Installation Guide 3.0 | Tips on Breaking in Your New Engine

by | Jun 21, 2019

Proper engine installation is equally important as the engine quality itself! Below is a copy of the installation guide we will send customers to help them with the warranty paperwork, installation tips, do’s-and-don’t’s, and clearing up false data.

In this short article we will cover the basics of the break-in procedure, oils, oil changes, oil filters, clear up false information, and help you save money. Whether performance or stock OEM, this document primarily focuses on the small block Chevy but is fundamentally sound with almost all vehicles and marine applications from 1950’s to 2005.


To start off, it’s always a good idea to replace things like belts, hoses, clamps, injectors, fuel pumps, water pumps, catalytic converter, wires, and sensors to ensure the longevity of your engine. Also replace oil coolers, oil filters, and anything that can circulate debris from the old engine. DO NOT CUT CORNERS, YOUR WALLET WILL PAY! This article is meant for anyone but is an awesome reference for first timers. Remember, this is purely a reference.


What is ZPPD or Zinc? Why is it Important?

Zinc Dithio Phosphate (ZPPD or Zinc) was removed a few years ago from most oils because of the possible contamination to catalytic converters and environmental reasons (California obviously… if they had it their way we would be driving bicycles to work). The ZPPD is a high-pressure lubrication that is close to essential for the survival of the flat tappet cam, lifters, and rings. The good news is that although oils at your local parts store may not have Zinc, you don’t have to buy oil that meets API requirements. Most companies that brew racing or performance aftermarket engine oils are not API certified because they are more concerned with the life-span and performance of your engine; their reputation hangs on it. You want to purchase an oil already pre-mixed with zinc, do not add additives to your oil or it will throw off the balance. *If you notice an ugly green/brown oil with metal flakes in the engine (especially the lifter valley) for the first few oil changes that is fine. We use a special spin test lubricant that is thick with a zinc additive. The zinc looks like metal flakes. It helps the break-in and engine life!


What Oil Should I Run First?

We want you to run a non-synthetic oil that is pre-mixed with zinc for the first 3,000 miles. It should say “High Zinc” on the bottle. Here’s what we recommend but you are not limited to:

  • Valvoline VR1 (10W-30)
  • Lucas Hot Rod and Classic Car Oil (10w-30 or 5w-20)
  • COMP Cams Engine Break-In Oil P/N: 1590

There’s some false information out there regarding what the numbers on oil labels represent for viscosity (thickness). The “W” stands for winter for cold conditions and the second number after the dash is for warm conditions. The higher the number, the more extreme the weather. Multi-grade oil is a superior option for the mass of our clients because it works with most engines, most conditions, and most climates.

Tip #1: It’s better to have a 30 or 40 weight because it helps the lifters stay pumped-up in the beginning stages of the engine’s life but 20 will work.

Tip #2: Synthetic oils can be used after the 3,000-mile mark at minimum. Synthetic oils are superior to regular oils in extreme circumstances such as racing, extreme temp changes, etc.

First Initial Start-Up!

**Per our warranty, all self-installs must have a professional mechanic present for initial start-up.  The warranty covers self-installation, but a mechanic must be present for initial start-up.  This way we can ensure the vacuum hoses are in the right place, carburetor is tuned, wires aren’t cross, distributor is in properly, and initial AND total timing are both set correctly.  Even if you had your engine dyno tested everything must be double-checked.  You can hire a mobile mechanic to come to your home or you can tow it to a shop.  We have seen too many engines that burn-up valves and have other small issues within the first few minutes by something being over-looked.  This way we can avoid these issues all-together and protect your investment!

Step 1: First you want to prime your engine.  The best way to prime is to pull the spark plugs and turn the ignition for about 10 seconds, let the starter rest for a few minutes, then do it one more time.  At that point you should have some oil pressure built up.  You can also do this with a drill and distributor gear.

CAM NOTE: You’ve probably heard the term “breaking-in the cam.” This only applies to flat tappet cams. We ONLY use roller cams in our performance engines unless it’s a special request. Roller cams do not need to be broken-in. If you did purchase a flat tappet cam from us, give us a call and we can walk you through the process.

