Cost of a Car Engine Replacementby Richard Rowe
More than any other kind of failure in an automobile, there's almost nothing that's quite as heartbreaking as a completely fried engine. You can blow a gasket, smash in a front end, or set the whole thing on fire -- it's still essentially just a broken car. Once the engine is gone, somehow it stops being a "car," taking on that lonely, empty feeling of an echoing and abandoned home. But better times are on the way, because there's little in the world quite so viscerally joyful as the moment that empty shell becomes not just whole again, but better than it ever was.
There are a huge number of factors to consider when you're looking at an engine replacement, not least of which being how you define an "engine." First, you need to decide on whether you need a new "short-block," "long-block" or a complete engine. Second is what type and make of engine you're dealing with, and where you're planning to source the new one. A brand-spanking-new engine straight from the Lamborghini warehouse is obviously going to cost a lot more than a junkyard or remanufactured 1983 Ford Pinto four-cylinder. Speaking of which, the third thing: age. Generally speaking, engine replacements for domestic and Japanese vehicles get more expensive as vehicles get newer, because newer engines are more expensive to begin with, and harder to come by used. European engine replacements are always expensive, because they're expensive new and hard to find used at any age. Lastly, you have to consider where you're getting it replaced, and how quickly you need it done.
Basic Engine Costs
A complete engine includes everything it needs to run, possibly including every accessory, sensor and electronic component. These kinds of replacements are very rare, except under warranty. A "long-block" is the entire engine, minus the manifolds, accessories and electrical equipment. Normally, an "engine replacement" will include just the long-block. Short-blocks are the long-block, minus the cylinder head or heads. As of 2014, a typical Japanese or American four-cylinder or V-6 long-block will go for $1,500 to $2,000 from a quality engine remanufacturer. Short-blocks generally go for $500 to $800 less, and complete "bolt-in" engines about double the price of a long-block. Expect to double everything for equivalent European engines, especially if they're even remotely rare or performance-oriented. You can cut costs significantly -- often by more than half -- by buying a junkyard engine, but there's no guarantee it's in any better shape than the one you took out.
Performance, Diesel and Luxury Engines
Just for a bit of perspective: A replacement 16.4-liter Bugatti Veyron long-block is about $350,000, and a long-block for a Ferrari Enzo is about the same. That doesn't include shipping, but it does include a 30-day guarantee. Considering that, the $14,000 you'd pay for a complete Corvette Z06 LS7 "crate" engine from GM is a veritable bargain. And, at $6,100, GM is practically giving away 6.3-liter LS3 crate engines like those found in the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS. This is about the ballpark for most domestic V-8 vehicles. For $5,000 to $10,000, you can get a completely rebuilt Detroit Diesel, and $2,500 to $4,000 will get you a Ford Powerstroke long-block. About $8,000 will get you an old Rolls Royce V-8 long-block, while more current engines directly from Rolls will cost about five times as much.
Believe it or not, labor can easily cost you as much as the engine itself -- particularly if you go to a dealer or specialist. A basic garage may charge as little as $50 to $75 an hour, while a dealer or specialist can easily quadruple that. A typical engine replacement for an old vehicle like a 1980 Buick Regal might run as little as 10 hours of shop time, though 15 is more likely. Expect at least 15 to 20 hours of labor for a typical engine replacement on a newer vehicle. A good portion of that comes down to how much work the shop has to do to transfer your old engine parts to the new block, which is where you could potentially lose money by opting to purchase the short- or long-block. Sometimes, it pays to spend money up front, especially if your mechanic's time is expensive. These are factors you're going to have to sit down and balance out. On average, you can expect to spend as little as $1,000 in labor for a drop-in replacement of a complete engine by your corner garage, to more than $4,000 if you pay a specialist to disassemble your old engine, assemble your new engine from the short-block, and then install it.
After all that, it's pretty clear how huge the variance in replacement cost can be, even on the same car. A DIY replacement of a 1999 Camaro engine could cost as little as $1,000, if you purchase a remanufactured short-block and do all the work yourself. Or, it could cost $7,000 if you buy a complete crate engine and pay a Chevrolet dealer to install it. That's a 7-to-1 ratio in price variance, on one car with one very common engine. The typical engine replacement, though -- long-block, corner garage, average, 10-year-old sedan or truck -- should run between $2,500 and $3,500, depending. Expect to spend an extra 50 percent to double for most European cars and luxury cars. Remember, the rarer the car and engine, the more expensive it will be to replace. A fully optioned Cadillac Escalade and a Porsche Cayenne aren't far apart in price when new, but the Escalade's LS engine is common as dirt in the United States. The Porsche's, not so much. But remember, an engine is an engine, and a bolt is a bolt. Your corner garage, at $75 an hour, may have no harder time replacing the Porsche's engine as the Cadillac's. So shop around for labor rates and guarantees before you resign yourself to paying a specialist.
Richard Rowe has been writing professionally since 2007, specializing in automotive topics. He has worked as a tractor-trailer driver and mechanic, a rigger at a fire engine factory and as a race-car driver and builder. Rowe studied engineering, philosophy and American literature at Central Florida Community College.