Engine Definitions for Dummies

by | Jul 5, 2019

In any specialized field, especially having to do with science and engineering, you’ll find specialized words and terms that make up the unique language used in that particular field.  This is called, “nomenclature.”  Many consumers will get lost in all the nomenclature of the engine industry and eventually find themselves confused and frustrated.  We’ve all been in a similar situation where we don’t know something and we turn to good old Google.  Well, to make matters worse, even when using Google to search these definitions the answers aren’t always correct.

We want to provide information to put you in the driver’s seat so you can be an intelligent shopper and make your own decisions about your car project.  Below is a quick reference for beginners that explains the most popular words and terms used frequently in the engine world:

“Small Block” – An engine smaller than 400 cubic inches.  Examples of these are the Chevy 305, 327, 350, 383 or Ford 302 and 351.  These engines are lighter, smaller and easier to install than a “Big Block.”  This is the most widely used V8 engine ever built.

“Big Block” – An engine larger than 400 cubic inches.  Examples of these are the Chevy 427 and 454.  These engines are bulkier and pricier, but they can achieve high Horse Power and Torque numbers (Usually 500-800 hp).

“LS Engine” – This is an engine that was designed in the late 90’s to replace the Chevy small block.  LS engines are designed to be lighter, more efficient and more electronically advanced.  There are a lot of electronics, sensors and computers involved with an LS engine which makes them more expensive and even more complex to install or troubleshoot.  These engines are not a do-it-yourself type of project and involve more money along with a highly specialized shop to work with.

“Stroker” – An aftermarket modification done by an engine builder that puts an over-sized crankshaft into an engine thus creating more torque, especially in lower RPM’s (comparable to diesel).  They call it “stroking” an engine because with the larger crankshaft it creates a larger up and down motion (or stroke) of the pistons.

“Short Block” – The bottom end of an engine, without cylinder heads or any other major components.  This is something that a “do-it-yourselfer” would buy.  However, unless an individual has experience with engine building and the professional tools an engine builder would have, this is not the recommended way to go.  We don’t sell “Short Blocks” for this reason.  Our company is built on convenience and doing this the right way the first time.  We can ensure this quality based on our highly professional builders and state-of-the-art facilities.

“Long Block” – Basically a “Short Block” with cylinder heads.  This application is mainly for those who can still re-use a lot of their same parts (given they bolt on properly).  This is another package that a “do-it-yourselfer” would buy given they have the tools and experience.  Some companies will include other accessories with a “Long Block,” but again, this is still not the recommended way for most consumers to replace an engine.  Why?  A “Long Block” package is still missing vital parts and without significant experience it makes it complex to put together and install.

“Crate Engine” – This is one of the most misunderstood words because it’s taken out of context and/or misused frequently.  You’ll find all sorts of definitions online for this term too.  Regardless of what the most historically accurate definition is, this is how it’s represented in the industry when engine manufacturers are trying to sell you an engine:  It’s a new or rebuilt engine that is “sealed.”  This means it has an oil pan, timing cover, valve covers and other basic accessories around the engine that removes some of the work for the consumer.  However, a “Crate” engine is a basic version of the engine which is why we refer to it as a “Base” package.  There are still several major components such as the intake manifold and carburetor that would need to be installed by the consumer.  These were nicknamed “Crate” engines back in the day because they would arrive in a crate, as they still do today.

“Turnkey Engine” – This term is unfortunately not universal and many companies have a different definition of what a “Turnkey” package includes.  The West Coast Engines “Turnkey” package is one of the most complete in the industry with very few parts left for the customer to install.

A general definition of “Turnkey” is – The next step up in terms of completeness and ease of install from a “Crate” engine.  However, a “Turnkey” is still missing a few parts needed to fire up the engine.  A “Turnkey” engine includes the “sealed” engine that would come with a “Crate/Base” package PLUS other key components such as the carburetor, intake manifold, distributor & wires, etc.  The “Turnkey” engine is designed to offer a convenient installation with minimal effort needed to add/install the remaining parts yourself.

“Drop In & Go Engine” – This package is unique to West Coast Engines as most other engine builders don’t offer a 100% complete package like this.  This engine comes with ALL necessary parts installed and dyno tested on your custom engine.  This option is suitable for consumers who want ultimate efficiency and convenience along with those who don’t want to reuse old parts from another engine.  Our experience and trained sales staff will ensure this engine is fitted with custom parts designed to fit perfectly in your vehicle.  This essentially allows you to drop it in within an matter of hours and fire it up!

This is a great start to help you dive deeper into what you really want and what your project will consist of.  Know of any other terms that cause confusion?  We’ve got your back!  Email us or comment below and we’ll be sure to update this blog frequently with other terms used throughout the industry!