Best Crate Engines: Out with the Old, In with the New
Put a little oomph in the pedal with the right crate engine.
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BY Hank O'Hop / LAST UPDATED ON July 22, 2021
When it comes to engines, you have the choice to either build or rebuild your own or two buy a crate engine. There are benefits to either process. But many are consumed by the idea of buying an engine that’s ready to drop in place.
We’re not going to lie. Crate engines are probably the best thing that you can order in the mail. Forget medicines and essential supplies. Having a beast of an engine shipped right to your doorstep is really what it’s all about. Industry veterans will tell you that there’s more to it than simply picking out any old engine—especially considering you can easily spend tens of thousands of dollars on one. So, we’re here to share a few pointers on the things you should consider when shopping for crate engines.
This SBC stroker is ready to turn out 430 horsepower with its 383 cubic inches. The combination of aluminum heads, a roller cam, and other goodies remind us why the small block Chevy is so loved.
- Impressive power
- Desirable parts already in place
- Relatively affordable pricing
- Long block only
A basic 350 that’s designed to keep your old GM rig running. This motor is the perfect option for simply replacing your old, worn-out engine.
- Excellent compatibility
- Relatively affordable pricing
- Long block only
- Can be considered underpowered
This beast screams out to 7,800 RPM to make 580 horsepower, with peak torque coming in at 4,500 RPM. It’s a modern marvel based on Ford’s coveted Coyote, which is the perfect upgrade for any Ford vehicle aimed at prestigious performance levels.
- Superior performance
- High quality build
- Premium pricing
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All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Crate Engines
- Minimal wrenching. Building and rebuilding engines isn’t for everyone. Not because it’s not romantic enough, but because a lot of time goes into the assembly of one. Not only that, but many stages of the process rely on special tools and procedures that not everyone is comfortable with. With a crate engine, all you need to worry about is getting it in place and hooking everything up. Yes, that’s an oversimplified explanation, but the point is that there’s less work to dropping in a crate engine than there is with building one.
- Warranty. This is probably the most essential detail to many gearheads. Crate engines sometimes come with warranties. Look, no one wants to consider the likelihood that parts are assembled incorrectly, but it can happen. And when it does, the results can be catastrophic. At least with a warranty in place, you don’t have to worry about any more expenses coming out of your pocket. That’s something you won’t get with an engine you build or rebuild on your own. We should note that a good machine shop builds an engine for you to couple it with a warranty, but you’ll need to speak with the shop you use to find out for sure.
- Less homework/shopping. If you’re building or rebuilding an engine without the aid of a machine shop, you’re on your own when it comes to tracking down and sourcing all of the parts. Not only that, but it’s on you to find what parts will boost performance in the ways that you want them to if that’s on the agenda. Crate engines come built to different specifications, so all you need to do is determine what has the properties you desire.
Types of Crate Engines
Rebuilt or remanufactured engines are among the most widely available and affordable choices. All these terms mean is that the third-party seller took an existing engine with a good core and went through to ensure it’s back to factory specifications. Speaking of factory specifications, if you’re just looking for a direct replacement, this is probably the type of offering that’s available to you. It’s just as good as an engine that’s brand new.
The manufacturer of a vehicle may offer direct replacement crate engines for your car. For the most part, this is something that’s limited to performance or specialty engines, though. These engines are brand new, as though they were assembled to go with a car coming fresh off the assembly line. Because of this, you can generally expect the price point to be quite a bit higher than remanufactured engines.
Crate engines that are already worked over are also widely available. These engines can feature a list of custom parts such as pistons, rotating assemblies, camshafts, intake manifolds, and forced induction systems to meet a specific performance goal. As you can expect, these engines are often a lot more expensive than the previous types of crate engines that we visited. That said, they can be either brand new directly through the manufacturer or remanufactured by a third-party supplier.
Sometimes sanctioning bodies get involved and enforce a long list of rules for what parts engines used in certain events can or cannot use. Race car owners can either build an engine to match a specific list of rules or buy a crate engine approved by the sanctioning bodies for events. This is typical for something like circle-track racing. And yes, the tech inspectors might even go as far as looking at the engine internals on race day to ensure that the pistons and rotating assembly meet their standards, especially if it’s custom-built.
GM Performance Parts
Based out of Green Bay, Wis., GM Performance Parts builds and designs a number of products for vehicles. The company focuses on manufacturing transmissions, drivetrains, accessories, and both big-block and small-block crate engines. One of its most popular engines is the Genuine GM 350i / 5.7L Gen 0 Engine.
Formed in 1908, General Motors is one of the most popular and well-known names in the world of motorsports. The company’s central location is in Detroit, Mich., and it makes a number of vehicle accessories and parts, including the Chevrolet Performance 6.2L LS3 Engine Crate GM.
A company that has roots that go as deep as 1938 needs little introduction, especially when the founder has had as much of an influence on automotive culture as Vic Edelbrock did. This titan of a company works out of Torrance, Calif., and pumps out anything you’ll need to hop an engine up, even if it means replacing the engine with something like the Edelbrock Performer RPM 410 Crate Engine.
