The day we all dread when we drive a high-mileage car is when the engine finally fails and we need to either rebuild or replace the engine. It’s a costly and labor-intensive endeavor, but you’ll need to do it when it’s time. We’ll discuss engine replacement costs in this post. We’ll guide you on the process, why it costs so much, and whether or not your engine replacement cost is worth it.
Engine Replacement Cost: How Much?
If your mechanic told you that you need an engine rebuild or replacement, you probably already have an estimate. Now you’re looking to verify whether the cost is worth it, or your mechanic is trying to scam you. You’re probably looking for other options as well.
An engine replacement or rebuild is necessary when certain internal parts in your engine have failed. Whether it’s the head gasket, the pistons, or one of the bearings within your engine. In any case, when you see certain symptoms, you will need a new engine. We’ll discuss more about the symptoms later on.
For now, you’re probably wondering how much does an engine replacement cost? Well, when it comes to an engine replacement, you typically have three options: rebuild, used replacement, or remanufactured replacement. They are all costly options but one may be better than the other for you. Here’s the difference:
Engine Replacement Cost: Engine Rebuild
An engine rebuild is a process that involves removing the engine, taking it apart, and replacing all the necessary parts so that it will function like new. Your mechanic will then reassemble the engine and put it back in the car. The process requires machining and finishing repairs, if necessary. Your mechanic will keep the original engine block but will replace a lot of your engine parts.
This process will typically cost around $2,500 to $4,500, and it will vary depending on your car’s make and model. Needless to say, cars with bigger engines such as sports cars and luxury cars will likely cost more.
Engine Replacement Cost: Buying Used Engines
A much cheaper option would be to buy used engines instead of rebuilding them. You can find used engines on eBay or your local junkyards. These used engines can come from either a user who no longer needs the original engine because they replaced it with a new one, often for performance gains. Or from junkyards that were scrapping a car but took the engine out to resell.
The prices will vary depending on where you find them and the engine’s age, mileage, and condition. Used engines are also often sold as either a short block or a long block. A long block engine means it’s a complete engine that you’re likely able to simply fit in your car. A short block engine means only the lower section of the engine is included, this includes the engine block, crankshaft, connecting rods, pistons, bearings, and oil pan. A short-block engine is likely cheaper, but you will still need to find and pay for parts you don’t get, such as the head gasket, valves, and a few others.
A used engine can be as cheap as $600, but keep in mind an engine this cheap might not be in good condition. Additionally, you will still need to pay for the labor cost of installing the engine. All in all, a decent used engine will cost you around $1,500 to $3,000. If a Northstar engine fits your car, consider one of those.
Engine Replacement Cost: Remanufactured Engines
As the name suggests, a remanufactured engine means that the engine has been pulled out from a vehicle and returned to factory conditions. Or at least, as close as possible to factory condition and specifications. Simply put, a remanufactured engine has been restored to perform as it had just come out of the factory.
The process involves machining the engine’s cylinders along with all other parts and replacing the necessary parts with OEM products. This restores them to their original specifications. A remanufactured engine is probably your best bet for an engine replacement. The engine will perform like brand new, and remanufactured engines often come with a warranty for peace of mind. However, they can cost anywhere between $2,500 to $5,000 depending on your vehicle’s make and model. So, while it is a quality option and safe bet, it will put a significant dent in your bank account.
The remanufacturing job is usually done by an auto shop or auto repair company that has gotten its hands on the original blueprint of an engine. One such company is JASPER Engines & Transmissions.
All three options are going to cost a significant amount of money, and they all have their upsides and downsides. We’ll give you a guide on which one to go for when replacing an engine. For now, let’s discuss the signs you need an engine replacement:
Signs You Need an Engine Replacement
So, do you really need an engine replacement? Or is your mechanic just playing tricks on you? An engine failure is a major incident, so even if your car didn’t break down, you’re going to notice some symptoms. We’ll list down the symptoms below. If you see any of these symptoms, then you’re likely going to need an engine replacement or rebuild.
1. Knocking Noise
A knocking noise from the engine usually sounds like two pieces of metal banging against each other. There’s a variety of things that can cause a knocking noise and it may not be a major issue. These causes include incorrect spark plug gap, bad ignition timing, too lean fuel-air mixture, and low octane fuel amongst other things.
However, a knocking noise may also come from worn-out rod bearings. The rod connects the pistons to the crankshaft, and the bearings will wear out over time. When it wears out, you will need to replace it and do an engine rebuild. If you hear a knocking noise from the engine, try to rule out the other possibilities. If the knocking noise is still there, you will likely need to replace the rod bearings and do an engine rebuild.
Keep in mind that some knocking noise is harmless. If you hear a knocking noise in the first 15 minutes as the engine warms up, then it’s likely just a piston slap and you don’t really need to worry about it. Some engines make knocking noises when they’re cold due to their design. We wrote a great article about piston slap and knocking noises, you can read about it here.
