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When It’s Time To Buy a Used Engine For Your Car, Here’s Where To Go

Learn from our experience and try these outlets when it’s time to swap out your power plant.

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BYHank O'Hop/ LAST UPDATED ON February 17, 2022
When It’s Time To Buy a Used Engine For Your Car, Here’s Where To Go

Just throw in a crate engine and be done with it. Every gearhead has heard that a million times. And though crate engines and remanufactured units are solid options, they aren't practical in every situation. Either is generally only available for popular applications, and a budget set in place for a particular project might not have the kind of room to justify them. 

Somehow, there are still a ton of scams out there preying on folks shopping for a solid core to start with. It's difficult to know who you can trust, what questions to ask, and how to know if you're getting your hands on a decent engine. That's what The Drive is here to help you clear up.

The engine you've been waiting for., Deposit Photos

Some of The Best Places We’ve Found For Sourcing Used Engines 

There are many places to source used engines from, and you can get recommendations from many of our competitors. However, a little bit of research quickly reveals that a lot of these sites getting their moment of fame are scams. That's not to say that anything not on our list is a shady operation. These are just a few that our team has first-hand experience with or have a sound reputation. 

LKQ Online

LKQ is just tough to beat for most car owners. It's basically a salvage yard on steroids. With 1,700 locations and countless parts to pick from, you can score used engines for almost anything on today's roadways. It also deals in remanufactured components and aftermarket parts to help you service pretty much anything. They even give you specific details of the vehicle your engine was pulled from so you can determine if it suits your application. 

Peace of mind and convenience go a long way, but prices are the ultimate defining factor for many. Also, LKQ isn't exactly the best place to source specialty or classic engines. 

Pros

  • Highly reliable services 
  • Thousands of U.S. locations
  • Detailed information provided 

Cons

  • High prices 
  • Limited access to specialty engines

Facebook Marketplace

If you’re looking to pay the least for an engine, Facebook Marketplace is often the best spot. That's especially true when you're looking for domestic specialty engines. I have used Facebook Marketplace for engines, and the 440 powering my Charger is an example of that. The great thing about this platform is that it's essentially a big rummage sale where things go fast and cheap. Car collectors use it to keep inventory moving and often let things go for much less than average selling prices. Even if they are asking for normal pricing, you can always try to put your negotiation skills to work.  

There are a few drawbacks to using Marketplace. While I've never been burned on an engine, I have had sellers drop out or blow me off last minute. In other words, it's not exactly reliable. Also, there are often no shipping options available so it’s up to you to pick up and transport whatever you purchase here.

Pros

  • Specialty engines
  • Prices often negotiable 
  • Low prices

Cons

  • Reliability varies 
  • Shipping not always available 

eBay

Good old eBay is my personal favorite source for parts in general. It's the next best thing to a swap meet. You can source many used goods from here, and engines are certainly on the agenda. You can use it to find pretty much anything. R34, 2JZ, 426 Hemi, 5.0 Coyote, Tigershark—it's there. You might even get lucky and find an extremely good deal on the engine you're after and have it shipped to your doorstep. 

This is another platform that deals with private sellers, so reliability isn't one of its strong suits. While eBay itself does way more than most to protect buyers, it all comes down to the seller's actions. Also, you may or may not have to deal with transportation yourself. Shipping is not always provided. If shipping is available, hefty freight charges are often attached.

Pros

  • Specialty engines 
  • Low prices 
  • Shipping sometimes provided 

Cons

  • Reliability varies 
  • High charges for shipping

HMotorsOnline

If HMotorsOnline did more than JDM and USDM engines, it might've topped this list. In comparison to all other platforms, this company just might have the most positive reputation on the web. Customer service is excellent, deliveries are on time, and they supply clean used engines and parts. It might not be as large as some of the competition, but its history of putting the customer first has helped this company grow over the past 20 years. 

A few have pointed out that the prices aren't quite as low as the competitors, but quality and care are worth the additional expense. Also, they do have a somewhat limited inventory, with the existing stock being a little Honda heavy.

