If you’ve worked around the car (namely the engine) then at least once you’ve dropped something in the engine bay.
That helpless feeling of seeing a nut, bolt, a wrench, extension, a bit…whatever disappear into the dark pit of the engine bay is one of the worst, to be honest.
Usually, after this happens, a mild sense of despair or nervousness kicks in and you start to think that you’re in trouble.
Well, that may not be necessarily the case. This article will first show you how to approach the problem and then some useful tools for retrieving whatever you’ve lost.
At the end of the article, you have a video tutorial which you can also watch on our YouTube channel.
1. START SEARCHING IMMEDIATELY
This tip may seem somewhat awkward, but from personal experience, it works very well.
The moment you’ve dropped something in the engine bay, try to trace the path where it might have gone.
Believe it or not, many times the lost item didn’t go that far and may just be under a panel or holder.
For instance, if you’ve dropped something, immediately replay where you’re hand was, where did you leave the item, and so on.
It just might happen that there is a logical pattern and, with a bit of luck, you’ll find the lost item.
2. PROVIDE SOME BRIGHT AND QUALITY LIGHTING
If you’ve concluded that the item has gone deep into the engine bay, immediately get some sort of lighting.
Without it, your chances of finding are seriously reduced if not totally diminished.
For a first-aid measure, a cellphone light will help but that’s pretty risky because you can easily damage or drop the phone. Small, key chain-like lights can also help.
But if you want the real deal then best use a full-sized flashlight and in this case the bigger the better. To be more precise, use one with a lot of bright light.
A good solution is the LED flashlight, even better are cordless work lamps with a magnetic base. Lights that are mounted on the head and neck are also a good option.
With these, you’ll get very good illumination, be able to comfortably work around the engine bay, and have a free hand if needed.
3. LOOK UNDER THE CAR
When you failed to find the lost item, looking under the car is the next checkpoint.
If you’ve dropped something in the engine bay, a fairly common outcome is that it will fall right to the ground.
This is especially possible if there’s more space in the engine bay and there’s no protective undertray.
Best take the flashlight or work light and comb through every part of the ground under the engine bay.
If you’re sure that it fell on the ground, push the car away to reach it easier. Just make sure it’s there so you don’t lose track.
Regarding this topic, it’s useful to mention that it’s always good to work around the car on a firm surface like concrete or tiles.
Grass, dirt, or mud should be avoided as much as possible.
4. ROCK AND SWAY THE CAR
Before you go deep into searching, try this one although it’s a long shot.
Go to the side of the car and carefully grab the fender at the top and rock the car up and down. If you can, sway it a bit sideways also.
It may help as the lost item may fall either on the ground or on the plastic undertray.
Also, it may help in easier finding. When it falls it may give away a clunking, clanging, clicking, or other sounds that will let you locate it easier.
5. USE A TELESCOPIC INSPECTION MIRROR
Many times, the lost item will fall in a place where you can’t see it.
This is especially a problem with crammed engine bays where you often have to dismantle various parts to reach inside.
To avoid this, a simple mirror can help very much. You can use the small household mirror but the best solution is the telescopic inspection mirror.
It has a convenient antenna-like extension and a small mirror at the end. Very good for reaching all parts of the engine bay.
But if you don’t have this at hand you can improvise with a stick and mirror or just use the mirror by itself.
6. USE A GRABBER TOOL
A grabber tool is a lifesaver if you’ve accidentally dropped something in the engine bay.
There are various kinds of grabber tools, for this problem perhaps the best is the flexible pick-up claw.
It’s very convenient for getting into all the tight spots and with some patience, you can get almost anything out.
When buying one, pay attention to the length of the grabber tool. If you buy one that’s too short it may prove to be useless in some situations.
The length should be such that when the end of the claw reaches the bottom of the engine bay (the undertray) the handle is still above the engine.
Also, make sure that the claws have a strong enough grip so the lost item doesn’t easily fall back again.
7. USE A MAGNETIC PICKUP TOOL
This tool may sound complicated but in fact, it’s a retractable antenna with a magnet on top.
Just like the pickup claw, it’s simple yet very effective. Definitely, something you want to have in your toolbox.
