Engine Swap: The Essential Elements of Engine Swapping

2/23/2023

Key Points

  • Engine swapping is the process of replacing a vehicle's original engine with a different one to improve performance or increase lifespan.
  • The pros of engine swapping include improved performance, extended vehicle lifespan, cost savings and increased technical aptitude for automotive technicians.
  • The cons of engine swapping include the time-consuming nature of the process, potential costs, the need for transmission change and vehicle re-registration and adherence to emissions regulations.
  • The cost of an engine swap depends on factors such as the engine and materials used and the cost of service from a technician. Swapping less common engines can be more expensive.
  • Engine swapping laws vary by state, with some requiring engine substitutes from the same year or newer and passing emissions testing. Engine compatibility is also important, considering factors like fuel choice and cylinder configurations.

Engine swapping can be difficult, but it can also be a lot of fun!

It's been a long-standing task for automotive technicians, and there's still a demand for these services. To provide comprehensive automotive technician services, learning how to swap engines is important.

Besides, engine swap jobs are excellent auto tech projects that will push your skills to the limit — something that could drive your technical aptitude and professional automotive mechanic career to new heights.

You could also enroll in automotive technician training, like that found in the Automotive Technology program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI). In just 51 weeks, students can learn important industry skills before entering the automotive industry. 1,7 Because of prior technical training, they could then be better prepared to tackle engine swapping projects.

Keep reading for engine swap tips! Below, we’ll briefly introduce engine swapping, along with some things to remember during an engine swap, including basic guidelines on how to swap an engine.

1. What Engine Swapping Is

Still wondering, “What is an engine swap?” Engine swapping is the process of replacing an automobile’s original engine with a different engine. It’s typically done to improve a vehicle’s performance, increase its lifespan or both.

2. Pros and Cons

Before you attempt your first engine swap, you should understand what you’re signing up for.

Engine Swapping Pros

There are distinct benefits to extending the longevity of or maintaining a vehicle with an engine swap. Engine swaps can potentially improve:

  • Older auto models’ performance, since engine replacements help them better adhere to modern performance standards.
  • Vehicles’ lifespans, even with no major updates otherwise.
  • Financial savings, because engine swapping is usually less expensive than buying a new vehicle.
  • Resale value, because of better performance.
  • Technical aptitude for ambitious automotive technicians.

Engine Swapping Cons

Engine swaps take hours, and more complex jobs can take even longer. Before you do an engine swap, consider these potential concerns:

  • Costliness of materials, which may still be cheaper than a newly purchased vehicle.
  • Time-consuming nature of the project, averaging 6 to 8 hours for an experienced technician, with specialized engine swap jobs taking even longer.
  • Need for a transmission change, delaying vehicle servicing and adding additional service costs.
  • Need for vehicle re-registration, adding post-service steps and costs.
  • Emissions concerns, which working technicians must recognize by following local emissions regulations.

3. Engine Swap Cost

How much is an engine swap? Exact figures vary, but we can at least relay the factors that influence the final cost of an engine swap. First, you need to consider the cost of the engine and engine swapping materials, all of which depend on how they’re manufactured.

The cost of service from a paid technician will also be added to the final cost of the engine swap. Typical engine swaps may cost a few thousand dollars, but swapping less common engines may cost tens of thousands of dollars.

4. Local Emissions Standards

Every state has its own engine swapping laws, mostly to reduce unnecessary emissions. That’s why you need to be well-informed about your state’s specific laws on engine swaps.

Some states have no regulations, while others require engine swaps to be performed with engine substitutes from the same year or newer as the original car and pass emissions testing. Certain states are even stricter, like California, which only allows engine swaps with California-certified engines.

5. Engine Compatibility

You should also understand which types of car engines are compatible with which vehicles. Compatibility can be determined by factors like:

  • Fuel choice (gas, diesel, electricity).
  • Cylinder layouts (straight, in-line, V, flat).
  • Cylinder configurations (twin cylinder, three-cylinder, four-cylinder).

An engine from a car of the same make and model would usually be a good substitute. Otherwise, without something like an engine swap compatibility chart, it can be hard to find an engine that's compatible with the vehicle’s transmission, suspension and other components.

Engine swapping is still possible with a largely incompatible engine. It is, however, much more difficult. These swaps usually call for years of experience, specialized training or both.

Nonetheless, some people are driven enough to take on these projects. They’re willing to do a lot of extra fabrication and mounting to make that transformative swap.

The more ambitious the engine swap, the better the mechanic needs to be. So, if swapping engines piques your interest, enroll in a trade school!

UTI’s Automotive Technology program provides a solid foundation of technical knowledge and hands-on training.18 This education can help students gain foundational automotive skills before pursuing auto mechanic roles that may include engine swapping responsibilities. They may be better prepared to perform successful engine swaps because of this training.

You can also follow up UTI’s core curriculum with a specialized training program. Thanks to relationships with brands like Ford, BMW and Toyota, our Manufacturer-Specific Advanced Training programs can help students develop engine servicing skills tailored to leading manufacturers. As a result, automotive technicians with prior specialized training are more likely to successfully complete engine swapping projects involving these models.