Pros

  • Reliable 
  • Specialty JDM engines 
  • Great customer service

Cons

  • Limited inventory 
  • High prices 

Craigslist

Craigslist is akin to the granddaddy of online classifieds. It might not be the original, but it's certainly one of the most recognized names. It’s not as popular as it once was, but it's still a great place to source used engines, including those from specialty applications. Simply type in what you're looking for in a given area, and it hooks you up with any private sellers that match the criteria. Negotiations are a big part of its function, and you can easily change the search location to hone into any hot spots to which you're willing to travel. 

Craigslist's dwindling popularity does hurt its effectiveness, and it can be hard to turn up many results in your area. Also, you are dealing with private sellers, and reliability suffers because of it.

Pros

  • Low prices 
  • Easy to tailor searches 
  • Specialty engines available 

Cons

  • Not very popular 
  • Reliability varies
  • No shipping options 

Copart

Copart might not be the most practical choice for those who just need an engine, but it's an option nonetheless. This site deals in the auction of salvaged cars, and you can find everything from Camrys to Hellcats. If you win the bid, you set up the delivery and wind up with an entire parts car to work with. This opens up the possibility of sourcing only what you need and parting it out to make some of your money back. 

Copart is really only a good source in select situations. You really do need to have the ability to tear down an entire car and deal with the leftovers for it to be truly effective. Also, because everything goes up for auction, there's no guarantee you will get a good price. 

Pros

  • Entire parts cars available
  • Can make money back
  • Many parts in one place

Cons

  • Good deals are rare
  • Dependent on mechanical skills

What to Consider When Buying a Used Engine

Go Local First 

Build a network and exhaust your resources before you start hunting around online. Not that there's anything wrong with buying from reputable online sources, but you'll often save more if you start by asking the guys at your local Cars & Coffee first. 

Hit the local salvage yards if you just need an engine for a run-of-the-mill commuter or truck. You're not going to get a warranty or have shipping sorted out for you, but you'll probably find an engine for a few thousand dollars less than what you'd pay online, especially if you're working with an older application. 

What if you need something that's not a likely discovery at the local U-Pull-It? Start asking around. Get leads on shops that specialize in niche vehicles. Chances are there's someone in your area who does a lot of work on JDM or Euro applications and can help you track down the engine you're after or let you know where you should be looking. 

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Don't just think about local mechanics either. Hit the machine shops. More often than not, they'll have short blocks, bare blocks, rotating assemblies, and other bits you need to start putting an engine together. It’s also worth talking to them about what you already have since that might be the best way to save money. 

As for folks just starting an adventure into the world of classics, make friends with the old heads involved in the same cars you are. You'd be amazed to find how many have engines they're willing to sell for ridiculously low prices yet never list them in the local classifieds. 

Once you've exhausted your resources, head to the internet. Of course, you can start there if you just want to be done as soon as possible. But you'd be surprised how far a little bit of networking will take you.  

Get Your Head in the Game

Pulling engines is and isn't everything everyone makes it out to be. Sometimes they pop right out; other times they need a little extra persuasion. Ask yourself whether or not it's a job worth doing yourself. 

Generally speaking, it's something just about anyone can do with the right tools and a willingness to learn. However, all it takes is making one mistake to wind up with thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Video

Here’s a helpful little film on how not to pull an engine:

When you get to the point of replacing your powerplant, you have to think about more than just the engine. You need means to swap the engines in a manner you feel is safe for the situation. If you don’t have the tools or the space to do the job, it might be worth paying a professional to do it for you. In that case, you might not need to worry about hunting down the engine at all. 

Deposit Photos

Inspecting a Used Engine 

Suck it up and buy the gasket kit. I know you want to keep this as cheap and hassle-free as possible, but you're counting on pure luck if you just drop the engine in as-is. I'm not saying you need to default to an overhaul, but it's worth going through it with a fine-tooth comb to ensure everything is in working order. If you don't uncover and deal with any major issues while the engine's out of the car, you'll be kicking yourself later when they present themselves during operation — especially if they lead to yet another engine swap. 

