Every car fanatic dreams of rebuilding their engine, making every little tweak and customization they’ve ever imagined. Doing so could cost up to $6000. $4000 is typical.
Rebuilding a car engine is no easy feat. It takes time, practice, experience, knowhow, a whole slew of tools, a garage, and plenty of cash.
Sometimes rebuilding a car engine is a matter of choice. For example, there are plenty of people out there who love driving classic cars around town.
For them, an engine rebuild may be the only way to keep their 1950s ride running. For others, it’s a question of repair and investment.
For example, if you have a newer car, and the engine had a major problem, but you love the vehicle, you could opt to rebuild the engine.
It’s important to point out here that rebuilding an engine can mean different things based on the various contexts and needs of the car owner.
Sometimes rebuilding an engine means taking out the whole engine and creating a brand new one. That’s pricey and difficult (but not impossible).
For others, rebuilding the engine refers to swapping out a lot of gaskets and seals. In general, the average rebuild runs $2,500 to $4,000.
Some estimates run as high as $6000+. Why so high? It’s a lot of work!
What Cars are Good for an Engine Rebuild?
The first question someone who is considering an engine rebuild should pose is whether the endeavor is even worth it? It may very well not be.
Looking up how to rebuild an engine on the Internet is a great way to start.
People like to rebuild classic cars, hobby cars, vintage cars, and taxi cabs. Why not? They’re retro, fun, and funky!
Sometimes the engine rebuild for such a vehicle is an investment! You could buy a classic in very bad shape for a few thousand (or hundred) dollars.
With the right mechanic by your side, you could restore the vehicle to its former glory (or beyond), increasing the resale value along the way.
This is common with salvage titles. A salvage title means the car is headed to the junkyard.
However, if you fix the car, the state can fix the title so the car is deemed roadworthy once again.
Sometimes newer cars have engine problems that require a rebuild. This usually happens due to manufacturer error, an accident, or bad driving.
If the car is brand new, then perhaps the repair is covered by warranty, recall, or insurance. If not, the repair may actually not be worth it in the end.
Talk to a mechanic about your engine rebuild options.
Types of Engine Rebuilds
How to rebuild an engine depends on various factors.
For example, a pushrod engine is different from other types. It uses a V-shaped block, which is more common in classic cars.
This design positions a camshaft in the block while pushrods go to town on the cylinder heads.
Even today, some cars still use the pushrod system. Why not? It’s reliable, easy to navigate, and straightforward in nature.
Tools and Materials to Rebuild the Engine
The average Joe shouldn’t set out on a DIY project without learning everything there is to know about how to rebuild a car engine.
There are many tools required for job:
- Engine lube
- Basic garage tools/drills
- Oil drain pans (2+)
- Tape, markers, bags, and boxes
- Silicone gasket marker
- Timing gear puller
- Torque wrench
- Engine hoist (getting it out isn’t easy)
- Camshaft bearing tools
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Every rebuild is different.
A mechanic has plenty of tools on hand for the job; for this reason, an engine rebuild project is not recommended for amateurs. This is definitely one where you need to trust a professional.
If you’re set on doing the work yourself, you should do the rebuild on a car that you don’t need to use as your daily driver.
Rebuilding an engine, especially if you’re not experienced, will take a lot of time (and money), so be prepared for a real project (and for your car to be off the road for a bit).
Rebuilding an Engine Step by Step
When somebody begins thinking about “how to rebuild an engine,” they’re likely looking for a step-by-step guide.
Learning how to rebuild an engine isn’t exactly something that can be learned by reading a book, a blog, or an article.
If you’re new to this, you will need a lot of room for trial and error as well as a guru to supervise your work should questions or problems arise.
If you’re still set on taking a gander at the step-by-step process, in general terms, then read on.
- Do your homework: you need to know if other mechanics have rebuilt the engine of the same vehicle. What advice do they have? Service manuals are recommended!
- Draining the vehicle fluids: You’re going to have to remove all those liquids (oil, coolant, etc.). Don’t mix the fluids.
- Start removing covers, casings, tubes, filters, and housings. They should be removed first.
- If you have all these bits and pieces, you should organize them in plastic bags or boxes. Label the containers.
- Take off the radiator brackets. They’re near the radiator hoses. Next, get the radiator off to keep it safe while you work.
- If you haven’t already, it’s time to kill the power by disconnecting the battery/starter. Be careful to check things out as you work on this one.
- Take out the starter and exhaust manifolds. This isn’t always necessary, though. It depends on the project.
- Next up, you’ll be locating and taking out the air compressor and belts (air conditioning, too).
- Don’t open up the AC lines if you can help it. If you do, a recharge will be in order when you finish the rebuild.
- Take off the bolts that connect the engine to the transmission. Unbolting the engine means the work is finally underway.
As stated, this information is for your general information. The actual process can be quite detailed and tricky. Ask a mechanic for help.
