We've all been there at one point or another...You know what we're talking about. "What engine should I drop into my truck?" This sort of dilemma is usually a result of prolonged bench racing sessions. Most of us ask a couple of friends and fellow wheelers what they think about certain engines and if they think it would be a wise choice for our personal off-road rig. The options are fairly wide when it comes to choosing engines for your off-road toy.
Crate engines are a viable source when searching for more powerful motivation. Most companies that sell crate engines these days offer great warranties for their products as well as technical support in case you need some assistance with your build. Some of them even offer the option to custom build it to your specifications and needs.
In case you don't have a few grand burning a hole in your pocket, salvage yards may be the solution to your power problems. The key thing to remember when scrounging around a salvage yard is that you never know what you're going to find in the next jalopy. Crumpled fenders or bedsides may be a good indication that the engine you are looking at may still be good. Junkyard shopping is an art form that takes years of experience to master. Keep in mind that looking around the entire lot may lead to a heck of a find, but make sure you don't forget where you found your treasure. Putting a loose tire on the roof of a potential candidate is a good way to mark where your discovery is incase you walk away to poach elsewhere.
We felt the need to fuel the fire a bit and decided to give you our opinions on what we think are some of the best engines out there to use in your off-road toy.
GM Performance Parts LS3 376/480
Why go with an LS3? Why not! The lightweight small block produces enough power to muscle its way through any difficult terrain while still giving you excellent street manners. This LS3 has all the good qualities of the smooth idling LS engines yet produces enough power to make you think it's a big block, thanks to the LS Hot Cam (p/n 12617570) that features 0.525-inch intake and exhaust valve lifts that allows for a dramatic increase in power across the power band.
Displacement: 376ci 6.2L V-8
Horsepower: 480 hp
Torque: 475 lb-ft
Block material: Cast aluminum
Bore x stroke: 4.06 x 3.62 in.
Weight: 415 pounds
Features: High flowing rectangular port cylinder heads, 1.7:1 roller rockers, 6-Bolt aluminum block, nodular crank, high performance rods, and 10.7:1 hypereutectic aluminum slugs.
Warranty: 24-month GMPP limited warranty
Average price: $7,356.55
What to use it in: Any LS powered Chevy and GMC truck as well as mini truck and buggies that need more power in mud slinging action or high speed desert applications
Ford 408ci ATK Stroker V-8 Crate Engine Drag racers have long known the benefits of running a 351W based 408ci stroker. These engines command respect, and rightfully so since it has more stump pulling power than a stock big block. If you drive a Bronco and are tired of getting spanked by small block Blazers, this is exactly what you need. Though this engine is limited to only 5800 rpms, they are very reliable in off-road trucks because you don't need to hammer the throttle to get some monstrous power to the wheels.
Displacement: 408ci Windsor based V-8
Horsepower: 430 hp
Torque: 480 lb-ft
Block material: Cast iron
Bore x stroke: 4.030 x 4.000 in.
Weight: 550 pounds
Features: 60cc aluminum cylinder heads with 2.02 inch intake and 1.60 inch exhaust valves and 180cc intake runners, 1.7:1 roller rockers, big hydraulic roller cam with 0.512-inch intake and exhaust lift, nodular iron crank, I beam rods, and 10.0:1 forged pistons
Warranty: 24-month / unlimited mile warranty
Average price: $5,999
What to use it in: Any Bronco or F-150 that has a tired engine. An engine like this would definitely give it a serious attitude adjustment while letting you retain all of your old EFI equipment. If you just want something other than a mouse motor in your Ranger, Toyota mini truck, Jeep CJ or Wrangler this engine will give you all the power you could ask for and then some.
AMC Third Gen V-8
This is one of those oddball engines that are not as mainstream as the other big three's engines but nonetheless it is a great engine that offers monstrous torque. They can be had for practically nothing and if you treat them right, they can live a long life and turn your slow Jeep into a dirt rocket.
Displacement: 304ci, 360ci and 401ci
What they came in: They were produced from '70 to '91 and were available in the Jeep CJ7, Wagoneer, Cherokee, Grand Wagoneer, J-10 and J-20 trucks
Horsepower: 125 to 255 hp
Torque: 220 to 435 lb-ft
Features: Dog leg exhaust ports which build more power than the previous designs, larger piston bores paired with shorter strokes for gobs of torque
Benefits: Inexpensive to purchase at a wrecking yard or online, not a small block Chevy, keeps your Jeep AMC powered, awesome lumpy exhaust note, produces enough power and torque to lift a 39-inch tire off the left front of a CJ-7 under hard launches
Drawbacks: Obsolete parts that can be expensive to repair or replace, stock axles and drivetrain can break under the torque of the AMC V8.
