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Remanufactured engine is viable alternative

Globe and Mail


Thursday, March 31, 2005 Updated at 11:45 AM EST

In our throw-away society it often costs more to get something repaired than it's worth. But while replacement may be a viable solution when you're dealing with a fritzed $100 DVD player, it often doesn't make sense to relegate an automobile to the junkyard just because a major component has failed.

If you opt to have your engine remanufactured, you need to find a reputable business to do it for you.

The two major mechanical items that can sideline your ride, perhaps permanently depending on age and condition and the cost/benefit ratio of repair, are the engine and the transmission. Most other things are fixable at a cost that won't have you thinking replacement. Transmission problems aren't uncommon and most drivers are aware that these units can be replaced with repaired, new or remanufactured units. But catastrophic engine failure is something most drivers will never have experienced.

I've owned many vehicles, including motorcycles, since the mid-1960s but only one, my second, a 1954 Morris Minor, actually succumbed to a trashed engine. An ill-considered valve job restored the engine's power, which resulted in it promptly rattling out its main bearings.

Most engines these days seem to attain phenomenal mileages, often, in my experience of owning winter beaters, outlasting the vehicles they power. But tough as they are, it sometimes doesn't take much to destroy one. Lack of oil and overheating are usually the main culprits, although a broken timing belt can cause major grief, too.

A leak, or failure to top up the supply, can result in insufficient oil, which can destroy an engine's bearings and related components in moments. A light on the dash should warn you of low oil pressure but sometimes you have to react to it very promptly, by pulling over and stopping the engine, to avoid problems.

Overheating should be easier to detect. The gauge will indicate engine coolant temperature is rising and when it gets to a critical stage a warning light will usually illuminate. But if you're not paying attention, or don't know what these indicators mean, or if the warning light is inoperative (which sometimes happens), it doesn't take long to toast an engine.

At this point you'll need to talk options with your service technician. You can get rid of the vehicle, taking a big financial hit. Or you can buy and install a new engine. This can be an expensive option, if you can find one, particularly after a car has gone out of production. You could also purchase a used engine. Some are sourced from overseas, others from local wrecking yards. Either way, this can be a chancy choice because you don't really know what you're getting. And some overseas engines may not be compatible with Canadian-spec vehicles.

One of the "good" ones is Scarborough Engine and Machine Ltd., operated since 1978 by John Solecki

Another option is to have the engine repaired, which may get it running again but leave its longevity suspect, depending on how extensive the repair was and how well it was carried out.

Or you can opt for a remanufactured engine, which may not cost much more than a repair job, but which restores the engine to essentially new condition, and comes with a decent warranty. This is usually at least 12 months and 20,000 km, but can also be extended. Cost depends on condition, parts needed and complexity, but a remanufactured four-cylinder engine could cost as little as $1,300 and the average minivan V-6 about $2,200. On top of this, you'll have to pay your technician to take out and re-install the engine.

If you opt to have your engine remanufactured, you need to find a reputable business to do it for you. As with any type of automotive service, there are good ones and bad ones out there. Your technician should know who's who, and if you're comfortable with his or her advice, that's fine, but it might not hurt to check the business out through the normal consumer channels.

One of the "good" ones is Scarborough Engine and Machine Ltd., operated since 1978 by John Solecki.

Solecki says at one time engines were essentially a consumable, like tires. "You knew it wasn't going to last the life of the vehicle and would need to be rebuilt," he says. Nowadays, most owners will never have to have their engine taken apart. "They don't really wear out, unless you're a really high-miler," he says. He points to an Acura NSX sports car owner who had 250,000 km on his high-performance engine before needing it rebuilt, only because one faulty injector had resulted in a scuffed piston. Well over 200,000 km isn't uncommon if an engine has been maintained properly, he says. "It's just unbelievable how bad they were 25 years ago by comparison to today's engines."

Everything today is so sophisticated, you've got to have the high-end equipment and knowledge to deal with it

This longevity has resulted in fewer businesses like Solecki's because the rest of the vehicle is often (like my beaters) used up before the engine is. Some car manufacturers maintain engine remanufacturing programs, however, including some luxury makes and others whose owners traditionally keep their vehicles a long time.

It makes environmental sense to keep these vehicles going with engines that are rebuilt to factory specs and performance in an efficient and clean environment. Your technician should be aware of the availability of these units. Major engine repairs are often no longer carried out at the corner garage because of the complexity of modern engines, the special equipment required, lack of the broad range of skills required and the cost of labour.

"Cars are now cheap, relative to what you get. But the amount of labour to fix them, because of the complexity, has gone sky high and so has the cost of that labour," says Solecki. "There are guys out there doing rebuilds but you never know exactly what level of repair you're going to get. Everything today is so sophisticated, you've got to have the high-end equipment and knowledge to deal with it," he says.

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