Reviews | The Drive

Best Crate Engines: Out With the Old and In With the New

Put a little oomph in the pedal with the right crate engine.

With decades of combined experience covering the latest news, reviewing the greatest gear, and advising you on your next car purchase, The Drive is the leading authority on all things automotive.

youtubefacebookinstagram

The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.

BYHank O'Hop/ LAST UPDATED ON June 21, 2022

While there's plenty of glory in building an engine specifically to suit your demands, it's not for everyone. Countless hours of work go into figuring out exactly what parts and modifications you need to meet a certain goal. You can follow existing build plans to make things a little easier, but it's not always as simple as following a specific sequence of events. Crate engines, however, are a quick way around all of the homework. You open a catalog, find what best matches your demands, and away you go. Well, even that's a little complicated as catalogs have largely been replaced with the world wide web which makes it hard to sort through the endless sea of suppliers. Relax, that's what we're here to help you with.

Best Overall

Chevrolet Performance E-ROD LS

Summary

430 horsepower, 424 pound-feet of torque, it’s emissions-friendly—CARB approved—it’s priced reasonably and it’s backed by that legendary LS aftermarket support.

Pros
  • Emissions friendly 
  • Offers respectable power 
  • Plenty of aftermarket support 
  • Basic package includes wiring, computer, headers, and air cleaner
Cons
  • Can build more powerful LS for less money
  • No ETA available
Best Value

ATK High-Performance Ford 351W Stage 1

Summary

This 351 is close to stock, but some goodies help it turn out 300 horsepower and 377 pound-feet of torque. On top of that, it’s attached to an exceptionally low price as far as crate engines go.

Pros
  • Affordable price point 
  • Aluminum heads 
  • Easy to modify for more power
Cons
  • No induction system included 
  • Truck-style oil pan may not be idea
Honorable Mention

Ford Performance Parts M6007-M50C 2018-2019 Coyote 5.0L Crate Engine

Summary

It’s a Coyote. It’s ready to scream out to produce 460 horsepower and instantly revive your late model ford. Despite the legendary name, it too is reasonably priced.

Pros
  • Highly-capable platform 
  • Relatively affordable price point 
  • Stock-spec is prime for direct replacement purposes
Cons
  • Swap costs are extremely important 
  • Swaps require extensive fabrication
Best Crate Engines: Out With the Old and In With the New

Our Methodology

If you don't spend your free time looking at the crate engines available to your platform, getting depressed that other builders spend a whole lot less money and even more depressed when you realize you can't afford even that, you've got the wrong hobby. Our point is that browsing crate engines and daydreaming about the possibilities familiarized us with the territory. A few members of The Drive's ace team of big dreamers had a hand in picking out what's featured below. Of course, the trusty ol' routine of being professionals and doing the research to ensure we're providing relevant results helped us from being biased in any way about what's featured.

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

Learn more

Best Crate Engine Reviews & Recommendations 2022

Yep, the E-Rod is an LS-based platform and while we agree that the LS swap thing is kind of overplayed, there's no denying its popularity considering there's a ton of aftermarket support for LS swaps. The E-Rod isn't just another LS, though as this line of crate engines is emissions friendly enough to earn itself a CARB approval. That's not to suggest it's a slouch in any way, as it's still turning out an impressive 430 horsepower and 424 foot-pounds of torque. It isn't the most powerful contender on our list, but it's more than enough to get anything moving. Seeing as it's an LS there is plenty of value to be had when the base E-Rod offering comes with headers, air cleaners, and even the wiring. 


While this is an affordable platform, you can probably build a much more powerful LS for a lot less. Also, at the time of writing this, estimated delivery dates are unknown, meaning you can wait quite a while for this setup to arrive. 


Product Specs:

  • Engine Type: LS3 
  • Engine Make: Chevrolet 
  • Power Output: : ≈ 430 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque 

Pros:

  • Emissions friendly 
  • Offers respectable power 
  • Plenty of aftermarket support 
  • Basic package includes wiring, computer, headers, and air cleaner

Cons:

  • Can build more powerful LS for less money
  • No ETA available

The Ford 351 often lives in the shadow of the smaller 302. It’s a decent engine, though, and is deserving of the same level of praise. It’s seen the world through many of Ford’s premier platforms in both the car and truck world. Still, when people build something custom, they often go with the smaller engine. Well, what if you want to make more power but keep the engine displacement true to form? This Stage-1 long block is the perfect solution. It comes loaded with cast iron heads, a hydraulic roller camshaft, and a 9.3:1 compression ratio making for a combination capable of turning out 300 horsepower but plenty more can be had with some basic changes. It’s also a lot more affordable than some of the other Ford crate engines, which is good news for anyone favoring the 351.


This is not a complete engine, though. You will need to set it up with an induction system and other parts before you get rolling. While that’s typical of many crate engines in this price range, it is something to be aware of. Also, the truck-style oil pan may not be ideal for your particular swap. 