Removing the Engine During the Rebuild
Knowing how to rebuild an engine begins way before removing it.
That being said, the guide continues with this particular step.
- Unbolt the engine
- Get the engine hoist ready by placing it above the engine. Secure it correctly and pull!
- Note: Some engines are built with a part for this, so it could be a little easier than you think. Use high-grade chains.
- Lift the engine out now. Slow and steady wins the race here, folks.
- Get the engine onto the stand. Work with a partner to make sure everything goes according to plan.
- Ensure the engine is safely mounted onto the cradle/stand.
Next comes the fun part! Taking off all the belts and accessories. Again, remember to sort, organize, categorize, and label the parts as you pull them.
Begin removing the remaining components. Then, it’s time to take off the following: intake manifold, oil plan, timing cover, flywheel, and covers.
Use a drain pan. More oil or coolant will come out. You don’t want that forming a puddle in your workspace.
It’s now time to remove the pushrods as well as the rocker arms. Take apart the valvetrain (cylinder heads).
Inspect these parts as you handle them? In engine rebuilds, parts that are still good are reused. Damage parts are repaired or replaced.
Fun fact: Removing the cylinder head requires taking the bolts in a back-and-forth pattern. If not, the head could warp from the torque.
Then comes time to remove the timing chain as well as the camshaft.
You’ll have to invert the engine to remove the piston rod caps. Keep the hardware handy for later say the experts.
Here you can take advantage of the open engine to polish off the cylinders and get rid of the carbon buildup. Be careful not to scratch anything.
Check out the crankshaft. That’s the next move. Take off the caps, the shaft itself, and then bearings.
The crankshaft could be damaged. If it is, get it fixed or replace it.
Rebuilding the Engine: The Assembly
Learning how to rebuild an engine requires not only knowledge of how to take it apart but also how to put it together.
First, you will look at all the parts you removed, inspect them, sort them, and get ready to put it all back together.
Then, wash the parts. Blow them dry so there’s no moisture. This is important!
This is the time to clean the engine block, by the way.
You’ll also find yourself looking into replacing the engine’s freeze plugs and piston rings at this stage.
Pay attention to the manual or directions here. Doing these steps wrong can have some major long-term consequences.
Bad handy work could send this rebuilt engine to the junkyard just months down the road.
Then, put the new camshaft bearings in.
As you begin installing the main bearings, crankshaft, and caps, you need to remember to use lube in the appropriate places.
Again, the caps require a special assembly for torque. Pay attention!
You will have to use the piston ring compression tool at this point, so if you don’t have one, look into borrowing the device.
Now it’s camshaft time! Use a lot of lube to keep everything nice and juicy. Up next are the timing pieces and sprockets.
Put the oil pan in its place. Use the correct gasket. You can even create your own with a silicone gasket maker.
After the head gasket is installed, put the valve train on. Install the covers and intake manifolds, too. Use lots of lube!
Final pieces to install:
- Water pump
- Exhaust manifolds
Lowering the Engine into the Vehicle
When the engine rebuild is nearly finished, one of the final steps is to lower the engine back into the vehicle.
You’re going to use the hoist again.
Reverse the order of how you took it out; then add oil. Reconnect all those hoses, connectors, etc. Pour in the right amount of antifreeze, too.
Test time! Make sure EVERYTHING is installed correctly. There shouldn’t be extra parts. Ensure you have the lube in the right places, too.
If the engine runs as good as new, you’ll be a happy camper.
Rebuild the Engine vs. Sending the Car to the Junkyard
Rebuilding an engine, let alone learning how to do it, is no easy feat.
This is not the type of repair meant for an amateur. Even some professionals avoid this repair because it’s a lot of work.
Taking apart an entire engine, and ensuring you can find or fabricate all the required parts to put it back together in the end, isn’t for everybody.
It takes plenty of time and money to get the job done.
The average cost for an engine rebuild falls between $2,500 and $4,000 although bills as high as $6,000 aren’t uncommon.
If a car is very old, it may not even be worth it. The average lifespan of a car these days is about twelve years.
Driving a 1995 Dodge Neon is pretty cool, but dropping 4-6K to rebuild the engine for an economy car that’s over 25 years old doesn’t make financial sense.
If the mechanic comes out and looks at you with a grave face, uttering “it’s a full engine rebuild for you,” you need to know your options.
- Pay for the rebuild
- Pray for a recall/warranty that covers you
- Send the car to a junkyard and start over
If the car is new, and the engine is very bad, it could be covered under warranty or recall.
If the engine needs a rebuild because of an accident, maybe the insurance will cover it.
If neither of these choices are true, it’s likely that your best bet is to call a junkyard. It’s no problem, though. They’ll pay you cash for the auto.
That sure beats selling out thousands of dollars to keep driving the same old beater from point A to point B!