After a catastrophic engine failure, you face a difficult decision: Do you replace the engine or write it off and buy another vehicle?
How Much Does It Cost to Replace an Engine?
The answer to this question varies depending upon three key factors: the size and complexity of the engine involved, the shop rate at the facility you have chosen to do the work and whether you replace with a used, rebuilt or new engine.
New engines start at around $4,000 for a 4-cylinder, around $5,500 for a V6 and $7,000 for a V8. Prices increase from these figures based on complexity of the engine and the brand of car. Obviously, you’ll pay more for a performance engine to install in an imported luxury car than a stock engine for a domestic economy car.
A used engine can be acquired for much less, sometimes as little as a $400 to $700 dollars. The main factors affecting price of these engines include the age of the vehicle, miles on the used engine and shipping costs from where the engine is located. Freight charges will not be included in the price, but must be accounted for because the shop will pass that cost along to you.
The main risk in purchasing a used engine is your investment in labor. Although a junkyard or other used-parts supplier often offers a short-duration warranty on the engine itself, it doesn’t include the labor done by the shop installing the motor. If the newly installed engine does not run, you’re still on the hook for the mechanic’s time (unless the failure stems from an error by the mechanic), plus the extra billable hours required to get it running.
You can minimize this risk by purchasing a rebuilt engine. Rebuilding an engine returns it to the manufacturer’s operating tolerances. That does not mean that the engine is completely new, but worn moving parts have been replaced along with all the seals and gaskets. You can be confident that the engine will run when installed properly and that its expected lifespan has been extended. It often comes with a stronger warranty than what you’d get from a used-parts supplier.
This confidence does come at a cost. Compared to a used 4-cylinder engine that comes in at $1,000 or less, a rebuilt equivalent will cost in the $2,500 range—still substantial savings over a brand-new engine, though. Watch out for these repair-shop scams.
Engine Replacement Labor Cost
On a typical engine, the shop time quoted will be 10 to 12 hours. On an easy engine with a skilled mechanic, you may get quoted as little as 8 hours, while bigger jobs may require as many as 15 hours. The majority of quotes should fall in the first time frame. Determine the labor costs by multiplying the quoted number of hours by the shop rate. The shop rate can vary greatly, from as little as $90 per hour to over $150 per hour. So using a low-end shop rate of $110 and a high of $150, the labor on a typical engine replacement can run anywhere from $1,100 to $1,800.
Other Engine Replacement Costs
The list of other potential costs involved with engine replacement begins with shop materials. You shouldn’t get dinged for more than $100, but your new engine does need oil, coolant Freon and all the other fluids that keep it humming along.
Furthermore, replacing an engine does not include all the parts that bolt to an engine such as the water pump, fuel pump, hoses, belts, intake and exhaust manifolds, tensioners and pulleys. On their own, labor for replacing these parts often exceeds the cost of the part—sometimes significantly. Engine replacement, however, requires removal and reinstallation of these parts, so additional labor charges for a new water pump drop to zero because that labor is already included. Consult with your mechanic on ancillary parts to consider for replacement and do as much as your budget will allow. Your mechanic wants you to stop doing these things.
Making the Decision
Considering all of the variables outlined thus far, asking the question “How much does it cost to replace an engine?” really means: “When is the investment required to replace an engine the right choice?”
That answer falls in a different place for everyone. Can you afford the cash flow required to make the repair? Replacing the vehicle, although more expensive in the long run, allows you to finance the purchase and may result in a more reliable vehicle—but that is no guarantee. You may still owe money on the broken car, in which case, finding the least expensive path becomes your best option and a $2,500 replacement makes sense.
In the absence of these concerns, evaluate the state of the vehicle and consider your recent investments in it. The first factor is the age of the car and the number of miles accumulated. Also, evaluate the condition of the nonmotor systems. Is the interior in good shape? What about the body? New tires installed within the last year? What about the brakes? The air conditioning? How is the suspension holding up? As the car ages, the catalytic converter will eventually fail. Have you already replaced it?
Go online and determine the value of the vehicle using Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book. Knowing the car’s value, what you have already invested in it (and how recently) and what maintenance you see on the horizon gives you a snapshot for considering whether or not you should invest in engine replacement.
Risks come into play whichever way you decide to go. Purchasing a different vehicle may actually turn into purchasing someone else’s problems. Replacing the engine may turn your vehicle into a steady performer. The bottom line comes down to which risks you are most comfortable taking and whether your budget can handle a $2,000 to $7,500 repair bill.