Lessons Learned

13 Jul

There was a recent thread on a popular forum where a person was complaining about his second “built” motor failure in recent months. This is unfortunately a common issue among the amateur car hobbyist, whether domestic or import. All too often people think that an engine fortified with forged this and strengthened that will automatically become bulletproof. As many have found, it’s simply not the case.

A long list of parts does not a perfect motor make. Engines are essentially puzzles. But more complex. When you buy a puzzle, the pieces are all designed to fit together in a cohesive package. An engine build is generally made up of a variety of manufacturer parts, and not all were conceived with one another in mind. What’s more, not every part is designed with one end user in mind. Some people only shoot for a dyno number. Others may road race their car and need an engine that can sustain hours upon hours of high rpm. But most of us simply drive our cars on the street, use off the shelf oil, and want and expect the engine to start, drive and last through any season. We want to be able to drive it in January or July. We want it to be able to be reliable at 2500 rpm cruising and 9000 rpm shifts. And when we put money down on a “built” engine, we expect it. We typically don’t know how to treat the engines with kid gloves. The engine build you do for a customer in Dubai can and should differ from
one you do for a customer in Minnesota. Different environments, potentially different uses, require different clearances, and sometimes different components. However, those goals are not always communicated clearly. Often engine builds are sold by a retailer who has no experience in the build side. They simply slap a group of products together that earns a certain margin, finds some inexpensive machine shop in their area who can bolt the pieces together and suddenly they are in the “built engine” business. I’ve heard many good, successful machinists say “anyone can assemble an engine, few can build one”. And it’s true.

All too often customers spend endless hours on forums getting what they perceive to be the truth about an H beam rod vs an A beam. Or this bearing brand vs that. If they put half that wasted time into selecting who they actually use to BUILD the engine, they would end up in a way better position. Their goals would be clearly communicated and understood because the machinist would demand it. He wouldn’t turn a wrench without those marching orders. Not everything ends when you pay. That’s where it begins. Ideally you want to be able to look back 10 years and still have a successfully running engine. Many times, people look back 10 months and see that they are on build #2 or #3, out of pocket, an they aren’t setting any sort of crazy goals. Its not because they selected a stock bearing vs aftermarket, it’s not because they didn’t opt for the piston-top coating. It’s usually because whomever bolted their puzzle together shouldn’t have.

Bottom line – do your research. Don’t buy a boatload of parts and drop them at your local engine builder. Talk to them first. If there isn’t one locally, talk to those who have established a reputation in their community for building reliable engines. Communicate your goals. If you don’t know your goals, it’s ok – but it means you’re not ready for an engine build yet. Think about what you’re doing, how much you can spend, what your tolerance is to potentially do it over. Write your thoughts down, and it will all begin to make more sense. Don’t obsess over staged head packages, or wrist pin offset. That’s why you are using a professional. If you are genuinely curious about this stuff – ask – but then listen. Write stuff down if you want. It helps. A customer smart enough to ask the questions and smart enough to listen to the answers is way more enjoyable than the one who drops off 10 lbs of dung and expects it to fit in. 5 lbs box in 48 hours. Good luck on your builds and most of all – enjoy them!

One Response to “Lessons Learned”

  1. poorman November 29, 2011 at 7:36 PM #

    Fantastic post. I couldn’t have said it any better.

    cheers

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