Engine Swapping is Not Always a Good Option
Timothy Boyer's picture

Engine Swapping Expert Reveals the Realities About Engine Replacement

You have a new or special make of car you love, but the engine has exploded. Should you agree to having an engine swap as recommended by a mechanic or that guy in the office who says he knows cars? Here are some engine swapping considerations all car owners need to know and understand before agreeing to one and what could happen if you go for it. Plus, a bonus video of a V8 engine swap in a 1998 Honda Civic Hatchback doing a quarter mile in 10 seconds.
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The Bonus Video First

Because it is short and good example of anything is possible when it comes to cars and engine swapping, here is a crazy engine swap result of putting a V8 engine into a Honda Civic Hatchback and taking it on a drag strip for a timed quarter-mile run.

10 Second V8 Powered Honda Civic Hatch

Back to Normal Engine Swapping

In most cases, it is almost never prudent to pay a garage to do an engine swap for your car when something nearly irreparable has happened to your car’s engine. For most car owners in this position, it’s typically a matter of an older used vehicle that while has served the owner well over the years, the normal wear and tear aging of everything else besides the engine just does not make good economic sense. The owner in this position would do better to spend his car budget on either a new or lightly used vehicle instead.

Related article: What a Used Toyota Engine Rebuild Can Cost

The exception to this is a practically new car that for whatever reason the engine exploded and even though under warranty, was not covered because the owner allowed someone to modify it in a way that voided its warranty.

Related article: Ford Mechanic Catches Engine Rebuild Scam

One other exception---and more realistic---is when someone owns a special make and model of sports car or vintage wheels that goes beyond economics and is more about just how much a person loves his car.

Under both exceptions we are talking about swapping a damaged engine with the same type of a new or rebuilt matching engine (with a guarantee) for that vehicle. Swapping out a damaged engine with a lower mileage used engine (from a wreck for example) is risky and not advisable. Especially since some makes and models have engines that are known to have a high rate of engine rebuild history.

Related article: One Fatal Flaw That is Destroying Vehicles with Ford Engines

What Happened When a Jag Owner Agreed to an Engine Swap

What motivated this topic was a recent The Car Wizard YouTube video where the host and a special guest discuss what happened when the owner of a 2014 Jaguar agreed to an engine swap for his beloved sports car only to discover that even with the new engine, his car still had problems.

In this example, we learn that even when an engine is swapped out---it does not mean that a car owner’s problems are resolved. In fact, new problems can and will emerge. In this case, it was a matter of mechanic negligence resulting in a bad engine installation.

Here is the video in its entirety. Although the video breaks away from the engine swap problems after the first 12 minutes, the Car Wizard returns to some good points made toward the end of the video that makes watching (or skipping over the interior inspection) the video end-to-end worthwhile.

How could a shop do such a bad swap? CAR WIZARD points out all the errors on '14 Jaguar F-Type

Points About the Video

From the video, I would surmise that this was a case of a mechanic who was not organized when it came to all the nuts, bolt, screws and clips that come with an engine swap. Plus, there was a failure to ensure that everything was torqued as it should be; and, there was a problem with the wiring reinstallation (most likely one that required starting all over again with some phase of the engine swap) that led to a jerry-rigged repair or readjustment.

There are three take-home messages from this video:

(1) You must make sure that the mechanic doing the work has the expertise and experience of swapping your engine type. Ask for references. This is major mechanical work and best done only by a qualified mechanic who does this for a living.

(2) If you do have an engine swap done by a qualified mechanic, just like with buying a used car you should have the work inspected by another mechanic afterward who can catch any problems before they become a major issue. You would hope that the original mechanic has someone to look over the swap as a backup---but you never know.

(3) Engine swaps are never easy---even when it is done with an exact engine replacement or a recommended substitute engine. In the real world you can (and should) expect some problems will develop that will require some repeat visits or work done.

Less-Conventional Engine Swapping Advice from an Expert

While the above was primarily about same engine-to-engine swapping, less conventional but reasonable (when possible) is to swap with a similar engine, but one with higher performance. On the far side of this spectrum is engine swapping with a totally different engine which may appeal to some car owners.