Step 2: It’s time to fire her up! Set your timing before you drive the vehicle. For old-school 350’s and 383 strokers, timing should be set at 8-12 degrees initial (for start-up) and 32-33 degrees total at 2500 RPM (for driving).

For TBI engines (87 and newer with factory injection systems) disconnect SET TIMING connector located in center of cowl, under battery junction block cover. Do not disconnect 4 wire connector at distributor.

At the end of this your warranty paperwork and checklist should be completed and mailed in. *If you purchased a dyno session you are still responsible for double checking the timing as it can come out of adjustment during shipping and/or install. It is part of the install checklist.

It’s a good idea to spray the radiator with a garden hose after the first few minutes while the engine is running because there is usually an air pocket in the cooling system. This is a great opportunity to check for water leaks and make sure the gauges are working properly. It’s normal to see a slow drip of oil for the first few hundred miles until the sealer goes through a few heat cycles.

Step 3: After the engine cools down and your timing is set you’ll have the first opportunity of driving! Seating the rings will affect your engine’s life span and performance. Engineering research shows the best method for the first outing in the streets is to run the car relatively hard putting a greater load on the engine creating heat cycles. Stay in the streets and avoid the freeway, you want fluctuation in temp and RPM. Every few minutes go 0-50mph as quickly as possible while keeping the RPM’s under 4500. Drive it hard then let it cool down repeatedly. Marine engines break-in quicker due to the resistance from the water but it’s about the same technique. Personally, I hammer it after the engine gets up to temperature without over revving it. The harder it works and fluctuates temperature for its first outing the better it will break-in the rings. I usually recommend the mechanic rides with you for the first drive after initial start-up. If you had your engine dyno tested this step isn’t necessary and you can drive it normally!


Your First Oil Change

Your first oil and oil filter change should be around 250 to 500 miles in order to remove the metal debris in the oil due from break-in. There will be some nasty looking stuff in the oil and most of it is additives we put in the engine, so don’t let that startle you. The second oil change should be after 1,500 miles, and the third should be around 3,500 miles.

Marine applications should change the oil after your first, second, and third outing from the amount of stress the water puts on the engine.

I personally run a FRAM PH30 (or an HP8 smaller/shorter filter) on most small block Chevys. If this is just a factory-replacement then a stock oil filter is fine. K&N makes a solid filter, but I wouldn’t invest in one until 5,000+ miles on the engine. Any name brand is okay with us.


Valve Adjustments

For standard rockers it is required for you to re-adjust your valves BEFORE 300 miles.  Keep your engine under 4,500 RPM’s until your valve adjustment is complete.  This applies even if you purchased a dyno session.  New aftermarket valve train parts tend to stretch and move with heat and wear.  This does not apply if you have roller rockers.  It is you and your mechanics responsibility to keep an eye and ear out for them.  Hydraulic roller lifters adjust by themselves to an extent, but sometimes require a little extra adjustment.  The valve adjustment is done on the rocker where the rocker stud is. While the engine is running, you will need to loosen the valves up until they start making a clicking sound.  Begin tightening until zero lash then tighten ¾ of a turn.  I highly recommend having a mechanic with experience to do the valve adjustments.  This applies to all standard rockers on Chevy 350’s, Ford 302’s, 383 Strokers, and mostly applications older than 1999.  Keep in mind that sometimes roller cam engines don’t need an adjustment, but it’s always best to keep an eye-and-ear on them for the first 200 miles.