Make It Better: Install a big lumpy cam along with a set of Edelbrock AMC Performer RPM aluminum cylinder heads.
What to use it in: Any Jeep CJ7, Wrangler YJ or TJ that needs to turn massive tires and calls for a V8 that isn't a Chevy or Dodge power plant, would make a great engine choice for a class 3 desert racing Jeep
Nissan 5.6L Endurance V-8
Nissan did it right when they built the 5.6L V-8 Titan engine. Their all aluminum engine delivers a huge amount of stump-pulling power which naturally makes it a great engine choice for underpowered Nissans. The tough bottom end torque of the 5.6L V-8 as well as its highly efficient 32-valve DOHC design help this engine perform like the big block that it isn't.
Horsepower: 317 hp
Torque: 385 lb-ft
Block material: Aluminum
Bore x stroke: 98 x 92 mm
Features: 9.8:1 compression, 32-valve DOHC, 6,000 rpm redline, aluminum block and cylinder heads
Benefits: Very good power to weight ratio, decent torque band, gnarly sounding exhaust note
Drawbacks: Is not exactly known for good fuel economy. If you put it in a lightweight truck, it's bound to be fuel efficient.
Make It Better: Slap on a Stillen supercharger for more power than you'll know what to do with
What to use it in: Any Nissan Patrol, Xterra or Frontier that will see high-speed desert action would be a real joy to drive with this monster under the hood Average price: Vary; check your local auto recyclers and online ads for wrecked Titans
GM Performance Parts HT502
No matter how you spin it, there's simply nothing quite like a big block engine. With 512 lb-ft of torque, this engine can conquer anything you dish out against it. Heavy trucks such as crew cab Chevys are awesome double-duty rigs, but when the tire size increases, the stock engine is simply not going to cut it-good thing you can revitalize it with the HT502 crate engine. This would be the perfect engine to use in classic '67-to-'72 Suburbans.
Horsepower: 377 hp
Torque: 512 lb-ft
Block material: Cast-iron with 4-bolt main caps
Bore x stroke: 4.47 x 4.00 in.
Features: Four bolt main caps, Iron oval port cylinder heads, 1.7:1 stamped steel rockers, forged steel crank, forged steel, shot-peened connecting rods, 8.75:1 forged aluminum pistons, and a hydraulic roller cam that features 0.480 intake and 0.483 exhaust valve lift
Warranty: 24-month / 50,000-mile GMPP limited warranty
Average price: $6,818.40
What to use it in: Any tow rig or mud bogger that needs more power than the stock engine can deliver.
Mopar 4.7L Stroker Jeep Crate Engine
There's no torque like that of the venerable Jeep inline six! It's a shame to let these engines go to waste just because they aren't as powerful as a V-8. And besides, that's not necessarily the case because Mopar has you covered with their 4.7L stroker crate engine. V-8 power in a solid straight-six, there's no reason not to keep your Jeep straight six powered!
Displacement: 4.7L V-8
Horsepower: 270 hp
Torque: 240 lb-ft
Block material: Cast-iron
Bore x stroke: 3.875 x 3.906 in
Weight: 515 pounds
Features: New nodular iron lightweight crank, roller rockers
Benefits: V-8 power with inline six torque, you don't have to modify anything to get it to fit
Drawbacks: Not as powerful as most would like it to be
Make It Better: 505 Performance makes a turbo kit for the 4.0L Jeep inline six
Warranty: 90-day limited warranty
Average price: $5,500 MSRP
What to use it in: Any Jeep, of course! Perfect for any Jeep that is used as a trail rig and requires just enough power to climb over obstacles.
Toyota 5.7L V-8
The Tundra's 5.7L V-8 has given the big three a run for their money as far as big power goes. With just over 400 lb-ft of torque, it's no wonder the Tundra can haul-even on 35-inch rubber...and that's without re-gearing it! Simply put, there is no reason to not want a menacing engine such as this that can power through the ruts and fly down the highways like nobody's business.
Horsepower: 381 hp
Torque: 401 lb-ft
Block material: Aluminum
Bore x stroke: 3.70 x 4.02 in.