Using it is simple, just extend the tool, put it near the lost item and once it’s attached, slowly pull it out.
Make sure, when buying a magnetic pick-up tool, to buy one that extends long enough and, more importantly with a strong enough magnet.
It may mean the difference between being able to pull something out or dropping and losing it again.
8. USE ADHESIVE TAPE OR A METAL HOOK
But what if you’ve dropped something in the engine bay and it’s non-magnetic?
Well, then some sort of adhesive tape may save the day. In this case, the stickier the tape, the better.
From personal experience, the best adhesive tape for this purpose is the double-sided one. The one that’s sticky on both sides.
The best way to apply this method is to stick the tape on the mentioned grabber tool, magnetic pick-up tool, a stick, extension, or else.
The point is to get the sticky part of the tape on the outside so it can bind with the lost item.
Regarding the metal hook, it’s also very useful for non-magnetic parts and you can make the tool by yourself.
The most common way is to use a piece of wire and bend it into a hook shape.
Best use some thicker and tougher wire that won’t bend open when you hook the lost item.
But there’s even a better solution if you’ve dropped something in the engine bay.
Take a used wiper blade and take out the metal inserts that hold the rubber. These are long, stiff, and narrow making them the perfect material for a hook.
It will be a bit tough to bend but it works much better than a wire. You can even bend a handle at the other end.
9. USE AN ENDOSCOPE INSPECTION CAMERA
In today’s high-tech world this is one of the most useful tools.
Endoscope inspection cameras basically come in two options: as a separate tool and as a connection to the smartphone.
Whatever you buy, you won’t make a mistake. Perhaps buying it as a separate tool provides more longevity and is better for handling around the car.
You also avoid the possibility of dropping and damaging the phone while working.
Whatever the case, all you have to do is activate the camera and go around the places where you suspect the item may have fallen. The cord attached to the camera usually gives you the possibility to maneuver through tight spots.
Perhaps the best place where the endoscope camera simply shines and is a lifesaver is when a nut or screw falls into the air intake for instance.
Instead of having to take everything apart, you push the camera inside, assess the situation, and with some luck fish the item out.
Also, it’s very good to have around the household, like for checking clogged pipes.
10. TAKE OFF THE UNDERTRAY OR THE ENGINE COVER
Most cars have a plastic protective undertray under the engine.
Besides protecting the engine from the outer factors, it’s also a huge collector of lost parts. There’s a good chance that when you drop something in the engine bay, it will end up there.
Just make sure if possible that the lost item is actually there before taking the undertray off.
This is because, while on some cars it’s pretty simple to take off, on others it can be a serious task.
Also, you’ll probably have to go under the car which means you’ll have to lift it to some extent to work comfortably.
Nevertheless, do it if you have to. Sometimes it’s better to invest more time in dismantling than in pointless fishing out and searching.
One more option is to take the engine cover off, especially if it’s easy to do. It will give you a lot more working space and significantly improve the chances of finding what you’ve lost.
Just like with the undertray, on some cars, it may be simple while on others it may be more complicated.
We’ve written a separate article dedicated specifically to that topic, you can read it by clicking here.
So, as you’ve seen there are numerous solutions when you’ve dropped something in the engine bay.
Most of these recommendations are simple but under all of them is one foundation: patience.
Just like solving a lot of situations around the car, patience is key for a positive outcome.
When this happens, stop, calm down, think it through, and then react. Throwing a fit or walking around in despair will solve nothing, on the contrary, it will only make everything worse.
You’ll probably lose track of where it fell and the lost washer, nut or screw may easily end up on the sole of your shoe for instance (this is from experience).
Keep a cool head and try to put on a smile and it will be much easier for sure.
Also, try to prevent all of this from even happening in the first place. Think when putting parts and tools aside and watch how you handle them.
For the end one more piece of advice: make sure to retrieve what you’ve lost in the engine bay.
The last thing you would want is for a wrench or screw to get into the vital parts of the engine, for instance, the serpentine belt.
If this is not possible in any way, then at least make sure it’s somehow secure so it doesn’t damage something in the engine bay.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
DROPPED SOMETHING IN THE ENGINE BAY? HOW TO FIND IT-YOUTUBE VIDEO