Engine Repair Cost: How Much Should You Expect to Pay?
Published: July 21st, 2023
Your car's engine is the heartbeat of your vehicle. An internal combustion engine is responsible for converting fuel into energy and powering your car's movement. As a car owner, you know that engine repairs can be expensive, but how much should you expect to pay? In this blog post, we'll dive into the nitty-gritty details of engine repair costs.
When looking for engine repair, it's important to consider the cost of parts and labor when choosing a repair shop. Some shops may specialize in repairing certain types of engines, such as diesel or hybrid, so make sure to inquire about their experience before selecting a shop. Additionally, some shops offer warranties on parts and labor, which can help protect you from unexpected costs. From understanding the components of a vehicle's engine to knowing the average price range for new, used, and remanufactured engines, we've got you covered.
We'll also discuss preventative measures you can take to avoid costly repairs. Please note that we will not be looking at costs related to an electric motor in a hybrid or electric car, even though that accomplishes the same task as an internal combustion engine. If you own a vehicle with a gas or diesel engine, educating yourself can turn unexpected and difficult costs into planned-for maintenance expenses that you can live with.
What Is an Engine & What’s It Made Of?
The engine is a sophisticated device that converts the heat from gas combustion into the force required to move the wheels. Without an engine, your vehicle literally has no power to run. In a hybrid car, both an engine and an electric motor produce that power.
There are many components that make up a typical engine or that are associated with its function. The components that are most specific to the engine itself, especially with regards to a gasoline engine, are as follows:
- Cylinder: This is arguably one of the most fundamental structures of an engine. It is a chamber where the combustion of fuel and air takes place. It consists of the cylinder block, where the key moving parts of the engine are found, and the cylinder head, which has valve-controlled passages that both allow air and fuel to enter the cylinders and the exhaust gases to leave
- Piston: This moves up and down inside the cylinder in order to expand and contract the air-fuel mixture, producing force
- Crankshaft: This rotating shaft is where the piston's reciprocating action is transformed into rotational motion
- Connecting rod: This piece links the piston to the crankshaft
- Valves: These control the flow of air and fuel into and out of the cylinder
- Camshaft: This controls the opening and closing of the valves
- Timing chain: This component is what coordinates the movement of the crankshaft and camshaft
- Pushrods and lifters: These are responsible for transmitting the camshaft’s motion to the rocker arms
- Spark plugs: These are used for igniting, or “sparking”, the air-fuel mixture in the combustion chamber
- Fuel injector: This supplies, or injects, the fuel into the combustion chamber
- Oil pan and filter: This is used to contain the engine oil and filter it
- Water pump: This is used to circulate coolant within the engine to keep it from overheating
Of course, with such a complex piece of machinery as an engine, there are many other components that are associated with it. For example, your car might have a turbocharger, which increases an engine’s power by pushing more air into the combustion chamber. Though we can’t all hope to be experts in the inner workings of a car engine, familiarizing yourself with its most common components may come in handy in case yours needs to be maintained.
Differences between types of engines
Gasoline and diesel engines are the two primary types of engines used in vehicles today. Spark plugs ignite fuel in gasoline engines, while diesel engines use compression for ignition. Although diesel engines offer improved gas mileage, they are generally more complicated than gasoline engines, which means they are typically more expensive to repair. You will mostly see diesel engines in trucks and heavy machinery that typically need a lot more power to operate, and they are much less common than gasoline engines in consumer cars.
Even less common is the rotary engine, which might be found in sports cars and uses a rotating triangular rotor to convert pressure into a rotating motion. Such an engine might be lightweight and compact, but it can be less reliable and consume much more fuel. They are also more complex and produce high emissions. Much more fuel-efficient and rising in popularity, hybrid cars have a combination of an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. The internal combustion engine is used for most driving situations, but the electric motor can be used to power the car at low speeds or when the gasoline engine is not running. Such cars’ engine systems may produce more power but will be more complex and expensive to repair.