2. Excessive Smoke
A gas-powered car will emit colorless smoke that’s usually odorless. As for diesel engines, they will usually emit black smoke with a stronger smell, although modern diesel engines are much cleaner now and the smoke is often colorless most of the time. So when you see excessive smoke coming out of your tailpipe, that’s when you know there’s something wrong with your engine.
If you see thick white smoke coming out of your tailpipe, that means your coolant is leaking into the engine’s cylinder. The coolant is then burnt along with the fuel during the combustion process, resulting in white smoke. If you see blue smoke coming out of your tailpipe, that means you’re engine’s oil is leaking into the cylinders. When oil is burnt along with the fuel and air mixture, your vehicle’s smoke turns blue.
Coolant and oil leak is often caused by a blown head gasket, which is a thin piece of metal that sits between your engine block and cylinder head. The head gasket prevents coolant and oil from leaking into the cylinders, so they can flow through a designated area and keeps the engine cool and lubricated. If the head gasket is blown or cracked, you will need to replace them.
You can learn more about different exhaust smoke and what it means in the video below:
3. Your Car is Burning Oil Quickly
Most cars will use around 1 quart of oil for every 800 to 1,000 miles. If you notice your engine using more than that, it’s a sign that your engine is burning more oil than it should. This is usually because there’s a leak in your head gasket, and the oil is escaping into the engine’s cylinder. The leak may be small and that’s why you’re not noticing any blue smoke, but there’s still enough leak that your engine is using more oil than it typically would.
Check your oil level once a month, if it drops below the minimum level on the dipstick, refill your oil as necessary. If it quickly drops below the minimum again before the next oil change, then you likely have a head gasket leak. In which case, you will need an engine rebuild.
4. Engine Misfire and Compression Loss
An engine misfire happens when one more cylinder isn’t firing or igniting at the right time, hence called a misfire. When an engine misfires, you will notice a popping sound and sometimes excessive vibration. You will also experience a lack of power and if it’s severe enough, your vehicle will struggle to accelerate.
Engine misfires are often not serious. If you drive a gasoline vehicle, the problem often stems from a faulty ignition coil, bad spark plugs, and bad ignition timing amongst other causes. If this is the case, you will either need to replace or tune the parts to fix the issue. Once resolved, your engine should run smoothly. We wrote a great article about engine misfires and how to diagnose them, it should help you resolve the problem and you can read it here.
However, if none of the causes above are the problems, you’re likely experiencing a cylinder compression loss. In this case, you will need to do a compression test to verify the issue. If you have a compression loss in one or more of the cylinders, you will need an engine rebuilt or replacement. This is because a cylinder compression loss indicates an internal structure breakdown. The problem might stem from a bad piston or piston ring, a blown head gasket, or maybe even a crack in the cylinders.
Here’s a guide from Roadshow’s Youtube channel on how to do a compression test:
Engine Replacement Cost: Why is it So Expensive?
An engine rebuild or replacement costs so much money simply because of how labor-intensive the process is. Even if you decide to replace the engine rather than build it, you will still need to pay for the labor cost of installing the engine into your car. This process will take at least a couple of days to finish, as your mechanic need to connect the engine to the fuel line, the transmission, and various other components.
If you choose to rebuild it, it’s also expensive because of the labor. Engine parts are often not very expensive, with a few exceptions of course. For example, a new head gasket will cost you no more than $500, and often as little as $200. It’s the process of disassembling your engine and rebuilding it that costs a lot of money. Just to replace the head gasket, here’s what your mechanic will need to do:
- Drain all oil and coolant from your engine.
- Remove a significant portion of your engine, including the camshafts, cylinder heads, and the broken head gasket itself.
- Clean the surface of the engine block and bolt holes.
- Fit in the new head gaskets, the cylinder heads, and everything else that was taken apart before.
- Set the camshafts and timing gears back to your car’s exact orientation, making sure it runs smoothly as it should.
The steps above are an oversimplification of the real process, and that’s just to replace the head gasket. If you need to replace the pistons, con-rods, bearings, and other internal parts, it’s even more complicated.
Watch this timelapse of a Hemi V8 rebuild from Hagerty media to give you an idea of how complicated an engine rebuild is:
Should You DIY It?
Whenever we make replacement or repair articles, we will often recommend our readers to do the job themselves to save some money. We recommend this when it’s a simpler job like changing your oil, replacing old spark plugs, or even cleaning catalytic converters. They’re relatively simple, don’t require specialized tools, and will take a few hours at most.
