Is it Hard to Pull a Junkyard Motor?
Generally speaking, it’s not too difficult to pull a junkyard motor. Many beginners have successfully pulled an engine with minimal headaches, especially when they come equipped with the proper tools. It’s easier if you bring a buddy to lend a hand.
How Much does a Junkyard Motor Cost?
A junkyard engine costs between $50 and $500 depending on the configuration. A short-block engine (block with heads and accessories removed) usually costs 25% less than a long-block (engine with heads and accessories present). Most people pay about $300 for a used long-block engine.
Use care and common sense when pulling an engine. Don’t get underneath anything heavy if it’s not properly secure. You don’t want to be injured by a falling transmission, engine, or car. If the car is on shady-looking blocks, just don’t mess with it—no parts are worth getting hurt over. Also, junkyards are inherently hazardous places filled with broken glass, fuel, and toxic chemicals. Avoid smoking while working on the car, and bring a professional if you’re nervous or inexperienced.
Locate a Junkyard
There are several types of automotive wrecker yards, and it’s important to choose the right one. Pick-And-Pull and other ‘self-serve’ yards are the best options for pulling an engine, as they allow customers to do their own work and save money. Some yards are appointment-only and don’t allow customers to pick their own parts. These yards often charge a fee in addition to the parts price.
It’s essential to bring the right tools for the job. Each engine varies, so do some research on the forums before heading to the yard. Here’s a short list of tools you’ll probably need to pull an engine.
- Metric or Standard socket set
- Socket Swivels and Extensions
- Wire Cutters
- Open-Ended Standard or Metric Wrenches
- Adjustable Wrench
- Breaker Bar
- Brake/Parts Cleaner
- A Pickup Truck or Cargo Van
- Tie-Down Straps
Other tools, such as a ‘cherry-picker’ engine hoist, might also be necessary. However, some junkyards have an engine hoist or forklift on-site, so call ahead of time to see if you’ll be spared the trouble of finding one. If you don’t want to buy an engine hoist, consider renting one. Local equipment rental shops often carry cherry picker hoists.
Optional tools can reduce labor and save time. These include an impact wrench for busting bolts and an angle grinder or Sawzall for cutting away unnecessary metal parts such as exhaust pipes.
How to Find a Good Engine
Finding a good engine is an essential step in the process. Nobody wants to spend hours pulling a blown motor. Without firing it up, there’s no definitive way to tell if an engine is crap. However, you can take a few steps to reduce the likelihood of pulling a junk motor.
1. Examine the Engine
First of all, examine the overall condition and completeness of the engine. If the valve covers or heads are missing and it’s exposed to the elements, it may be time to find another engine. This is less important if you intend to rebuild the motor. Check for obvious signs of trouble, such as holes in the block and cracks.
2. Turn the Motor Over
If you find a motor that’s mostly complete (or otherwise meets your specifications), fit a breaker bar and a socket onto the flywheel nut and turn the motor over. If the engine refuses to turn, it could be seized and should be avoided.
3. Check the Oil and Coolant
If you find a motor that hasn’t been drained, check the oil and the coolant. If you find oil in the coolant (or coolant in the oil), you could be in some trouble. Again, this is less important if you intend to rebuild the engine completely. Also, if you find metal shavings in the oil, run away—you probably have a blown motor.
Optional: Remove the Heads and Check the Cylinders
If you want, you can remove the heads and check the condition of the bore. Turn the engine over again and make sure all the pistons move. Listen for knocking and feel for resistance; it shouldn’t freeze up with the heads removed. Also, run your fingernail up the side of the bore to feel for deep gouges and deformations.
How to Pull an Engine
Pulling an engine can be easy if you take the right steps. The exact procedure varies between vehicles, but the general steps are the same across the board. If you get stuck, check the forums or YouTube for your specific vehicle before pulling the engine. Here are the steps to pulling a junkyard engine.
Step 1: Drain the Engine
Drain all of the fluids out of the engine. Start with the oil, and move on to the coolant system. Inspect the oil and coolant for metal shavings and contamination; this can help you spot a junk engine before taking it home. Some contamination is to be expected, especially when it has been sitting for a long time.
Step 2: Remove Junk and Accessories
The first step in pulling a motor is to remove all the ‘junk’ that’s attached to it. If you intend to use the motor’s accessories, be careful not to cut or mangle any wires. If not, grab your wire cutters and start chopping everything that connects to the engine.
Grab the hacksaw and cut radiator, coolant, and emissions hoses. Avoid cutting hazardous or high-pressure systems such as AC and fuel lines. Fuel and freon are hazardous and should be dealt with safely prior to beginning the swap.
Next comes the exhaust system. Use caution when unbolting manifolds, as it’s easy to break a rusted bolt and get it stuck in the engine. If they don’t immediately come off (and the manifolds don’t need to be removed for clearance), consider cutting the pipes instead of removing the exhaust system. It’s easier to work on stuck parts when the engine is on a stand.
Removing accessories (such as belts, pulleys, and the AC compressor) can free up access to hard-to-reach areas. If you intend to use any accessories, be sure to disconnect them carefully and avoid cutting unless absolutely necessary. However, belts and crusty rubber lines should always be removed and replaced.
Cutting out and discarding accessories, hoses, and other components can greatly increase the job’s speed.
Step 3: Begin Unbolting the Engine
At this point, it’s wise to chain up the engine to a hoist for safety. If chains aren’t available, many people use old seatbelts (though chains are safer). Attach the chain to designated hoist points or bolt a hoist plate to the motor’s top. In some cases, chains can be attached directly to the head bolts or another strong location.
Once the engine is chained up for safety, locate the engine mounts and get to work detaching it from the vehicle. Don’t get underneath the engine until you’re absolutely certain that it’s secure. Next, move on to the transmission and bell housing. If you want to take the transmission too, secure it with jack stands and unbolt the mounts and u-joints. Some engines can be pulled out with the engine and transmission together.
Step 4: Slowly Hoist the Engine
Once you’ve unbolted everything, slowly begin to hoist out the engine. Use extreme care when lifting out the motor. If it sticks or refuses to separate, slowly lower the engine and look for any bolts you missed.
It’s likely that you’ll have to move the engine around a bit to get it out. If you have clearance issues, you may have to remove the hood, inner fenders, or cut something out. Also, make sure you’re removing the motor the correct way. Removing the engine from some vehicles, such as the original Volkswagen Beetle, is easier if the engine is dropped out of the bottom instead of lifted out from the top.
If the engine gets stuck on the way out, never force it—instead, try to wiggle it out or remove parts for clearance.
Step 5: Taking it Home
Once you have the engine out, carefully guide it down onto a cart or into the bed of a truck. Don’t put an engine inside of a car unless necessary, as it will leak oil and other fluids into the vehicle. Fumes also pose a hazard to the driver, so a pickup truck is the best option.
Secure the engine in your vehicle using tie-down straps for transportation. Be sure to consider how you’re going to get the engine out of the truck once you get home. Once home, carefully lift the engine out again and place it on a stand for cleaning and repair.
Now you know the basics of pulling an engine at the junkyard. Though the job may seem intimidating, it’s easily achievable with the right tools, safe practices, and a buddy to help out. Just remember to use common sense and be safe while pulling a motor for your next project.
About THE AUTHOR
I rebuild & restore classic cars and trucks when I'm not researching and writing about all things automotive. My current project is a 1978 Ford.Read more about Joshua Weinstein