Product Specs:

  • Engine Type: 351 Windsor
  • Engine Make: Ford
  • Power Output:  ≈  300 horsepower and 377 pound feet

Pros:

  • Affordable price point 
  • Aluminum heads 
  • Easy to modify for more power

Cons:

  • No induction system included 
  • Truck-style oil pan may not be ideal

Ford’s Coyote-powered vehicles are notoriously expensive and you can spend a serious amount of money to obtain one of these platforms. Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a fortune on the engine itself and this option is a fantastic example of that. This is a factory-spec 2018-2019 5.0-liter Coyote and while that might seem a little lackluster, remember that these engines are rather impressive in their natural configuration. It’s a great option for someone who needs to replace the worn engine they're working with, or someone pursuing a Coyote swap in the most affordable way possible. 


As a direct-replacement engine, this is great. However, the whole Coyote swap thing isn't exactly taking off because it's of that notorious expense we were talking about early. That and setting this into any platform it's not native to typically requires an extensive amount of fabrication. 


Product Specs:

  • Engine Type: 5.0 Coyote Gen 3 
  • Engine Make: Ford
  • Power Output:  ≈ 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque 

Pros:

  • Highly-capable platform 
  • Relatively affordable price point 
  • Stock-spec is prime for direct replacement purposes

Cons:

  • Swap costs are extremely important 
  • Swaps require extensive fabrication

With its triumphant 454 cubic inches of delightful destruction, the LSX is often coveted as the king of LS motors. Seeing as we're suckers for classics and the throw-back displacement is enough to win us over, we'll have to agree. Really, what makes this the best LS crate in our eyes is the performance you get for the money. At 627 horsepower and 586 pound-feet of torque, it isn't far off from some of the premium options out there, and it's all achieved through natural aspiration. Seeing as it's still an LS, it's not out of the question to toss the forced induction system of your liking on top to match the competitors while remaining well below the end price tag. 


If we're being picky, this is just a long block. So, you will need to spend time picking out the right induction components to get up and running. Also, though this is still a bargain, it is pricey for an LS engine. 


Product Specs:

  • Engine Type:  LSX454
  • Engine Make: Chevrolet 
  • Power Output:  ≈ 627 horsepower and 586 pound-feet of torque 

Pros:

  • High power output 
  • Performance is achieved with natural aspiration
  • Relatively affordable package 

Cons:

  • Costly for an LS
  • No induction system included

The Eluminator is the first and only E-crate motor to make it to our list. It's not because we have anything against EVs—it's just a limited segment at this point in time. This motor is capable of belting out an impressive 281 horses that are motivated by the instantaneous 317 pound-feet of torque. Of course, we'll give it props for the surprisingly low price point that rivals that of some 302 short blocks. That's right, it's a Ford. In fact, this is the same motor featured in Ford's 2021 Mustang Mach E GT. Since we're comparing apples to apples, this little motor only weighs in at 205 pounds, which isn't all that much more than a bare cast iron block hits the scales at. 


While the motor itself is affordable, you still have plenty of spending to do if this is the route to take. This does include the motor to traction inverter harness, LV harness, and vent tube assembly, but it does not come with the traction inverter, control system, or battery. Also, you can expect to do some serious modifications to get this up and running. 


Product Specs:

  • Motor Type: Eluminator Mach E Electric Motor 
  • Motor Make: Ford 
  • Power Output:  ≈ 281 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque 

Pros:

  • Affordable price point 
  • Respectable power and instant torque 
  • Lightweight 

Cons:

  • Costly additional components are necessary for operation
  • Swap requires extensive modification

If you thought the 2JZ wasn't making its way to this list one way or another, you're nuts. The platform is just too robust to leave out of the discussion. It's an inline-six, so harmonics are already negligible. Throw in a beefy cast-iron block with plenty of protection of the bores, and you're in business. As for this particular model, it's a remanufactured unit that's built to OE spec, which is great for someone seeking that world-class reliability. We assume that means it's good for the 276 horsepower and 318 lb-ft the engines are rated to produce. It is a fairly basic crate engine, but it does come with most of the legwork already done for you, including pre-installed timing gears, belt tensioner, and the belt. Despite what you may believe, it is also readily available and ships from the manufacturer rather quickly. 


This is a pretty barebones setup, so there is no intake manifold, oil pan, or valve cover. Also, this does require a more intensive break-in period than some of the other crate engines we're highlighting here. 


Product Specs:

  • Engine Type: 2JZ GTE 
  • Engine Make: Toyota
  • Power Output:  ≈ 276 horsepower and 318 pound-feet of torque 

Pros:

  • Affordable price point
  • Excellent base for performance builds 
  • OE spec offers maximum reliability 

Cons:

  • Lacks essential components 
  • Intensive break-in procedure

The HKS RB26DETT High Response engine is something from your wildest dreams. This particular crate includes an engine that's more than ready to achieve its peak performance as the RB26DETT features a lightweight but beefy rotating assembly paired with a harmonic damper for improved control over torsional forces. It also features a CNC combustion chamber to keep spark knock at bay, a high-lift cam, a beefy valve train, and a high-volume oil pump to keep it lubed at its 9,000RPM Redline. Performance specs are not provided on the main sheet as every combination is different, but the folks over there estimated it to be good for around 690-horsepower and 506 lb-ft of torque, which we all know is conservative. 