Weight: 483.5 pounds
Features: 10.2:1 compression, 32-valve DOHC with dual independent variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i), aluminum block and cylinder heads, dual stage intake manifold
Benefits: Very good power to weight ratio, earth moving torque, big block tendencies, Toyota reliability.
Drawbacks: Requires extensive research, knowledge and modifications to swap into your project truck, you need to dig deep in your pockets to use one of these as a daily driver because they are definitely thirsty thumpers-especially since they may cause lead foot syndrome.
What to use it in: Any rock crawling, desert conquering, and mud slinging Toyota truck. This would be a sweet engine to use in FJ55s, FJ60s, as well as FJ80s for an all Toyota capable rig.
Make it better: Slap on a TRD supercharger for 504 horsepower and 550 lb-ft. of monster rubber-roasting torque.
Ford 460ci Big Block
The 385 series is one of the toughest engine platforms ever built and will leave a big smile on your face with its enormous power. You can find these engines powering dragsters, mud boggers, and desert racing trucks everywhere. If you want your heavy Bronco or F-150 to move like a sports car, drop one of these in between the frame rails and get ready to empty your wallet at the pump. You'll be lucky if you can average 10-12 mpg with one of these under the hood-either way, these engines will always get the job done making any obstacle seam about as hard as climbing a curb.
Displacement: 460ci 7.5L V-8
What they came in: These engines were produced from '68-to-'97 and were available in early full size luxury cars (boats) as well as full size Ford trucks until '97. The last 460ci was sold in the '97 F-250/F350 pick-up truck.
Horsepower: 245 to 375 hp
Torque: 415 to 490 lb-ft
Block material: Cast-iron
Bore x stroke: 4.36 x 3.85 in
Weight: 720 pounds
Features: Big bore and short stroke for tons of low end torque.
Benefits: Can be had for almost nothing and are solid reliable engines in many applications-lots of low end stump pulling torque!
Drawbacks: Will pass everything except a gas station
Make It Better: Swap in a good set of aluminum cylinder heads, aggressive cam, aluminum high rise intake, headers, and at least a 750 CFM carburetor-you can bet you'll feel a big difference!
What to use it in: Use this in any Ford truck that you plan to run hard or where gobs of power are needed. This is the perfect engine for a giant mud truck.
Toyota 4.0L V-6
If you've driven an FJ Cruiser or Tacoma with the 4.0L V-6, than you know they are no slouch when it comes to off the line acceleration. Toyota did their homework improving the design of the already stout 3.4L V-6 to create a ferocious little engine. This engine is capable of making mid sized trucks drive as if they were powered by a V-8. This would be the perfect engine to use in first gen 4runners as well as Toyota mini trucks and desert carving first-gen Tacomas.
Horsepower: 236 HP
Torque: 266 lb-ft
Block material: Aluminum
Bore x stroke: 3.70 x 3.74 in.
Weight: 366 lbs. (automatic trans.) 395 lbs. (manual trans.)
Features: 10.0:1 compression, 24-valve DOHC with variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i), aluminum block and cylinder heads, dual stage intake manifold
Benefits: Light weight aluminum V-6, outstanding reliability in any environment, delivers a powerful punch as well as very good fuel millage
Drawbacks: Not a V-8, might require extensive research, knowledge and modifications to swap into older Tacoma's and 4runner's
What to use it in: Any Toyota mini truck or 4runner as well as Tacomas that need more speed than the 3.4L can offer.
Make it better: TRD supercharger!
Mopar 6.1L Hemi Crate Engine
Ever since the 6.1L Hemi debuted, it has commanded respect with its incredible low end grunt as well as its top end power. This engine is no slouch and can perform in everything from slow trail rides and rock crawling to warp speed desert blasting runs. Drop this in between the frame rails of old Ram Chargers, Rams as well as Jeep Cherokees of all types. This engine will turn your heavy truck into a quick-nimble off-road rig.
Displacement: 6.1L V-8
Horsepower: 425 horsepower
Torque: 420 lb-ft
Block material: Cast-iron
Bore x stroke: 4.055 x 3.58 in
Weight: 578 lbs.
Features: Stock SRT V-8 engine
Benefits: It's a Hemi! It idles smooth. Big power and torque in a reliable package that will give you years of off-road fun.
Warranty: 90 day limited warranty
Average price: $6,250 MSRP
What to use it in: Any Mopar rig that needs some modern muscle to propel it through anything in its path. Older Dodge Rams as well as Ram Chargers would be the perfect candidate for these high powered Mopar monsters.