6 Common Warranties

  • INCORRECT ADVANCE TOTAL TIMING: ½ the warranties we see are from incorrect timing on these old-school small block engines. Initial timing should be set between 10 to 12.  Total timing is done with a timing gun and should be set at 32 degrees at 2,500 RPM.  Do not drive the engine until it’s documented that your total timing is perfect.  Haven’t done it yourself before? I HIGHLY recommend you hire a mechanic to help you with it.  It’s best to tow it to a shop because it’s TNT if the engine is too advanced.  If the engine is clattering, you send the engine up to us to investigate and the pistons are burnt and look like fried-chicken… it’s an air/fuel mixture or timing issue, not a manufacture defect.
  • OIL LEAKS: We have a 90 day leak warranty that initiates from the time your engine is delivered.  Why is this such a short time span?  As the engine sits, the seals and gaskets start to harden and become brittle. Rear main seals, oil pan gaskets, valve cover gaskets, and timing cover gaskets require multiple heat cycles in order to mold to the engine.  The longer that engine sits cold, especially in very extreme climates where it gets under freezing temperatures, the more likely you will have a leak.  The way to avoid this is to purchase a dyno session through us, then buy the engine when you know for sure you can install it and put some miles on it within 90 days.  This is one of the perks of living in an area like Florida, down south, or near the beach in California where the weather is usually warm… we see nearly no leaks in these regions geographically.  Now water leaks are common for the first couple hundred miles, are no big deal, and those will go away with time but oil leaks that form puddles can be dangerous.
  • FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS: Not following the checklist or warranty paperwork packaged with the engine is bad news. I’ve gotten phone calls like this…

Customer: “Hey my valve is bent!  Are you going to pay for it?”

Me: “Is your warranty paperwork turned-in?  Did you turn-in the installation checklist?  What’s your total timing set at?  Did you adjust the valves?”

Customer: “Well… uh… I don’t know.  No, I didn’t know that I was supposed to read or turn-in in anything I just assumed that I bought something that was already done for me and…”  DON’T BE THIS GUY.

  • DRAIN YOUR FUEL: Old fuel that’s been sitting in that gas tank for a long time, maybe even a year, needs to be drained and replaced. Why is it important?  Old fuel turns into a glue or hard-sticky-like substance that will stock the valves and damage the pistons causing the engine to seize.
  • INTAKE LEAKS: To prevent intake leaks use 3/8 Bead of silicone from bottom of the water jacket across the block to other side water jacket. No sealer is needed on side gaskets.  Any automotive RTV silicone will work for small block Chevys and Fords. Also, aluminum intakes are much different that cast-iron intakes and do require re-tightening after about 6+ heat cycles. Check Edelbrock’s page and look for your intake for torque specs and re-tightening protocols. These vacuum leaks don’t happen often, but they do occur from time-to-time. For a small block Chevy it’s 35 lbs.
  • OLD EXHAUST: Exhaust systems plays a huge role in letting the engine breathe and creating less back pressure for sound and performance. Clogged up catalytic converters (also known as “cats”) need to be changed out if you have a lot of miles on the exhaust. It can cause excessive back pressure which will reduce power and eventually detonate the engine. Get your exhaust checked!


Intake Manifold Installation

Improper intake manifold installation will leave you right back where you started: with a dead engine.  The intake manifold can leak air and water into the combustion chamber and/or mix with the oil. The sealant I usually recommend are Permatex RED RTV, Elastosil A442, and Gasgacinch.  RTV Silicone is probably the cheapest and most convenient to buy.  You want 3/8 bead of silicone from the bottom of the water jacket across the block to other side water jacket.  No sealer needed on side gaskets.  The side seal gaskets have glue/sealer built into them.  Use a light film of sealer very lightly around the water ports and intake ports because the torque from the bolts is going to squish until it meets other side.  You don’t want a lot of extra RTV squished out on the sides.  If the intake gaskets have a blue stripe around the ports, that is sealer.  Once it warms up it’ll glue.

If we install your intake you will see extra sealer sticking out the front and rear.  We do this purposely to avoid any leaks because SBC’s are infamous for intake leaks.  If it bothers you cosmetically, you can cut off the access with a razor after the engine has a few heat cycles.

Common Mistakes That Can Lead to Engine Failure

Manufacture defects happen!  No one is perfect, but we do strive for perfection.  Upon any first sign of an engine running incorrectly, what is the first thing the average consumer does?  Panic.  Don’t do it!  Most the of initial small issues with engines can be avoided or repaired quickly, we just need enough data to find the root cause of the problem.  An engine isn’t like a TV where you plug it into the wall and start using it.  There are many obstacles along the way with an engine.  For example, with high performance engines it’s extremely common to see a little water leak for the first hours of running.