There's no denying that this is likely the most well-rounded engine on our list, but that does come at a price that rivals what you can buy an entire R32 GT-R for. Also, this is assembled overseas, and you can expect to wait a few months for it to make its way to you. However, that's to be expected when the job is done right. 


Product Specs:

  • Engine Type: RB26DETT 
  • Engine Make: Nissan 
  • Power Output: ≈ 690 horsepower and 506 pound-feet of torque 

Pros:

  • Professionally built to race spec 
  • Components carefully selected for max performance and reliability
  • Supplied performance specs are likely conservative, but there’s no guarantee

Cons:

  • Exceptionally high price point
  • Long turnaround time

Something like this really makes Ford and Mopar guys hate Chevy nuts. Why? Because it’s rated to put out a considerable 410 horsepower and 408 pound-feet of torque with aluminum heads and there’s little more spending needed to get moving under its power. None of that is impossible for other engines, but the cost is about half what you’ll invest in parts for those other platforms to get the job done—never mind machining and assembly. This thing even comes with the carburetor, water pump, and harmonic balancer. That makes it pretty much a true drop-in option.

There really aren’t too many drawbacks to this model. However, building a more powerful SBC can be done for much less. Also, it’s worth pointing out that the warranty for this particular engine is a bit shorter than what others have to offer. 


Product Specs:

  • Engine Type: Small Block 350
  • Engine Make: Chevrolet 
  • Power Output:  ≈ 410 horsepower and 408 pound-feet of torque

Pros:

  • Relatively affordable pricing 
  • Intake, carburetor, and water pump included
  • Relatively affordable pricing for the package

Cons:

  • More powerful SBC can be built for less
  • Relatively short warranty

There's no better way to end on a good note than talking about the Hellcrate Hemi. If it were up to personal preferences, this would take the top spot. How could anyone deny 807 horsepower and 717 pound-feet of torque force-fed through a 6.2 liter Gen 3 Hemi with a 2.7-liter supercharger? As the single most powerful option on our list, there's peace of mind knowing that each of these engines is dyno-tested for 42 minutes before shipping. That ensures you that the engine is ready to rock with no chance of faulty parts sending you back to the drawing boards. It even comes with the wiring harness and computer you need to get rolling. 


Why isn't it higher on our list? The price is way more than you’d pay for similarly capable models from other brands. That's why. Not only that, but swapping this into your classic Dodge is going to take a considerable amount more money and effort than most other options. 


Product Specs:

  • Engine Type: 6.2 Liter Gen 3 Hemi 
  • Engine Make: Chrysler 
  • Power Output:  ≈ 807 horsepower and 717 pound-feet of torque 

Pros:

  • Impressive power and performance 
  • Each engine is dyno tested to ensure it’s ready for use 
  • Wiring harness and computer included 

Cons:

  • Very high price point 
  • Swaps are complicated and expensive

Our Verdict

Since we're forced to pick a "favorite," we might as well use reason and stand by the Chevrolet Performance E-ROD LS. It's just an all-around solid performer with great aftermarket support. Then again, something like the ATK High-Performance Ford 351W Stage 1 is a great choice for anyone looking to restore their classic ford. Picking a crate engine isn't just something you do at random, though. So, we want to know if you have any suggestions on what crate engines builders of specific platforms should consider!

What to Consider When Buying a Crate Engine 

Not everyone needs an LS, RB26, Hemi (yes, you do), or Coyote in their life. The platform you're working with and your build plan will ultimately determine what works best for you. In other words, our list of suggestions might be nothing more than a source of platforms to ogle at. That's why we want to take the time to talk a little about crate engines, what you should consider, and how to decide what exactly you should be looking for. 

Types of Crate Engines

Rebuilt/Remanufactured/Direct-Replacement 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 but it does depend on the platform. 

Performance-Built

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. 

Don't bank on these engines being complete in all situations. It's common for them to come paired with performance numbers, but the lack of intake components can create some discrepancies in what numbers your exact combination produces. 

Race-Ready 

Sometimes sanctioning bodies get involved and enforce a long list of rules for what parts engines used in certain events can or cannot use. Racecar 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 doesn’t match a supplied list of accepted platforms by sanctioning bodies. 

Crate Engine Key Features

Compatibility

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. 

Power Output

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. 

Crate Engine Pricing Considerations

There's no basic price range structure when it comes to crate engines. In some cases, new direct replacement engines can cost somewhere in the realm of $3,000-$5,000 alongside remanufactured engines. There are also direct-replacement engines that cost as much as race-ready engines or much more. Some engines are just more expensive than others. For example, a 426 Hemi crate engine built to stock spec can be twice the cost of a worked-up small block Chevy that produces more power. In short, how much you pay is largely dependent on the application you are working with. 

Tips and Tricks

As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and crate engines. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • 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. 

FAQs

You've got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: How do I determine what crate engine is best?

A: 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?

A: 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?

A: 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.

stripe
stripe