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4x4 Truck Engine Swap - Willie's Workbench

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on November 1, 2008
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You've decided you're going to make an engine swap in your 4x4. You've done the research, know what's involved, searched out the radiator, mounts, and necessary adapter. You know what motor you want, so now you've got to locate one. Like most of us, you're working within a budget, so you want the best possible deal for the money. Where do you start looking?

One important factor is: are you looking for a rebuildable engine because you're planning on making some major horsepower, or are you looking for a good-running engine that you can bolt in, turn the key, and drive it away?

Salvage yards: Lots of salvage yards pre-pull the motors and have them neatly stacked in rows just waiting for you. In this instance, you have to trust the integrity and reputation of the yard as to the condition and mileage. Some of these yards will even put out the effort to start the engine for you. However, very seldom is the exhaust channeled through any muffler, and the open exhaust will hide a lot of sins. Myself, I would much rather locate my engine choice while it still resides in the vehicle. This way, you can get a pretty good idea of how the engine was cared for by the overall condition of the vehicle, and best of all, have a true mileage reading. Look for oil change stickers and other clues that may indicate regular maintenance. By having the whole vehicle available, you can get the little things that make the swap go easier and you know where they go.

If you're going to a rebuildable motor, strike a deal with the yard boss. No point in paying for the air filter, carburetor, intake, or a starter you won't be using if you're planning on aftermarket parts.

Private party: Newspapers, Penny Savers, and word of mouth can offer some great buys, but buyer beware. Case in point: I bought a 350 Chevy complete motor. The flexplate was bent from an accident the vehicle had been in and thus prevented me from fully rotating the engine, so I pulled the valve covers and both sides were super-clean, matching the low mileage on the car the engine came from. After getting it home and removing the flexplate, the engine wouldn't turn a complete 360 degrees. Pulling one of the cylinder heads revealed lots of rust in one of the cylinders. Seems water at one time went down the uncovered intake, found an open valve and collected. My fault-I should have taken the flexplate off and turned over the engine before any cash changed hands.

Be aware of so-called "just been rebuilt" engines. There is a really big difference in what one person considers rebuilt and what actually was rebuilt. If the owner claims the engine has been recently rebuilt, ask to see the receipts, and then maybe even check with the shop that did the work. If they can't be produced, ask the seller to take the engine apart to prove it. If not, walk away.

Complete vehicle: Another interesting thought-buy a complete running vehicle. This is especially true if it has a transmission you want to use-and even better, a transfer case. This gives you the chance to get all the parts as needed without multiple trips back to the wrecking yard. If you need the wiring harness, you can take your time in removing it. You'll also find lots of "little" things you'll be able to use. Maybe you can use the seats or steering box. You then can part out the vehicle if you have the time and storage space, sell off the unneeded parts, and maybe even get most of your investment back. Buy a rebuilt engine: The term "rebuilt" can mean a lot of different things. Generally speaking, let price be your guideline and adhere to the age-old adage, "You get what you pay for." There can be a big difference in the quality of parts used, as say, in cast versus forged pistons. Were the valves actually replaced or just ground? Were quality gaskets used? Was the oil pump replaced or just new gears installed? I have seen "discount auto parts" engines with cylinder heads that were mismatched, one side being from a performance engine and the other out of a truck. Crate engines: I have bought one crate engine in my life from a local Chevy dealer, a performance model. I now have about 30,000 miles on it and the rings have never seated. The warranty was for three years-well, that's a joke. First I was told that it had no warranty because it was a performance engine. When I pointed out the warranty in the catalog, I was then told the warranty was void because it went into a Jeep, not a GM vehicle. When that didn't fly right by me, they then said that it wasn't covered in a race vehicle and because my Jeep had a full rollcage in it, then I must race it! It finally came down to "OK, we will put new rings in it, but you have to pull the engine out, bring it to us, and pay for the labor and all costs related to getting the pistons out and the engine put back together. We will pay for the rings." Think again if that is ever going to happen. Others have had excellent luck with factory crate engines.

The final word: Buyer beware, know what you're buying, and get a bill of sale that fully describes what you're getting for your money that includes the engine's serial number.

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