As car restoration enthusiasts, there’s nothing we dream of more than building a high performance engine that makes heads turn and jaws drop when we pull up in our vehicle. Most first time builders envision a smooth process where they order some awesome parts, install them with no issue or error, and immediately become the talk of the car world for years to come. Instead, what they find is a difficult process where nothing goes their way and parts don’t fit correctly – and even if they do manage to piece it together, many times major errors have been incurred along the way.
 
Is building an engine better than buying a crate engine? We don’t want to sway you one way or the other. However, no matter what route you’re taking, it’s important to know the pros and cons, and to be realistic about what to expect. In this post, we will examine the process of building an engine versus buying an engine to help you make a better informed decision for your restoration project.
 

What Is Your Objective?

There are many things that can go wrong during an engine build, and if you lack experience, you will probably encounter many of them. Errors are expensive in both time and costs, and your first engine build will likely end up costing thousands more than what you originally budgeted for. If your goal is to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to build an engine on your own, building an engine may help you meet that goal. However, meeting this goal means:
  • You will spend more; probably thousands of dollars more than you would have buying an engine from a professional builder.
  • It will take longer to build. You will spend weeks doing tasks that a professional factory could do in hours.
  • It might not work out. It’s very likely that you will run out of money or patience while building an engine; meaning that you’ll spend through your whole budget and still not have a completed engine in the end.
On the other hand, if your goal is upgrade or improve your vehicle with a top-notch crate engine with no headache or delay; purchasing an engine from a high-quality engine builder is the only option that you should consider.
 

Who Are The Real Engine Experts?

Choosing the right parts mix is essential to building a high performance engine. There are thousands of aftermarket engine parts out there. Some parts may not fit or function properly with another part from another brand. Even if it does, it may not be the proper fit for your particular vehicle. First-time builders don’t usually have the experience to choose a proper parts combination on their own, which leads to problems during installation – or worse, problems while on the road. Even if you find a parts combination that works well for general function, it may not be the perfect combination for your specific objective.
 
Unfortunately, finding the perfect combination isn’t as simple as just searching the net for answers. New builders often turn to online forums, seeking experts who can help them with their questions. In many cases though, the individuals offering advice aren’t experts at all. On a forum, it is difficult to decipher whether someone is an expert crate engine builder; a first time engine builder with too much confidence; a parts supplier trying to sway people to buy their parts; or someone with limited knowledge attempting to present themselves as an expert. The point is, you never know who you are really communicating with on a forum.
 
When it comes to selecting the right parts, your information needs to come from an expert engine builder who builds engines day in and day out. Likely, they won’t be posting in the forums all day, because they are too busy actually building engines!
 

Can Your Machine Shop Outbuild A Factory?

There is a major difference between your uncle’s garage, your local machine shop and a machining factory. Your uncle’s shop may have the tools to get the job done, but a proper machine shop will have the tools necessary to do the job properly. A machining factory on the other hand, will have sophisticated machinery and proven processes that provide a uniform level of quality assurance, even for highly customized products.
 

Experience

The quality of engines produced by a builder is often linked to their engine building experience. Different types of vehicles require specific types of engines, and particular engines require a special knowledge to build them properly. A machine shop may have a few builders with varying degrees of experience, but a high-quality engine factory has the advantage of staffing a whole team of expert builders who have vast amounts of experience across all engine types. When you buy an engine that was built in a professional machining factory, you are buying the background, knowledge and experience of a team that has done the job successfully thousands of times before. When you build it yourself, you are relying on your own knowledge and experience – no matter how limited or expansive that may be.
 

Machinery and Specialty Tools

It requires special tools to properly build an engine. The quality of a builder’s tools and access to machinery will hugely determine whether the engine will be built successfully, and whether it will perform as expected.
 
Our machining factory, for instance, has over $3 million invested into dozens of machines and tens of thousands of tools to ensure the accuracy and precision of each and every build. If your uncle wanted to update his garage to match the capacity of our factory, at minimum he would need:
  • CK11 cylinder honing machine: $80,000 (**Note: we have two of these in our factory = $160,000)
  • Line honing machine: $45,000
  • Crankshaft grinder: $120,000
  • Diamond rod machine: $100,000 (1/10,000ths accuracy)
  • Profelometers: $10,000
  • Mititoyo gauge: $10,000 (½ millionth of an inch)
  • Spin test machine: $35,000
  • Dyno: $75,000
  • Balancing machine: $45,000
  • Liquid magnaflux for block testing: $18,000
  • Serdi machine for cylinder heads and valves: $60,000
  • Hot tank for block cleaning: $40,000
  • A variety of torque wrenches and other measuring tools that are re-calibrated twice per day
These machines and tools allow our factory to build engines with the highest level of accuracy, quality and speed. In comparison, your local machine shop will have a much lower investment into their machinery and tools; resulting in an inability to be extremely precise and accurate in every aspect of the build.
 

Error Free Processes

In addition to the right experience and the right tools, factories also have processes in place to prevent issues during the build. This is where experience comes in – the ability to know what problems can occur, and to put the right processes in place to prevent them before they happen. The processes that are “standard” for any build at our factory are what many builders perform as an additional service; if they have the capacity to even provide these services at all.
 

The Real Cost Of Building An Engine

Building an engine means you need the right parts and the right tooling. If you don’t already have the right tools at your disposal, it will costs thousands of dollars more to build an engine than to buy a crate engine.
 
However, the most costly factor of building an engine isn’t the parts or tooling – it’s inexperience. A single error could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to fix; and if it’s your first time building an engine, you’d be lucky to only make one error.
 
When you build an engine yourself, you will become your own warranty provider. If something goes wrong after the build, you will be responsible for the expense of fixing the issue. Your local machine shop may provide some level of warranty, but it will likely be extremely limited and probably won’t cover the most expensive parts or systems. In most cases, small machine shops don’t have the profit margin to afford extending a proper warranty. A professional factory however, will stand behind their product and will gladly offer a warranty. At West Coast Engines, we know that our engines are of the highest quality possible and we support that by providing our customers with one of the strongest warranties in the business.
 

Is Your Engine Built To Last?

The quality and longevity of your engine will be largely be determined by the experience of the person or people who built it. An engine built by a first timer who is just learning, will perform like an engine built by a novice – because, that’s exactly what it is. On the contrary, engines built by a professional team of highly experienced builders will run at top performance, and will maintain this performance for years and years. Do you really have what it takes to build an engine that’s built to last?
 
If you’ve decided that buying a crate engine is best for your particular situation, we’d love to help. Our team of experts at West Coast Engines has built thousands of engines, and we know exactly what it takes to build the best engine for your vehicle – one that is customized specifically for your goals and objectives. Contact us today and take the first step towards bringing your dream vehicle to life!