This is a quick run-down of the most common mistakes installers make…

  • Not Burping the Cooling System: This can cause overheating issues, burns your gaskets up, and eventually the internals.
  • Over Tightening: Put the power tool down and leave your muscles at the gym. Get the proper specs for every bolt on this engine through a mechanic, booklet, etc.  For example, rear main seals don’t commonly go sour on a perfectly running engine.  Installers can over-torque the bolts to the flexplate or flywheel and cause damage to the rear of the engine by not checking the proper torque specs.  Another common issue is valve covers leaking from over tightening; they should be “snug” and nothing more.
  • Contamination: Anything getting into the engine such as dust, dirt, sand, rubber, etc. will cause damage. Always make sure to keep your engine completely sealed.  If you are installing an old intake that has a heat shield, be aware of the carbon that builds up underneath.  Make sure you clean old accessories thoroughly.
  • Timing: If you’re not installing engines for a living or on a regular basis, getting the timing right is not something you want to tinker with. Take it to a speed shop or a local mechanic and have them dial it in ASAP once it gets fired-up.  If you need timing specs just call us.  For 383 Strokers or 350 engines, the total timing should be set at 32 to 33 degrees @ 2500 RPM with the vacuum advanced unhooked.  Timing is very crucial because if it’s not right it will do significant damage to the pistons, rings, and/or valves which could detonate your engine. Most common overheating issues we see is from improper timing.  Upon receiving the engine and getting it fired up, have a professional set the timing for you right away.  Most overheating issues we see are due to incorrect total timing.
  • Professional Diagnostic Check: If you are not a professional shop or mechanic, the moment you get that engine fired up take it to a professional shop or mechanic. Be sure to state on your warranty paper the person who checked all parameters of the engine to verify it is installed and running properly.  If you do not do this, it can void your warranty.  Shops usually charge $100 to perform a diagnostic.
  • Ignoring an Issue: If your engine is running weird, making a sound, clicking, pinging… take it to a mechanic as soon as possible. Once a proper diagnostic check is completed, if it results in a manufacture defect call us and have your engine ID number ready with a mechanic standing by. Service is priority and usually small defects can be taken care of quickly.
  • Wrong Mechanic: A quality engine is a wasted investment when the installer is poor quality. Mechanics can overlook something on an install which damages the engine. We’ve seen many cases where the mechanic feeds the customer a fictional story about how it’s a defected engine, so the shop doesn’t have to pay out of pocket for the damage.  In this case EVERYBODY loses, and it happens more than you can imagine, sadly.  A quality mechanic will be very honest, transparent, and thorough with their work.  If you don’t feel right about the way things are going, trust your gut and take it to another shop for a second opinion. It’s worth paying a couple hundred more and sleeping better at night knowing you 100% trust your mechanic.  I have literally seen professional mechanics set a distributor in backwards, blame the engine manufacture, and detonate their customer’s engine.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at a Facebook review claiming we put a carburetor on backwards! If you aren’t getting anywhere with your current mechanic take it elsewhere for a 2nd  This is YOUR investment and a quality engine is equally important as a quality install.  If you purchased a dyno session you are still responsible for double checking the timing as it can come out of adjustment during shipping and/or install.
  • Not Adjusting the Valves: On most engine applications, the valves typically need to be re-adjusted sometime within the first 200 miles. Why?  Because these valves have brand new aftermarket parts and they tend to stretch and move as the engine breaks-in.  On marine applications, typically after the first outing this adjustment should be done.  Also note: sometimes the valves need to be adjusted immediately after start-up.  If you here a loud clicking sound (other than the lifters filling up with oil) check the valves and adjust them.  If you purchased roller rockers they are most likely self-adjusting and do not require any maintenance, but keep an eye-and-ear on them for the first 200 miles.
  • Over Revving Initially: Sometimes the throttle linkage is not perfect on initial start-up making the engine over-rev which will put too much stress on the valve train. This can bend push rods, rockers, valves, lifters, and sometimes pull studs right out of the heads.  Try not to exceed 3500 RPM for the first 15-20 minutes while the engine is running until you know those valves are safe without adjustment.  We do our best to adjust them in the factory setting them at 0 lash then ¾ turn at 400 RPM on the simulated spin test machine.  Roller rockers are less prone to come out of adjustment and are more accurate than the long slot. 
  • Temperature: Optimal engine temps should be between 175 and 205 degrees. You’ll get your hottest engine temps when idling in hot weather. The best way to keep your engine cool is to get an aftermarket aluminum radiator, dual electric fans, and a good performance anti-freeze for performance engines.  If you get up to 210 for a moment that’s fine if it doesn’t ride that temp or exceed it consistently.  I have seen customers not hook-up electric fans properly and it burns up the engine so please check thoroughly.  Use a heat gun if you think your gauge might be off.