Most of our 13 auto tech trade school locations offer at least one of these specialized programs! If you’re interested in training with Ford engines, you might want to consider the 15-week Ford FACT program.8 If you want to train on top racing engines, you might be interested in the 15-week NASCAR Technology program offered at UTI’s NASCAR Technical Institute campus in Mooresville, North Carolina.24

Read: Investing in an Automotive Trade School Education

6. Tools for Engine Swapping

To swap an engine, you’ll need the proper engine swapping tools. Without these tools, the already tricky process of engine swapping is even harder. Tools used for this task include:

  • Ratchet set.
  • Socket set.
  • Screwdriver set.
  • Wrenches.
  • Breaker bars.
  • Pliers.

Two wrenches might differ in price depending on which type they are, how they’re made and the materials they’re made of. Some tools are also better suited for specialized engine swapping jobs. Do your research to get the tools needed for successful auto tech work.

Students nearing graduation from UTI’s automotive mechanic school can receive a Career Starter Tool Set Voucher if they have no outstanding obligations.19 This voucher can be redeemed for a variety of Snap-on® tool sets, allowing students to obtain high-quality tools for automotive technician work, including engine swapping projects, at a lower cost!

Read: Auto Mechanic Tools List - Tool Box Essentials

7. How To Do an Engine Swap

Swapping engines is no walk in the park. But with practice, this responsibility will be an invigorating task, the difficulty of which can push technicians’ skills to the limit and help them improve.

Below, we’ll briefly touch on some basic engine swapping practices. These are easier to perform after completing automotive mechanic courses like the ones taught at UTI.

Students in our automotive program are taught to understand engine systems and parts, pushing themselves to think about machinery precisely and accurately — all within controlled automotive technology classrooms and labs.

Students also learn to practice the accuracy and patience needed to ensure engines are swapped correctly and safely. Engine swapping is a high-stakes responsibility that can take hours to complete, so these skills must be well-developed.

Wiring

Engine wiring ensures that everything from your radio to your taillights is powered and can continue to run. It also maintains communication between different vehicle parts that may be critical to basic operation. Understanding these wiring systems and their components allows auto mechanics to connect the new engine properly while maintaining the vehicle’s power sourcing and communication.

Mounting

Quite a challenging task, mounting ensures engine replacements are securely installed, allowing them to absorb shock from any impact that occurs while the vehicle is running. This is easier if the engine swap is like-for-like or made by the same manufacturer. Otherwise, lots of modification and fabrication work is often needed to properly couch the engine and connect it to the vehicle.

Linking Gears and Drivetrain

A vehicle’s drivetrain connects the engine to the wheels, and gears control how much power the engine produces. Making sure they’re connected is a big job that’s crucial to a vehicle’s motorized mobility.

Cooling Systems

Cooling systems get engines up to operating temperature and filter out excess heat, preventing the vehicle from overheating. Automotive mechanics must ensure that engine replacements’ cooling systems are compatible with the vehicles being serviced — safety calls for it.

Read: Automotive Shop Safety Rules

Engine Swapping FAQs

What are the steps involved in performing an engine swap? 

Performing an engine swap requires several detailed steps. First and foremost, you'll need to select a compatible engine. This is followed by safely removing the existing engine from the vehicle, modifying the new engine and vehicle as necessary to ensure compatibility, and then installing the new engine, ensuring all connections, such as those for the fuel system, exhaust, cooling system and electronics are secure. A trained automotive technician can help ensure it’s done correctly. 

Can any car undergo an engine swap or are there limitations? 

Not every car is suitable for an engine swap due to variations in engine bay space, mounting points, and compatibility with drivetrain components. It's crucial to consider the structural and electronic compatibility between the vehicle and the new engine, as well as the impact on the vehicle's balance and handling.

What are some common challenges encountered during an engine swap? 

Common engine swap challenges include ensuring the new engine is compatible with the electrical, cooling and exhaust systems. And wiring and reprogramming the vehicle’s computer system often requires specialized knowledge and tools. 

Learn Skills Used for an Engine Swap at UTI

Engine swaps are great projects for automotive technicians, whether for clients, customers or for themselves. Keep this engine swapping overview handy as a basic reference, and you’ll be better prepared to start your own project!

You can learn essential automotive servicing skills at UTI. After completing our 51-week Automotive Technology program, students can further train to develop and improve their technical skills and expertise, which can help them successfully complete projects like engine swapping.7

Once you’re ready to enroll and begin your training journey, fill out an automotive trade school application!

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1 ) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.
2 ) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit www.uti.edu/disclosures.
7 ) Some programs may require longer than one year to complete.
8 ) Does not include time required to complete a qualifying prerequisite program such as UTI’s 51-week Automotive Technology program.
15 ) Manufacturer-paid advanced training programs are conducted by UTI on behalf of manufacturers who determine acceptance criteria and conditions. These programs are not part of UTI’s accreditation. Programs available at select locations.
18 ) UTI now offers all of its automotive, diesel, motorcycle and marine technician training in a blended-learning format consisting of online lecture courses along with in-person, hands-on lab training.
19 ) Students who are near graduation, have no outstanding obligations to the school, and who have not previously taken part in a tool voucher program on any UTI/MMI/NASCAR Tech affiliated campus may be eligible to participate in the UTI Tool Voucher Program.
24 ) NASCAR Technical Institute prepares graduates to work as entry-level automotive service technicians. Some graduates who take NASCAR-specific electives also may have job opportunities in racing-related industries. NASCAR Tech is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

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