However, rebuilding or replacing an entire engine is a much more complicated job and we will never recommend anyone to do it themself unless they’re a trained mechanic with access to the necessary tools. Not to mention, an engine rebuild or replacement can take anywhere between 15 to 25 hours to finish. We’re sure your time is much too valuable to spend on rebuilding an engine.
Additionally, rebuilding or replacing an engine requires precision. One wrong step during assembly and your car may not even start, let alone run properly. Bottom line: it’s not worth rebuilding an engine on your own even if you save a lot of money.
Engine Replacement Cost: Is It Worth It?
So, you need an engine replacement and it’s very costly, is it worth it? Before you give your mechanic the go-ahead in replacing or rebuilding your engine, take a look at your vehicle’s market value. If the vehicle’s resell value is significantly higher than the engine replacement cost, then we would recommend going ahead with the replacement job. But if it’s not that much more valuable, you might be better off selling the car as-is. Even if it means selling it at a lower price.
For example, if an engine replacement for your vehicle costs $4,000 and your vehicle can be sold for $10,000, then we would recommend that you go ahead with the replacement job. However, if your car is only worth $5,000 on the secondhand market, then maybe it’s best to sell it as-is. Afterward, use the money to buy a new car instead. As mentioned, you will need to sell it at a lower price, but this will at least put cash on your hands, rather than having to put out cash for an engine replacement.
Selling Your Car As-Is
If you’re selling your car as-is, then you have two options: sell it under market value or scrap it. The first option will still tend to give you more money, but it might be hard to find a buyer that’s willing to buy a broken car even if it’s under market value. This is because they will still need to deal with the process of fixing the problem and paying for it.
The second best option is to scrap the car. There are two ways to do this, either you take the car to a junkyard and they will give you the car’s scrap metal value. Or, the more complicated option but will likely put more money in your hand, is to take your car apart on your own and sell the parts and accessories.
The second option will require you to take apart and salvage parts like the interior trim, suspension, engine parts, and maybe even body panels. And then selling them to people who drive the same vehicle as you do. This will take some time and skill to do, but the individual parts will worth more and you might be able to earn more cash. Of course, if taking apart a car and salvaging parts doesn’t sound like a fun activity to you, then we recommend just sell it to a junkyard instead.
Of course, for some people, a car is more than just a mode of transport, cars often have sentimental values. Maybe you got married in your current car, or maybe it’s been in the family for generations, or maybe you just have tons of memories with it. In this case, we understand if you want to keep it and go ahead with the engine replacement. In which case, here’s our advice:
Engine Replacement Cost: Rebuild, Used, or Remanufactured?
So, rebuild, used, or remanufactured? We generally won’t recommend buying used engines, since they’re often of lower quality and don’t come with a warranty. Unless you’re sure that the engine is in good condition, or you don’t have any other options financially, and you’re adamant about replacing the engine in your car instead of selling it, then you shouldn’t buy used engines.
How about rebuild vs remanufactured? Well, this comes down to two things: how much do you trust the auto shop that’s doing the replacement or rebuild? And what fits your budget better? An engine rebuild might not be advisable if you don’t fully trust the auto shop. They might do a shoddy job and you might still be left with a troublesome engine even after the rebuild. Remanufactured is often more recommended. They are more expensive, but the engine has been restored to factory specifications and should work smoothly. If you can find one that fits your budget, then remanufactured engines are the way to go.
Either way, we’d like to remind you that you should go to an auto shop that offers a warranty. If anything goes wrong, you can have it repaired for little to no money at all. Also, ask if they have a courtesy car. An engine replacement job can take up to a week. It would be nice if they can provide you with a courtesy car. If not, you’d know in advance so you can make arrangements for your daily commute. And finally, remind your mechanic to keep you updated with the repair process. This way, you won’t be surprised by unexpected repair jobs that you didn’t see and approve in the initial estimate.
An engine rebuild or replacement is an expensive repair job. But like it or not, you will eventually need to do it if you drive a high-mileage car. Replacing your engine with a used engine from a scrapyard is a much cheaper option. But you need to make sure that the engine is in good condition before buying it. Otherwise, you’re going to be stuck with a troublesome engine anyway.
An engine rebuild is generally the better option. You’re replacing just the necessary parts in your current engine, but it will still make your engine run smoothly and almost like new. We recommend doing this as long as you trust the repair shop will do a good job and won’t charge you for any unnecessary repairs.
Lastly, remanufactured engines are often the best choice. These engines have been restored to factory specifications and will run just like when they rolled off the assembly line. It’s usually much more expensive, but it’s like getting a new engine. They also often come with a warranty so you won’t have to worry about expensive repairs anytime soon.
If all of the options above are too expensive and don’t make sense financially, your last option would be to sell your car as-is. As mentioned, you will have to sell it at a lower price, but it will at least put some cash in your hands. Maybe it’s time you finally put a down payment on that dream car of yours.