Despite Ford’s legendary triumphs in the world of racing that extend as far as LeMans, the Ford Racing division wasn’t introduced until 2014. Naturally, the headquarters is found in Dearborn, Mich., just outside of the Motor City. They produce pretty much anything you’d need to hop up your Ford, including the monstrous Ford Performance Parts M6007-572DR 572 Big Block Crate Engine.
Crate Engine Pricing
- $2,000 to $3,000: Remanufactured/refurbished engines typically fall in this range. It’s likely that the engines in this range require parts like the induction system and sensors for assembly.
- $3,000 to $1,0000: Complete engines and performance options can appear in this price range. For the most part, these are either high-performance factory offerings or custom assemblies.
- $10,000 to $20,000: High-performance factory engines and serious performance crate engines populate this price range. Performance and build-quality increase with the price.
- $20,000 and up: Exceptionally powerful engines are almost exclusive to this price range. Fuel injection, superior rotating assemblies, and even superchargers are typical for these crate engines.
Crate engine compatibility is something that has many meanings. For many, it might just mean ensuring the motor is a direct match for the application. For others, it can mean making sure that it’ll work with the parts they need for an engine swap. It can even suggest that the engine matches rules set forth by a particular event in some cases. In any situation, you need to do your homework to ensure that the engine reaches the criteria you need it to.
The amount of power that an engine puts out is something to pay close attention to. It’s easy to simply look at peak power, but you want to consider when it makes that power and how. Compression ratio, displacement, and power curves all tell you how that engine behaves. How and when it makes power ultimately tells you what kind of driving it’s good for.
Use of Appropriate Parts
We can say that you want to make sure quality parts are used in the crate engine. However, that paints a broad stroke that doesn’t explain what you’re looking for. If it’s a factory-spec engine, “quality parts” is typically a descriptor telling you the engine uses factory equipment. That is fine for a direct-replacement engine, but those components may be risky for use on performance engines. If you’re looking for an engine that boosts performance, make sure to look at the types of pistons, connecting rods, and crankshaft used to ensure it’ll handle the power it produces.
Inclusion of Parts You Need
You’ll see that some engines don’t come with the induction system, sensors, and other parts necessary to their function. In the case that you can scrap these parts from your old engine, that’s not a big deal. If you don’t have an old engine to pull pieces from, you might want to consider a different crate engine. Sure, the long-block does make up for a significant portion of the expenses associated with engine building, but the small “nickel and dime” parts can quickly add up to a big price tag.
- Warranty Coverage. Just because a warranty is listed under "other considerations" doesn't mean it's not important. Crate engines often come with a warranty to protect the owners from any defects. Considering you can spend a massive amount of money on the engine, it is worth checking out the warranty to ensure your investment is protected.
Best Crate Engines Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Don't rule out short blocks. You might not find a crate engine that suits your needs, but that doesn't mean you're out of luck. You can purchase a high-performance short block to fit heads and a valve train that'll meet your demands.
- Don't go with more than you need. It's tempting to invest in a more powerful engine. Keep in mind that more power is more wear and tear. The factory transmission and drivetrain might not be able to keep up with the power you're introducing, leading to significant headaches and more expenses.
- There's still plenty of work ahead of you. Crate engines don't install themselves, and you'll need plenty of time to "drop one in." Not only does that mean that you'll need the tools for the job, but enough time to do it right. Always remember that things never go the way they're supposed to. Calculate that into the time you set aside to work on your car.
- Be conscientious of who you're giving your money to. There are a shocking amount of suppliers offering crate engines. Be aware that not all are as respectable as they make it seem. Take the time to research the suppliers and find one that you know you can trust.
- Consider your machine shop. Just because an old motor is worn down doesn't mean it's junk. Your local machine shop can likely breathe new life into an engine by honing the cylinders, rebuilding the heads, and so on. It's always a good idea to support local businesses, and the machine shop can even build an engine custom to your demands.
Q: How do I determine what crate engine is best?
It depends on the style of driving you do and the car you are fitting it into. If the vehicle is your daily driver, then consider matching the replacement engine as close to your original one as possible. If you plan on racing, choose one with more power and torque.
Q: How do I install a replacement crate engine?
That is a tricky question to answer. Ultimately, it depends on your particular case. In any situation, however, it’s not as simple as just removing the old engine and dropping the new one in place. You will need to carry over any accessories or parts from the old engine that are essential to getting it running. In short, you’ll need to do your homework to find out what’s necessary for your particular setup and the engine you’re using.
Q: Do I need to replace everything connected to the engine?
That depends. If you’re just experiencing mechanical issues, there’s no reason that you couldn’t use the accessories and sensors attached to your old engine unless they’re junk. It’s best to evaluate each of the components you’re considering carrying over to ensure they’re suitable for use.
Again, our top pick goes to the Chevrolet Performance 6.2L LS3 Engine Crate GM, and our choice for Best Value is the Genuine GM 350i / 5.7L Gen 0 Engine. We get that we’re talking about crate engines, though, so these engines might not even work for your application.
You tell us! Leave a comment letting us know what crate engine you think is best!