What Should I Do If My Engine Fails?

Sooner or later, every piece of equipment needs repair. Even small repairs disrupt your operation and cost more than you’d like them to, but eventually you might face major engine repairs. When that happens, it can be difficult to determine the best plan for returning the machine to active duty. In this article, we want to help make a tough decision a little easier by guiding you through your options.

From the outset, it’s good to remember that decisions like these require you to balance the costs of time and money. A brand-new engine might have a large dollar sign attached, but it will come with the best assurance of value for your investment. An engine from a salvage yard might have the lowest price tag, but it comes with multiple unknowns, such as “Was it well taken care of?” and “How long will it last?”.

To help you decide, we’ll explain your options and then explain some of the terms you may encounter.

Should I replace my equipment? Or should I fix or replace my engine?

This is your first decision—fix what you have, or start over? This will depend on several things, like the age and condition of the equipment, how easy it will be to replace it, and your budget. If the equipment is generally in good shape, or if it will be hard to find a good replacement, then you may want to repair your engine.

If your equipment is near the end of its life, and if you have the resources to replace it, then it may be better to put your money toward that new equipment rather than into engine repair. You must remember that if you opt to replace or overhaul the engine, another component could fail not far down the road.

I want to keep my equipment, so how can I solve my engine problem?

If you decide to take this route, the two broad options are to rebuild your own engine or get another one. If you decide to get another engine, you have various choices, which we’ll describe below.

Rebuild your engine

If you are thinking about rebuilding your own engine, you need to know that this will probably create the longest downtime. That’s because your equipment will be out of service while the engine is pulled, rebuilt, and reinstalled. You may prefer to retain your engine, but since most of these rebuilds are done in small, local shops, you may not be sure of the quality of the rebuild, as the rebuilder may be unfamiliar with the model.

Even if a quality shop is doing the work, it will still not be as extensive as a factory remanufacture and the warranty will be less comprehensive compared to that of a factory-remanufactured engine.
However, if your equipment only sees seasonal use, it might be possible to do the work in the off-season. Perhaps you have the resources in-house to rebuild your engine, or you have a good relationship with a local shop that you trust. In these cases, you may wish to keep your own engine.

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Purchase another engine

If you choose to shop for an entirely different engine, you have various options.

Salvage engines

These engines typically come from salvage (“junk”) yards, or from equipment that has been parted out. They will likely be the lowest cost of other engines, but you should remember that true costs are greater than those shown on the price tag. Yet, if your equipment is older and you are trying to get a little more life out of it, or if your budget is limited, this may be a good option.

Benefits of using a salvage engine:

  • Probably the lowest initial cost.
  • Downtime is less than rebuilding your own engine.

Risks of using a salvage engine:

  • You don’t know the history of the engine or how it was cared for.
  • Even if it is a good, running engine, it has still experienced wear and it’s likely that it will need future repairs.
  • The warranty, if it has one, will probably be extremely basic.

New engines

While buying a truly new engine isn’t always possible, there are some opportunities to purchase engines that have not yet seen service. Usually, if you are buying a new engine, it will be “new old stock” or “warehouse surplus.” These engines have never seen use but may have been sitting for some time. The factory may have produced too many of a certain model or someone may have canceled an order, resulting in engines that were never sold.

If you are considering this route, remember that some components (such as the fuel system) may have begun to degrade from sitting for an extended period.

Overhauled engines

Overhauled engines come in various formats, and “overhauled” can mean different things to different people. If you are considering this route, there are some important things to consider. We’ll look first at the idea of an overhauled engine, and then at the primary categories of overhauled engines.

What is an overhauled engine?
While the average person may use some terms interchangeably, there are differences in rebuilt engines versus remanufactured engines. (These are the two major terms for overhauled engines.)

Rebuilt engines

Engine rebuilders have different approaches to the rebuild process, and the meaning may differ slightly from shop to shop. At minimum, a rebuilt engine is one that has been taken apart so that any failed parts can be replaced. The work done will not be as extensive as that done on remanufactured engines, which means that the costs are generally lower (but so are the warranties).

Benefits of a rebuilt engine

  • More quality assurance than a salvage engine
  • Better warranty (usually) than a salvage engine
  • Lower cost than remanufactured engine

Risks of a rebuilt engine

  • Will need to find out exactly what was done during the rebuild
  • May not be sure of the quality of the work that was done
  • Overhaul not as extensive as a remanufactured engine
  • Possible use of non-OEM parts

Remanufactured engines

Typically, remanufactured engines are sold by the companies that built them in the first place. Official terms may vary from company to company. Terms used by some well-known companies for their specific remanufacturing processes are repower, recon, and reman, but the extent of the work is generally the same.

Remanufacturing an engine starts with a complete disassembly. Each part is then inspected to see if it is still within the original tolerances. Parts are replaced or retooled to bring the entire engine back into like-new condition.

Benefits of a remanufactured engine

  • Engine is virtually new
  • Work is generally done by the original manufacturer with quality assurances
  • A very good warranty
  • Assurance that every part of the engine is within the manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Typically only use OEM parts
  • Dynamically tested after remanufacturing

Risks of a remanufactured engine

  • Though not a “risk,” you will pay more for a remanufactured engine.

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Some Helpful Concepts

As you research your decision, you will encounter some ideas that you’ll need to understand.

Categories of Overhauled Engines

As you shop for an overhauled engine, you will encounter terms like long block and short block. These terms refer to “how much” of an engine you are buying.

  • Short block: This is the lower part of an engine. You will typically get the engine block, the crankshaft, and the pistons. Sometimes these parts are described as the block and the rotating assembly.
  • Long block: This is a short block engine plus the cylinder heads, camshaft, and valve train. Some long blocks may include other parts, like the oil pan and valve covers, but they usually do not include parts like the fuel system or exhaust manifold.
  • Turn-key, crate, or “fan to flywheel”: These engines include everything from a long block engine plus virtually everything you need to hook it up and turn it on.

Other Terms

  • Core: A rebuilder needs used parts to rebuild and sell. To make sure that they have a steady supply of parts, they add a refundable core fee to the rebuilt units that they sell. For instance, after you install a replacement engine, your core fee will be returned to you when you return your old engine. This concept applies not just to engines but to rebuildable parts like fuel and water pumps.
  • “Will fit”: When your equipment comes from the factory, every part has been made by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). These parts have been designed and tested specifically for your equipment. On the other hand, “will fit” parts (also called third-party or aftermarket parts) are not made by the original company but can be substituted for an OEM part. While they tend to cost less than OEM parts, you can’t be sure of their quality. Some may be well-built, but others will be inferior. Before choosing a “will fit” part, you will have to determine how critical it is and how much it would cost to replace if it were to experience premature failure.

Asking the right questions

As you can see, there are various ways to remedy a dead engine. As you work through the options, ask yourself how much downtime each choice would require, and ask what future expenses could arise from something with a lower initial cost. Where is your equipment in its life cycle? What is your budget? Do you need to go with a cheaper option to buy enough time for a later, longer-term solution?

Understand that vendors may approach the remanufacturing process differently, but well-respected companies are going to provide a good, reliable product. Find out exactly what they have done to the engine you are considering. Verify what components are included with the replacement engine, and whether they used OEM or “will fit” parts.

In the end, the shorter your downtime, the faster your equipment can earn money again. If your budget doesn’t require the cheapest option, and if you think that your equipment still has good life in it, consider a solution that will save you both money and downtime in the future.

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