For a good explanation of why less-conventional engine swapping is not for the faint-hearted or those with a limited budget, here is an excellent video where an experienced mechanic and expert on swapping car engines explains all that can go wrong and special considerations that need to be made when thinking about swapping an engine.

The value of this video is that although he is primarily talking about non-conventional engine swapping, the same advice he gives applies quite often to same-engine swapping and what is involved.

So You Want to Swap Your Engine

And finally…

For additional articles about engine problems, check out these two selected article about “Subaru Crosstrek Engine Oil Analysis After 3,000 Mile Test” and "Consumer Reports Analysts Reveal the Used Cars Most Likely to Need an Engine Rebuild and What to Buy Instead.”

COMING UP NEXT: 2022 Lexus IS Destined to Be Among the Best of the Last Modern ICE Vehicles

Timothy Boyer is a Torque News automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily new and used vehicle news.

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Comments

Blanket statements are not just useless, but can be bad advice. Even for an older car, the questions to ask are, in what condition is the rest of the car? How long did this engine last? Was it reasonably maintained? Are you otherwise happy with it? How long do you intend to keep it? Only if you want to upgrade your car very soon anyway, trading cars may not make economic sense. For example, a lower mileage used engine swap may be less than $2k. A full engine rebuild can run upwards of $4-5k. Even a modest newer model car will have a $300 - $400 per month payment for 48 - 60 months, while even the high end engine repair is paid for in 15 months. So, the bottom line has to be what's the time value cost to the owner?
I agree wholeheartedly. 100% you hit the nail on the head
Your questions are those that need to be asked when weighing your options in detail; however, it would make for a very long article of which a lot of the questions depend on an individual's level of car expertise in being able to accurately weigh the pros and cons of a particular make and model, and be able to assess the reliability of a cheaper option used engine that God only knows what it has really been through. When it comes to unknown used engines, it is a gamble. The article's intent is meant to be taken "in general" and not a blanket statement without thought and consideration of the audience. I would err on the side of caution and stand by the ol' you get what you pay for when it comes to cheaper options. It is so easy to fall into a money pit with an older car. Thanks for the input, you made some good points for others to consider.
You literally took specific scenarios and turned it into a general statement. That’s literally what a blanket statement is. Please take this article down and rewrite it.
I agree that an engine swap can lead you to a minefield of unknown modification. As an owner of a vintage car in NZ. An engine rebuild for my car was estimated to cost $6k to $8k, just for the engine work. That is with the engine removed and on the Reconditioners floor. Faced with this unexpected cost of nearly half the value of the car. I opted for a later model engine of the same design and manufacturer. However, I then needed to carry out many modifications to make it work. Improved performance and reliability are my goals. Let's hope I am right.
Another consideration is replacement cost for a car with a blown motor. With well optioned pick ups pushing $80,000 or more new, if your car is otherwise in good nick, but needs a new motor, the economics may make sense to swap the engine rather than drop many tens of thousands on a new vehicle.
Apparently you haven't bought a new vehicle in a while, or a used one for that matter. I don't mean a four lunger in a subcompact. I mean a full sized truck with a v8. Something that can actually do the work. A remanufactured v8 swap is about 6g, a new truck is what, 40 to 55g. I'll take a 6g payment over a 40 to 55g payment any day and trust my mechanics.. believe it or not, they do exist
Well, I am well aware of how much new trucks do cost today. And I would agree that there are cases where swapping an engine in one would make sense. However, I would have to ask why did this high end expensive truck wind up for sale needing a new or remanufactured engine? What happened with its previous owner to bring it to this condition? Can I expect other problems to manifest due to the previous owner abused the truck or failed to do any maintenance on it? Did someone without skills or expertise do some jerry-rigging that has not fallen apart yet? There are always exceptions, but the message to the reader is to be aware and to hire a trusted mechanic to help you reach a buying decision. My experience is that many people are under the assumption that just by replacing an engine all of their problems will go away. As the videos attest to---this is a poor assumption.
why did the engine fail? many times its a trans failure or cooling system problem, etc. root cause should be determined before considering engine swap. 50 yrs GM dealership technician
I agree---that is a primary question. Thanks for the input!