There are also differences within gasoline engines with regards to the number of cylinders they have. The more cylinders an engine has, the more power it produces while being heavier and less fuel-efficient. You would find a four-cylinder engine common in small to midrange cars, while six- and eight-cylinder engines are more commonly found in luxury vehicles.
What Kinds of Repairs Could Your Engine Undergo?
When it comes to engine repair costs, various factors come into play. The extent of damage, the car's make and model, part availability, and labor costs are all significant contributors to your final bill. To avoid such high expenses down the road, we think that regular maintenance is key. It's also usually wise to get multiple quotes from reputable mechanics before deciding on any particular repair shop for fair and accurate pricing.
As with anything involving such complex machinery, you can encounter any number of issues requiring different types of repairs. That being said, there are a few general types of repairs that your engine may need.
If the engine has suffered significant damage, it may need to be rebuilt. This type of repair requires a high level of expertise and involves taking apart the engine, cleaning it, inspecting it for damage, and replacing different parts with new or refurbished ones that meet OEM standards. This is a complex job that involves many steps, which typically are:
- Disassembly: The engine is disassembled into different parts that might need replacement
- Cleaning and inspection: The engine components are cleaned and inspected to determine their condition, which includes checking for wear and damage
- Replacement of damaged parts: Damaged components are replaced with new or reconditioned components that meet OEM specifications. Piston rings, bearings, gaskets, seals, and lubricants are most commonly replaced in this step. Only when absolutely necessary are major components such as camshafts, crankshafts, and pistons replaced
- Machine work: The engine may require machine work, such as turning the crankshaft and resurfacing the cylinder heads
- Reassembly: The engine is put back together in the reverse order of its disassembly. Pictures, marking, and keeping parts in order can really help make this process easier
- Final checks: The engine is checked to ensure that every component is where it originally was. Then it should be ready to start
Though this is much less common than replacing specific components within it, you may need to replace your old engine with a new or refurbished one. As with the rebuild, you need to possess a high level of skill to accomplish a replacement properly, and it involves several steps:
- Removal of the old engine: The engine is removed from the vehicle by disconnecting all the components from other parts, including the transmission, exhaust system, and electrical connections
- Preparation of the new engine: The new engine is prepared by first checking its condition, cleaning it, and making sure that it is compatible with the vehicle
- Installation of new engine: It is installed in the vehicle by properly connecting all the components that were disconnected from the old engine
- Testing: The new engine is tested to ensure that it is running properly and that all the components and connections are working correctly
- Break-in period: The new engine might need a break-in period to ensure that it is running at optimal performance. What this means is that you will be driving the vehicle at low speeds for a certain amount of time to allow the engine to settle in
Smaller component replacements
This might be a more common type of repair, as the engine is made up of many smaller components, and any number of them may fail at any time. You can also generally expect it to cost you a lot less to do these sorts of repairs. Some repairs may be minor and not require you to replace the whole component. Examples of this include sealing the oil pan against a leak, cleaning the engine by removing the cylinder head and using a special cleaner on the components, and tightening or replacing the fuel cap.
However, you may have to replace certain components if they fail, which could be more complex and expensive. You may have to replace any of the bigger components we listed above, as well as piston rings, bearings, head gaskets, oil pumps, and valve guides and seals. Regular maintenance and inspections can help prevent the majority of these problems. Nevertheless, if any of these components fail, they must be replaced or repaired to ensure the engine's correct operation.
What Are the Costs, and How Can You Mitigate Them?
The different repairs we discussed above vary greatly with regards to costs, and it depends on the complexity of the task, the number of components involved, and whether new, used, or refurbished items are used. If the work is done at a service center, you will also have to account for labor costs.
