Go Back Go Ahead

Auto enthusiasts often say the engine is the heart of a car, especially in exotic nameplates like Ferrari or Lamborghini. In those cars, the engine gives a car its "personality."

The engine, though, is important in any vehicle. Maybe not as a defining element of the design, but clearly as the power source. Without an operating engine, the car is dead. And like the human heart, engines wear out. When that happens, owners have a major financial decision: Put money into the car, or get a different one.

When you're ready
to replace your car,
we can help
with financing
Vehicle replacement
Say your vehicle is a minivan, but you no longer need all the cargo space. Do you really want to put big money into something that doesn't meet your needs? It doesn't pay to put money into a vehicle only to sell it. Here it's time to think replacement vehicle, not replacement engine.
      What about a newer used car? Say three years ago your car was already three years old and worth $8,500. Three years later--now--the car is six years old and worth $5,000. But, if the vehicle's not running, that $5,000 value becomes much less. There are lots of three-year-old cars available now. They have improvements never imagined for your six-year-old vehicle.
      A new car means 48 months to 60 months of car payments for most people. That's not the end, though. The highest depreciation in a new car is in the first year, and the new owner absorbs it all. New vehicles require higher insurance rates for sure. In some areas, an annual personal property tax on the car's value adds up fast.
      Those are some of your considerations in looking at a replacement car. Replacing or repairing the engine is not a simple decision. But you have options, more than you realize.

Engine repair
"Repairing an engine can get expensive," advises Dave Van Sickle, AAA's director of automotive and consumer information, reaching as much as $5,000 for a complete overhaul of your common American, small, V-8 engine. If you know specifically what's wrong, like a valve job, the expense can be much less.
      With a partial overhaul, though, you have an engine that's just half "new." Keeping it for a few more years, you could face another partial overhaul on the rest of the engine. And when you overhaul part or all of your own vehicle's engine, you do know the engine's history.
      So why not just replace the entire engine? The decision on a four-year-old car is different than for one eight years old. If you drive a lot of miles commuting, say 120 miles a day (yes, there are people who do!), the warranty has expired not because of time, but miles. A four-year-old car with 120,000 miles should have a lot of life in it. The cosmetics--body, upholstery, trim--usually still are in good shape.
      Mechanical parts, though, are part of the equation. Putting money into a replacement engine doesn't get you a new car. The transmission still has the odometer's miles on it. If you fix the engine, will the transmission need fixing six months later? A rejuvenated engine can hasten the failure of other aged drivetrain parts.

      With a partial overhaul,
      you have an engine
      that's half new.

A remanufactured engine
is less than most
people think it is.
Remanufactured engines
Now, your choice is between a remanufactured engine and a recycled engine. Remanufactured engines are removed from other cars (not your own) and sent to a facility that overhauls them completely in a production setting. Technicians return specifications to original tolerances with new parts and machining. "Small parts are new, major parts are cut [machined]," says Ben Collins, owner of Motorman, in Canton, Mass., which specializes in installing remanufactured engines.
      Remanufactured engine pricing usually includes installation and a one-year warranty. There's a potential pricing catch, however.
      A remanufactured engine is less than you might think it is. Most parts attached to an engine are not considered part of the engine. So, with a remanufactured engine, the starter, air conditioning compressor, power-steering pump, alternator, fuel system, ignition system, flywheel, and clutch still are old. There's no reason they can't be replaced. And there should be no labor charge because the work is part of the standard installation.
      Collins is honest enough to say, "Always remember everything that makes it go or can wreck it comes off the old engine." That's why checking those support systems is important.
      At Motorman, remanufactured engines are $2,000 to $2,500 for most ordinary cars. Collins says, "You could blow an engine every year, and it's only about $150 a month!" Chances are very good that won't happen.
      Looking for a remanufactured engine? Collins advises looking for a specialist who has been in business four years or so, and "has done engines before."

Recycled engines
Recycled engines are something different. These are not engines out of derelict vehicles, worn out and abandoned. These are engines from insurance companies' total losses, some with surprisingly low mileage. Another key point--you get all the support parts!
      Mileage plays a big factor in the price of these engines. A recycled Ford 5-liter V-8 costs about $900 with 30,000 miles on it, but only $400 with 80,000 miles. Those prices are typical at Lacy Auto Parts in Richmond, Va. "A good used engine for a mainstream vehicle should be $1,000 or less," according to Ed Lacy.
      Supply and demand affect price, too. Art Heberer, at Import Auto Recycling, Salem, Va., has seven Honda Civic engines in stock for $400 to $550. "They just don't break. Everybody has them."
      Upscale, high-tech engines up the ante. A good, used Mercedes-Benz 4.2-liter V-8 can be $2,200 to $3,000, Heberer says. With computer networks linking recyclers, it's easy for specialists to learn the supply situation elsewhere.
      Warranties are variable on recycled engines, even at the same recycler. Heberer's standard is 90 days, but he would consider a year on some Hondas, for example, again citing their "don't break" reputation.
      At Lacy Auto Parts, the base warranty is 100 days, but buying a one-year extended warranty can add about 10% to the cost. Buyers need to know if the warranty covers installation labor. Historically, it hasn't, but Ed Lacy says, "That's changing."
      Not every repair shop installs recycled engines. Some recyclers can swap engines themselves, others can direct you to a shop that can do it. Figure on $350 to $600 for installation, Lacy adds.

Years ago, engines were engines. The electronic controls on today's cars make selection of a recycled engine for a specific car more critical. Heberer tells of a 1992 Honda engine that bolted right into a '94, but wouldn't work. The older engine lacked the sensors for the fuel system and emission controls.
      Good recyclers maintain current databases with interchange info, so they know what fits what. One way to find those better recyclers is to look for Automotive Recyclers Association membership. This trade association is made up of companies that want to be more than just "junk yards."
      Engine replacements, like human hearts, are major surgery, not to be taken lightly. The right donor can be found. These days the chances of total recovery for either patient are excellent.

John Fobian is an automotive writer and former director of automotive engineering for AAA.

GO TO Table of Contents       Credit Rating       Checking Accounts
      Investment Style       Auto Transplants?
      Consumer Choice       Fast Facts
©1998 Credit Union National Association, Inc.