Here’s What They Don’t Tell You About Crate Engines


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Jun 04, 2023

Here’s What They Don’t Tell You About Crate Engines

What are crate engines and are they any good for your next project car? We

What are crate engines and are they any good for your next project car? We explain everything you need to know before you buy one.

When "building" a car, you might have heard the term crate engines bandied about a lot. On paper, it sounds easy. Take the old engine out of your vehicle and put in the best crate engine money can buy. Of course, there are plenty of reasons why you would want to do that. You love your old car, but it's ancient under the hood, and you can't bear to kill it. You bought a classic car and want to restore-modify it into an asphalt-chewing, opponent-spitting beast. You are working on a project car and want to give it the most powerful heart there is, especially in times of silent but powerful EVs.

While there may be many more reasons that make you choose a crate engine to be part of your automotive family, let's first start by addressing the elephant under the hood of your car. What exactly is a crate engine, and why do you need it?

The name "crate engine" comes from the fact that these engines come shipped in wooden crates, and it's a ready-to-install new engine, mostly sold by the aftermarket. That said it also refers to the stock long-blocks sold by automakers themselves.

A crate engine often comes as a complete package, including the block itself, along with the rotating assembly (crankshaft, rods, and pistons) and heads. Many also come with a camshaft, intake, and carburetor as a complete unit that you can install hassle-free, given that all these parts seamlessly run together.

Most crate engines often come as high-performance options, although there are several stand units in the market too. You can get them as short-blocks (block and rotating assembly), long-block (short-block plus cylinder heads), "complete" engines (long block plus intake manifold, exhaust headers), and even turnkey engines, shipped with all but the oil and noise. It all depends on the time you have at hand, the amount of money you want to spend, and what your car truly needs.

Earlier, it was the aftermarket that you needed to scour for your perfect crate engine. Today, you can get a crate LS engine from a Corvette or even a HEMI from Dodge. In case you are a JDM fan, then you can look towards Japan to get you that perfect crate engine as well, especially if you are a Fast and Furious fan and want that 10-second Supra!

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All crate engines come with warranty and horsepower certification, plus have undergone exhaustive testing as well. Today's crate engines are reliable and easy to install. Forget the old days of running to the machine shop to get or even make a part. Plus, there's no more need for trial and error engine experiments that more often than not blew up in your face, and took your bank balance along with it. Since these engines come pre-tuned, they make the best heart for your car, giving the maximum power with the least amount of effort.

There's also an exhaustive array of choices today with horsepower that ranges from anything from 615 horsepower (Ford Megazilla) to 1,817 horsepower (Hennessey Fury). Of course, it depends on whether you are simply trying to rebuild that car that grandpa left you into the cynosure of everyone's eyes or a ride for Flash. You can also choose from aftermarket crate engines from Edelbrock, Nelson, Mopar, or DSR, or stick with Detroit's own, Ford, Chevy, or Dodge. Either way, you get a trusted, tried engine that's ready to go and last you many problem-free years to come. A Hi-Po crate engine can cost you upwards of $30,000 while a standard one can retail for around $10,000. If your dream car is not a track beast, then you can certainly get a reasonably priced crate engine to carry on with your project.

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Frankly, now that auto giants are also making crate engines, there's no difference between the engine in a car and a crate engine, it's just that a crate engine fulfills different needs. You most likely will look for a crate engine while embarking on a restoration project of any kind. It may be a crashed Ferrari you bought or the dad's old Dodge. It could be a classic car in your garage that you cannot get over, or your old car that you want to breathe a fresh lease of life into.

A new car has its engine assembly but if you embark on a build project, you will need a new engine. Buying an old machine or even a remanufactured one may not address your power needs, so it's best to go for a crate engine that comes in every horsepower dream you may have and suit your financial needs as well. Simply speaking, you may not be in the market for a new car, but a crate engine is the perfect way to give your dream car a new life.

Of course, it's not as simple as opening up the engine and dropping it under the hood of your car. Still, if you know your car, it's easy enough given that all parts come inside that crate, and all it needs is a steady hand, inside knowledge of your car, and some work hours, of course.

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Since crate engines come certified and with a warranty, reliability, and trustworthiness remain the biggest advantage. As far as the disadvantage goes, it's the steep price. If you are looking for a HiPo crate engine, they can cost you the same as the price of a new car, or thereabouts. For instance, Chevy's LS9 crate engine will cost you upwards of $21,403 for 640 horsepower. In case you want the Chevy ZZ632 crate engine that jets 1,004 HP, be prepared to shell out almost $38,000 for it. You can get a basic Ford Mustang or Chevy Camaro at the same price.

Spending this much money on an old car, or a resto-mod is not something everyone is comfortable with or can afford. There is also the fact that a crate engine warranty is not the same as a warranty on a new car. Most crate engines come with a 24-month warranty or 50,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. New cars on the other hand come with longer periods of warranty and also have various free service schemes for the first couple of years.

Remember that you also need to have a knowledge of cars if you plan to swap in the crate engine yourself, and you will need a basic setup that can lift your car for you to be able to install the other parts of the powertrain. Else, you will need a mechanic who knows his stuff, and getting him to do the job right will also involve a certain expense. Crate engines are a great way to breathe life into a car you love, just make sure you have the money to be able to support all that goes inside your beloved car project.

Sources: RobbReport, Chevrolet

Arun Singh Pundir has been a longtime media crackerjack and worked most of his life in sales and marketing. In 2018, he officially flipped and switched sides to the editorial. He lives with his wife, two rascally sons and is a car and motorcycle nut in his free time. Not that he has too much free time. He currently writes news, features, and listicles for HotCars on anything that has any number or kind of wheels. He is also penning pop culture, lifestyle and all things rich for TheRichest. For now, he considers his Isuzu D-Max V-Cross, Suzuki Ciaz, and Royal Enfield Classic 500, the three current flames of his life. His dream is to drive around the world; even if it takes more than eighty days.