Nobody in my circle has used the term "swapping" to refer to like-for-like projects for a very long time. The first half of this article is referring to engine "replacement". All of my cars are paid for and well maintained. If I reach the end of the life of an engine or transmission I will always repair or replace it before I lock myself into a payment for a vehicle. At least until legislation takes that option or practicality away. Nobody doing a swap thinks they're even making a halfway economical decision. Even if you have a good plan and budget going into a swap you're going run into a list of "while I have it apart I oughta" kind of things. And before you know it your swap turns into a full restoration. Or that might just be me...
True---there is a distinction between swapping and replacement, but I used them interchangeably. My bad. Yeah, I can identify with that "swap turns into a full restoration." I think it is a matter of caring about what you do and you find yourself becoming attached to a vehicle in some odd way. On that note, I always find it humorous when someone says they bought an old classic and say they are going to restore it and make a good profit from it, not realizing what a true restoration really costs by the time it is finished. Thanks for the input!
Nope, not just you.
I paid $800 for my jeep and I been driving it around for 3 or 4 years, it has 250k miles and you best believe I'll be spending the 2-3k to put a new engine in it, it's got 0 rust and in nice shape. I bought a brand new car in 2007 and I'll never do that again, it's just too much.
Hemi tick, check engine light came on. Found oil sensor plugged with metal shavings. Timing chain guide broke and chain ground it down. Decided to try to repair myself, took quite awhile, ended spending almost $4k on parts, a crate engine would have been faster a bit over $5k and with Warranty. Wish I had done the swap.
Yeah, I know what you mean. However, it is remarkable that you were able to do the repair yourself successfully. It seems like too many things today really are cheaper in the long run by taking the easier route. Thanks for the input,
LS Swap the world!! I've done so many swaps it's not a big deal anymore. Love making my own mounts, going through wiring and making custom harnesses... Currently LS swapping a BMW (First LS swap) and changing my car from an auto to a manual. Just finished all the bracket customizing last night. Now it's just slapping it all together. Swaps excite me.
It is impressive just what some people can accomplish with a non-original motor on a different model. They are a lot of fun to see at shows. Good to know it's not a lost art. Thanks for the input.
I do engine swaps every day. Rebuilt and use , most all come with a warranty . As for what caused the original engine to fail is mostly due to lack of oil changes and and keeping a close eye on fluid levels.
Good advice shared. As the Toyota experts I often post say, a lot of the times it is really about good maintenance practices owners should be following. Unfortunately, as we've seen when some service centers do your work for you, they can muck it up pretty bad and/or scam you. Thanks for the input.
What kind of idiot would trash an otherwise good car for a relatively low cost repair? I've swapped out engines on many cars over my 35+ years of car repair, with very minor problems. If you purchase a replacement used engine from a reputable salvage yard, not only will you get the mileage on that engine when removed, but you'll get a warranty of at least 30 days (in case there's an immediate failure). For most of my career, the costs of salvage engines are inexpensive in comparison to rebuilt or reman, and often more reliable. You can find engines for an average price around $800-1,000 in the US, and the cost to have them swapped equal to that of the engine, or less. Typically, I can have the old engine out and the new one in and running in an 8 hr day. With most modern 4 cylinder engines, I highly recommend a new timing set and water pump, which is less expensive to do while the engine is out, and is typical less than $100 added cost. So, in conclusion, if you believe your car, which you're familiar with all it's history, is worth throwing away for a car with no history, for as little cost as $1000, then that's your decision. If my VW, which I've owned since it had 4300 miles on it and have had no problems other than wear items and maintenance, blew the engine, I wouldn't hesitate to spend upwards of $2000 to swap in another engine. The cost of used cars in the current market is closer to the cost of a new car in the pre-pandemic market, and I refuse to spend the next 6 years paying for a car with minimum warranty and unknown history vs repairing the one I know and own free and clear.
Well if it's a kia or Hyundai or some crappy cheap car then no but if it's a mustang or camaro or some cool performance car its worth money I would do it! But I wouldn't go oem!!!! I'd get a high performance crate engine or build a similar engine that makes more power then swap it, smog it illegally if I have too or set it up to pass smog then remove all the emissions systems and put it away somewhere safe for when the next smog test comes up!