How to Buy and Install Your Own Car Engine

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How to Buy and Install Your Own Car Engine

By manufacturers' design, an automobile engine should last as long as the automobile's body; but from time to time, this proves to be untrue. Sometimes, it is when a significant malfunction turns into the need for engine replacement, while at other times, the engine is needed as part of a car enthusiast's current project or rebuild. Regardless of the reason, locating and buying the proper car engine are the first steps in the overall process of installation. However, the process of buying an engine can be as intimidating to many people as the replacement process.

The buyer must make decisions such as where to buy the engine as well as whether one ought to buy a new replacement engine or a rebuilt engine. Additionally, the buyer must decide whether to do the work by himself or if he should hire a professional mechanic for the job. In order to make these types of decisions, which can be costly, it is important for prospective engine buyers to do the homework and become familiar with their vehicles and engines. It is also helpful for a shopper to become familiar with the buying process on eBay,, where one can access a large inventory of car engines.

Identifying the Vehicle

The first thing that needs to be determined is the vehicle's identification number, or VIN. Just as a fingerprints identify a person, a VIN is the unique, individual identification method of a vehicle. Depending on the make and model of a vehicle, it may not have a VIN. In the 1950s, Detroit car makers began the process of placing identification numbers on their vehicles, although the manner and type of numbers varied depending on the manufacturer. The process was streamlined through the 1970s, and by the early 1980s, the VIN system became uniform for all vehicles built and distributed worldwide.

The location of a vehicle's VIN has become mostly uniform as well. While there may be a few exceptions, the VIN may be found stamped on a thin strip of metal or plastic along the bottom edge of the windscreen, stamped along with other information on a data plate placed inside the driver's side door frame, and on the engine's data plate. If the numbers on the engine and the body do not match, this is an indication that the engine has been changed before.

Identifying the Car Engine

There are a few ways in which you can identify the car engine size and type, something you need to start the search for a replacement. The information should be stamped on the engine's data plate, where you looked for the VIN, and give the number of cylinders and other information. The owner's manual is another spot to check; look up the engine in the glossary or table of contents. If all else fails, contact local mechanics, automobile dealerships, and even salvage yards. Individuals working in these locations may be able to help. The information can also be found in a repair manual, which can be found to match your specific vehicle.

Buying a New Engine

There are a few options that can be chosen from when buying a new engine for a vehicle. To begin with, you need to understand that this is one of the larger vehicle-related purchases that can be made, which means that it is going to be expensive. However, this is where some comparison shopping can be invaluable. The more expensive option is to buy the new engine from a dealership and have them install it. However, that option is not always available once the vehicle's warranty has expired. Another alternative is a rebuilt engine.

Rebuilt engines are available from different types of retail outlets, from local mechanics to Internet shopping sites. They can be found in a wide range of prices, depending on the quality of the parts used in the rebuild and the materials the block is crafted from. The make and model vehicle the engine is made for is a big factor that affects price; after all, a Lamborghini is more expensive to fix than a mainstream car. The key to ensure that the new engine matches the vehicle exactly.

Another option is to locate a low-mileage used engine that is in good condition. These engines generally come from vehicles that have sustained some sort of body damage from moderate collisions such that they cannot be driven. The engines can be removed and checked for defects and then sold. If this is an option, then it is important to get as much information as possible about the accident a vehicle was involved in and to inspect the engine before purchase.

Installing Your Own Car Engine

The installation can begin once the engine has been purchased. If you can afford it, then ideally, you should hire a certified mechanic to perform the task. Unless you really know what you are doing, there could be serious issues resulting from a novice mechanic's ability. Much of the decision about the choice of mechanic may rest on the age of the vehicle.

Older vehicles have simpler systems that many people with good mechanical aptitude can work with and as long as they have a little help. Newer vehicles however, have more complex systems which are run by onboard computers that control everything from emergency braking to hands-free parallel parking. Only persons trained to work on these systems should attempt to install an engine into a vehicle.

Removing the Old Car Engine

Unless you are beginning with only a vehicle body, you need to remove the old engine. Park the vehicle on a flat surface, in a well-lit area or in an indoor garage, if possible. Place wheel chocks behind the wheels to prevent the vehicle from rolling during the procedure. Begin by removing the hood hinge bolts, and remove the hood. Continue by disconnecting and labelling the electrical wiring harness connections to the engine.. It is not a bad idea to take digital pictures with a camera of all connections you disconnect. This can come in handy for reference later. Ensure you disconnect and remove the battery.

Next, you need to disconnect all hoses that lead to the radiator. Drain the radiator and engine block of all the fluid possible. Remove the oil pan, plug or screw, and drain the motor oil from the engine; once done replace the screw. Next, remove the radiator, radiator cover and fan to prevent damage to them when the engine is lifted out.

At this point, place an engine hoist over the engine, and attach the lift chains to the engine as prescribed by the manufacturer; put just enough tension as is needed to prevent the engine from dropping, and lock the hoist. You now need to disconnect the engine from the drivetrain and exhaust system and finally remove the motor mount bolts. Be aware that the engine may shift a bit when the motor mount bolts come free. If the hoist is set properly, there is no danger of the engine dropping, but it could smash a finger, so it is important to be careful. Using the ratchet feature of the engine hoist, lift the engine out of the engine compartment, steadying it as it comes free from the vehicle. Carefully roll it out of the way and lower it onto a wooden pallet for removal.             

Installing a New Car Engine

Position the new engine over the vehicle's engine compartment with the help of the engine hoist used to remove the old engine. Carefully lower the engine into place, keeping it as steady as possible and with assistance, until it settles properly onto the motor mounts. Attach the motor mount bolts, exhaust manifolds, and drivetrain, and then detach the hoist from the engine. Using a repair manual, and the photos taken earlier, reconnect all hoses, belts, and wiring harnesses removed earlier as required. Replace the radiator, fan, and fan cover. If not already installed, install spark plugs and plug wires, along with new oil, water, and air filters. Lastly, replace all fluids and reattach the battery. Prime the engine and attempt to start the vehicle.

Word of Warning

This is an oversimplification of the engine installation process, and in actual practice, there are multiple smaller steps to each major task. It is easy to say "disconnect the drivetrain", but quite another thing to remove all the bolts and pull the engine free of the bell housing without damaging anything. It is therefore important to work with someone who can aid you and help prevent accidents. Be sure to wear safety glasses and mechanic's gloves for added protection. 


Buying and installing a new car engine is an expensive and time-consuming project to tackle. It should only be undertaken by individuals with good mechanical aptitude and only be done as outlined in the repair manual for the vehicle in question. If the job is being performed on one's primary vehicle and not just a hobby project, it might be worthwhile to hire a mechanic to do the work after the engine is purchased. Otherwise, it is recommended that one seeks help and work in the right environment on a flat surface and in a well-lighted area such as a garage.

It is important for the installer to take the time to record the steps so that the wiring harness, hoses, and mounting hardware can be reconnected properly. It is equally important to use the right tools and equipment and wear gloves and safety glasses at all times.

Thanks to the vast inventory of car parts and the user-friendly functionalities that eBay offers, the prospect of finding and purchasing the right engine and parts for one's car need not be a daunting one.

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