In a previous blog post, we discussed the costs involved with completely replacing a vehicle’s engine, as well as other associated expenses. We found that engine part prices vary greatly depending on whether you choose a used, new, or remanufactured engine. While you may be able to pay as little as $400–$700 for an old car’s used engine, we would not recommend that because it may not be reliable. You can expect to pay between $2,000 and $10,000 for an engine, before taxes and installation. A remanufactured engine can range between $2,500 and $4,500, while a new one can cost you between $6,000 and $10,000, depending on age and make and model of car. Also, keep in mind that some refurbished parts can be sold as certified remanufactured, meaning that they are certified to be put together according to the manufacturer’s standards, and those come with their own third-party warranties. Keep in mind that you will have to factor in average labor costs of between $75 and $130, or more if your engine happens to be more technologically complex and requires more component connections. An engine replacement can take anywhere from 8 to 15 hours, though sometimes a little less if there are no special requirements, so it may cost you an extra $800–$1,500 on average for labor.
An engine rebuild can also be costly because of the skill and time it requires. It can set you back between $2,500 and $5,000 with labor accounted for, although an older, lesser-cylinder engine might cost less. If you have to replace specific components, you will pay less, but there is a great deal of variation between those components. Here are some cost examples:
- Cylinder head: $140-$3,000, or $250 to upwards of $4,000 installed
- Crankshaft: Those can be as low as $400–$900 but can cost $2,000–$2,750 with associated parts and labor costs factored in
- Timing chain: While the component alone can cost $100–$500, it will set you back $500–$1,500 when accounting for labor
- Valves: There can be two to five valves per engine cylinder, which are either for intake or exhaust separately. Replacements may cost $100–$200 per valve, but labor can take a long time and cost over $100 per valve, on average
- Pistons: This can cost around $1,000 for a four-piston engine and up to $5,000 when you account for labor, piston rings, and the usual vehicle-specific factors
As you can see, these costs can be really expensive, whether it is a complete engine replacement or rebuild or if you have many smaller components to service. And they may be significantly higher if you have a more expensive luxury car or SUV. If your car is new and still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, you will be largely covered. Otherwise, you will have to shoulder all these costs yourself. So what can you do to save yourself money on engine repairs?
While you can never completely prevent all engine failure issues from happening, taking proper care of your car and scheduling regular maintenance visits can help lessen the costs. For example, changing the oil and oil filter regularly can help prevent engine damage and prolong the life of the engine. Regular maintenance can generally keep the engine running smoothly and improve your fuel economy, saving you money for unexpected costs should they arise.
Taking your vehicle to the shop can also help spot problems before they progress, turning what could be a major replacement into a small repair and patch job that prolongs that part’s life.
Warranty coverage for engine repairs
We truly believe that purchasing an extended auto warranty or a service contract that extends your original manufacturer’s warranty can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run. The engine is considered part of a vehicle’s powertrain, which is covered by most providers’ lower-tier warranty plans to varying degrees. These can last up to seven years and cost between $2,500 and $2,800, or higher depending on many factors, and payments can be made monthly over periods of 12–30 months. Monthly payments start at $69 for many of the top warranty providers like Endurance, CARCHEX, or Olive, although you may be able to find cheaper options at smaller companies.
Keep in mind that some engine components may not be covered in a basic powertrain plan, so you may have to upgrade to a premium plan. You may also choose to go for a bumper-to-bumper or comprehensive plan for greater peace of mind and to cover the largest number of your car’s parts. In that case, you can be paying $3,000–$3,900 for up to seven years of coverage, which we think is still a bargain considering what you’d be saving. We recommend comparing warranty providers to see if one works for you.
The Take-Home Message
Owning a car is expensive, no doubt. Between gas, regular maintenance visits, accidental damage, and breakdowns that need repairs, you have to account for a lot of costs. And potentially some of the biggest costs have to do with engine repairs because it is an indispensable part of your car that can be very complex and take a lot of labor hours to service.
If your engine breaks down on the side of the road and you have no warranty coverage, you will not only have to pay to have it towed but also for the parts, labor, and inspection costs. Once you add those up, the costs can be so high that they can come close to what you’d pay for a used vehicle. We recommend that you regularly maintain your car to catch issues before they get worse and costlier, and that you consider purchasing an auto warranty for greater peace of mind. After all, you don’t want the joy and convenience of owning your car to be diminished—if it doesn’t need to be!