Get the ID Numbers 

First things first, find out where the ID casting numbers are on your engine and decode them. You want to get as many details about this engine as possible, not just the displacement. At the very least, make sure it's a compatible version for your make and model. This ensures your existing wiring harness, mounts, and exhaust components will work. If it's not an exact match, make sure to compare the new engine to your old one in case any parts need to be swapped to make it all work. 

Check for Any Obvious Signs of Damage 

That engine came out of a car for a reason. Always keep that in mind. It could be due to a collision, a faulty transmission, or something unrelated to the engine, but it could be a bunk motor. And even if it isn't, your task is to find out if there has been any residual damage to the engine or if it had any undisclosed issues. 

Start by inspecting the exterior. Look for any cracks, leaks, or broken parts. You might be tempted to let leaks slide as you should be replacing all of the gaskets and seals anyway, but they can be indicative of a mechanical issue or warped or cracked components that need to be addressed. Also, don't be fooled if the engine is spotless. Sellers often clean the engine up to make it more presentable, but this can potentially mask problems you need to be aware of. 

Pop the Valve Cover 

The next thing you want to do is pop the valve cover. Take note of the condition of the parts beneath. Any signs of gunk or sludge tell you that the engine likely wasn't cared for properly, and there may be some hidden issues. 

This is also a good time to get out the breaker bar and start rolling the engine over. While you turn the motor over, watch the valvetrain to make sure everything is moving freely and evenly. Any signs of binding or slop mean you've got a project ahead of you. 

Removing the plugs for this will make turning the engine by hand easier. It also gives you the opportunity to inspect the plugs for any abnormalities or running condition issues. 

Check Behind the Timing Cover

Timing chains and timing belts wear with time. Even if your used engine is in good shape, you should replace these components now to prevent issues down the road. It's also not the kind of job you want to do with the engine in the car. At the very least, you want to inspect the chain or belt for any signs of wear or play. 

Drop the Oil Pan 

Even if everything else looks good, you need to drop the oil pan and take a look inside. Check the pan for any metal shavings or other signs of excessive wear. It's also a good idea to inspect the rods for excessive play on the crank and remove the caps to inspect your bearings. Based on the engine's overall condition, you can opt to skip this step, but it's not wise to take it on faith that the previous owners kept up with routine oil changes. 

Remove the Head(s)

Take the head off and replace the head gasket. It's just a good idea. While you're in there, take the time to inspect the pistons, cylinders, deck, and cylinder head. Any signs of scoring in the cylinders, excessive build-up on the pistons, or warpage of the heads warrant taking further steps to get the engine in sound working condition. 

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Is it worth putting a used engine in a car?

A: If you need an engine and have a solid, low-mileage engine to drop in there, there's no reason not to. If, however, that replacement engine has a lot of hard miles on it, probably not. It all depends on your standards and the condition of the engine you're working with. 

Q: Which engines are most reliable?

A: In the case of new and used engines, new engines are going to be more reliable because there's no chance that someone has abused them. Used engines, however, can be a far better choice when budget constraints and specialty applications come into play. 

Q: How do you identify a trustworthy used engine seller?

A: Reviews are your best friend here. We cut out of the discussion many used engine dealers because of their terrible reputations. If you're buying engines from private sellers, things get a little dicey if there are no reviews. That's why it's on you to familiarize yourself with the engine type you're looking for and inspect it thoroughly, if possible, before buying. 

Q: What is it like buying a car with a rebuilt engine?

A: Buying a car with a used engine is no different than buying a used car in general. You need to feel things out. Inspect the engine for any obvious signs of damage, listen to it run in all temperature ranges to make sure there are no abnormalities, take it for a ride and see if it loses power. Keep in mind that sometimes used engines might have far fewer miles than original engines, which can make it a better deal. 

Q: How do I check engine quality?

A: You need to get inside of it—and we mean inside. Don't take it on faith that an engine is sound based on outside appearances—pressure washers work miracles. Remove the valve covers, pop the heads off, inspect the cylinders, and check the bearings. Be thorough in your inspection.

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