be scoured away by incoming atomized fuel that would keep intake valves clear of oil and carbon deposits.
Signs and Symptoms of Carbon Buildup
There are some signs that may indicate that you have an issue with buildup in your engine. If you notice any of these, it’s a good idea to get your car checked out.
If you have a newer car, an auto shop may be able to diagnose the problem as carbon buildup using a computer diagnostic. Having your vehicle diagnosed typically costs between $100 and $210.
Signs of Carbon Buildup:
- Power loss (especially at higher speeds)
- Cold stalling
- Decreased fuel efficiency
- Poor acceleration
- Misfiring engine
- Check engine light
- Engine runs roughly
- Engine shudders at low/idle speed
You shouldn’t ignore these issues or put off having your engine cleaned if it’s being impacted by carbon deposits. Excessive carbon buildup inside the engine can cause more serious issues if it’s not resolved.
Problems like engine damage, overheating, and poor fuel economy can end up costing you more money in the long run.
Preventing Carbon Buildup
The best way to keep your engine clear of excess carbon buildup is through preventative maintenance. Not only is scheduled maintenance important for the overall health of your vehicle, but it helps to ensure that pesky carbon buildup doesn’t prematurely climb to levels where it will impact your vehicle’s performance.
Some of the most important preventative maintenance for controlling carbon buildup includes:
- Oil Changes – Timely oil changes keep camshaft actuators working properly and ensures that intake valves don’t get excessively coated in carbon deposits.
- Spark Plugs – Replacing spark plugs according to the maintenance schedule will help make sure that unburnt fuel stays out of the combustion chamber.
- Fuel Injector Cleaning – Keeping the fuel injectors clean will help ensure that they spray correctly, preventing the creation of “hot spots.”
In addition to preventative maintenance, you can also try to save some money on professional carbon cleaning by getting multiple estimates from various shops.
Since most of the cost is due to labor, you may be able to get a better deal by shopping around.It doesn’t hurt to ask if the shop offers any kind of discount (military, senior, student, first responder, AAA member, etc.).
Getting multiple estimates will also ensure that you’re getting a fair quote.
The Bottom Line
Most engines will accumulate some amount of buildup over time. Modern engines using direct injection technology are more likely to develop carbon buildup that will require professional cleaning to remove the deposits and improve engine performance.
The cost to have carbon buildup cleaned from your engine mainly depends on the vehicle’s make and model, engine size, and how much buildup needs to be removed.
The bulk of the cost is for labor, so the amount of time that the job takes will be the biggest factor. However, most people will pay between $250 and $1,000 for carbon buildup cleaning.
You can help prevent costly repairs by keeping up with scheduled maintenance and using high-quality products in your vehicle.
Ultimately, you should weigh the potential costs and benefits of removing carbon buildup from your engine to determine the best solution for your specific situation.