***If your engine is overheating, use this list below to eliminate possibilities***

1.) Incorrect timing

2.) Bad thermostat

3.) Cooling leaks

4.) Leaky head gasket

5.) Fan not working

6.) Leaky water pump

7.) Slipping belt (v-belt system)

8.) Lower radiator hose collapsing

9.) Plugged or dirty radiator

10.) Clogged catalytic converter (which is a very popular one)

11.) Brakes dragging

12.) Engine working too hard

13.) Incorrectly burping cooling system

***All these should be checked prior to assuming something internally is causing the overheating issues to begin with.  If all these are checked properly, then we will move on to investigate the internals of the engine.  This eliminates any extra cost, time and confusion for everyone involved.***

  • Squeaking/grinding Sounds: Engines don’t make squealing, squeaky, grinding sounds naturally, especially after they’ve been spin tested or dyno tested fresh out of the factory. Make sure that your belts, starter, flywheel, throw-out bearing, pulleys, and other items around the engine are aligned properly and functioning as they should.  Have a mechanic check it out on a lift if you can’t identify it.  If a mechanic can’t identify where the problem is then give us a call.  Most of the warranty claims that have a “grinding” sound are usually coming from a stall converter.
  • Not following the checklist: Re-check the timing on the engine: initial timing AND total timing. Most warranties I see are due to the total timing being off.  If your engine was dyno tested you still need to double check it.  During install or in freight the timing can move out of place.  #1 cause of overheating is total timing too advanced.
  • Not Calling Us First: Don’t have your mechanic dive into anything, call us first if you are having an issue.
  • The Friend that Loves to Work on Cars: If you have a problem and your buddy says “No, no… I will fix it.” Don’t do this!

Moral of the story is…

If you have an issue with the motor, call us FIRST.  A large majority of these small leaks, sounds, or vibrations are an easy fix.  A mechanic that loves to be the mystery solver could end up hindering the engine further during his diagnostic tests he performs, and it will cost you a pretty penny.  Call us first.

Warranty Paperwork with Mechanic for Self-Install

Step 1: Take vehicle to shop or have mechanic present for initial start-up and tune.  The mechanic will look at oil pressure, dash, wires, total and initial timing, water temperature, leaks, and more.  Have him go over the check sheet in the warranty paperwork.  If something doesn’t apply in the check sheet just write “N/A” next to it (we use the same paperwork for all engines we sell).

Step 3: The mechanic should ride with you on the first test drive after evaluation.

Step 4: Have the shop or mechanic print you a receipt and staple this to your warranty paperwork and keep a copy for yourself.  Mail the paperwork to the address on the warranty paperwork.  Send the warranty paperwork immediately after the first drive.

And one last point about the warranty that is very important: If you happen to have an issue with the engine DO NOT start repairing without the consent of the warranty department.  Call your sales rep first.  We need to authorize repairs FIRST.  If you find a problem on the engine, fix it yourself or have a mechanic fix it without our consent and send us a bill, it is not covered under the warranty.  Please have your engine ID number handy and your mechanics contact info.