13 Used Engines That Won’t Let You Down, and Swaps That Prove It
The best used engines for your next crazy swap
Updated May 21, 2018
What would you do with a couple used engines from the local junkyard? Take them down to the shop and make something crazy? Some people have the balls to do it, and a few even have the time, money, and resources. And unless you have the dime to spend on a crate motor, building used engines is the way to go. But which ones can you actually count on?
What to Look for in Used Engines
Most resellers can provide at least some idea of mileage, service history, and overall condition, but whether you’re digging through eBay and Craigslist ads or picking up a parts car in town, there are some things you need to know about used engines before you take the plunge.
Some engines just aren’t worth it. There’s a reason everyone does an LS swap – it’s trusted. Even if you do a total rebuild at great expense, some used engines have inherent weaknesses or parts are hard to come by.
The rest of the car is important. Inspect bearings, bushings, and overall cosmetics to get an idea of whether the previous owners took care of things. Check for oil weeps and coolant residue on the block and heads and for signs that someone’s been in the engine bay before.
Don’t gamble – do a reseal. Plan on spending weekend and a few hundred dollars to pull the engine, take it apart, and have a look at what’s inside. You get peace of mind from having fresh gaskets, belts, and timing, and you can check out the internals.
Some of these used engines are more common than others, but the only real limitations are your wallet and your imagination. Without further ado let’s dive in to some of the best used engines available, broken down by country of origin.
Used Engines for Patriots
LS SWAP BRO
Okay, we all know the LS is the king of used engines, but it’s an unspoken rule that if you mention engine swaps you have to mention the LS – so let’s get it over with. Now the stuff of internet memery, the LS swap began as the most economical way to get a light and reliable V8 into a small space.
That’s why builders of the 240sx, FD RX7, and all kinds of custom applications have used engines from the LS family – they’re all durable, well-built, and cheap to modify.
The 2008-2009 Tahoe, Yukon, Escalade, Silverado, and Sierra used engines of the LFA variety which can be converted to an LS2 with minimal effort – swap the cam, lifters, and a few covers and you have an LS2 for the price of a wrecked ten-year-old soccer chauffeur.
LS2 ’68 Camaro “Evade”
This beast of a Camaro proves used engines can perform better than new ones. Its owner wanted something he could drive every day and on long trips, so had a full-custom LS2 built to 500 horsepower and 430 torques. And damn, does it look mean.
Evade has been judged to within 1% of perfection at numerous shows, including 995 out of 1000 points at the 20th Annual Eckler’s Winter Nationals. Not a bad feather in the cap of used engines.
6.0 LQ4 V8
Early 2000s Chevrolet and GMC HD trucks are famous for playing the National Anthem out their tailpipes. Often found in a distressed shade of white with dents and rust everywhere, most come with at least $5 of recyclable beer cans in the bed. What you might not know is these workhorses can tow over 10,000 pounds – that’s because they all used engines that last forever.
The 6-liter LQ4 V8 was designed to haul heavy stuff for thousands of miles. Something else it hauls is ass, since it has over 300 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque bone stock. Find one in early 2000s Yukons, Suburbans, 2500 and 3500 trucks, Express vans, even the Hummer H2. We’ll personally thank you if you kill an H2 for its engine.
The main difference between an LQ4 and an LS2 is an iron block, which means these can hold tons of power. They’re famous for being a cheap way to get insane stats, and this hot Chevelle gained world fame In 2016 from an article at Hot Rod by throwing down 800 horsepower. That’s thanks to 16 psi of boost from a single 80mm Borg Warner turbo. The builder says “getting sideways in third or fourth gear is no problem” – we’re not surprised.
GM 3800 V6
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that used engines from Pontiac sedans can fit in just about anything that uses a transaxle. It’s also one of the most common used engines in the world with over 25 million produced to date. It’s been rated one of the best engines of the 20th century, so yeah, it’s reliable.
One of these powers pretty much any old Buick, Oldsmobile, or Pontiac with a V6. Bonus points if it’s beige.
Into a Fiero
The Pontiac Fiero isn’t what most people would describe as exciting. They were overhyped even at the time, and they used engines that always left something on the table in terms of performance. With over 370,000 produced, a Fiero today can be a great platform for one of those shitty Ferrari kits or better yet, a 3800 V6 swap. A modern V6 really wakes these babies up.
If you want to do this, read about what it takes to shoehorn one of these used engines into a Fiero. Spoiler alert: it’s not a lot.
Cummins 4BT 3.9
Everyone talks about the larger Cummins used engines, but what about the four-cylinder 4BT? The “baby Cummins” will allow you stick one of those crude stickers on any car you want. Turns out not everybody knows what those stickers mean, so follow that link to get learnt. I’ll wait.
Find one of these in any old breadvan in the RV section of Craigslist – no lowballs, I know what I have.
The Cones-in-a-Parking-Lot Society scoffs at you for doing anything to a stock Miata outside of firming it up, so putting used engines in Miatas means provoking an internet army. It’s rare to hear about a swap that improves something about the stock balance of performance and durability, because most of them throw it out the window.
Which is exactly what you want in drift.
The Canadian gearheads over at Pistonhead Productions stuffed a 4BT into a 1990 Miata and backed it with a Ford T19 transmission and Ford 8.8-inch rear end. If you race SCCA and you haven’t vomited yet, good on you, because this Miata raised over $10,000 for a local high school’s shop class when it was auctioned in 2016. See, even the baby Cummins used engines can go to good use.
And speaking of Japanese cars, that brings us to
Used Engines Overnighted from Japan
Honda F20C / F22C
There’s only one place to find these used engines: the venerated Honda S2000. That means someone will have to wreck one and extract its beating heart for you to commit automotive debauchery. But act fast: Honda only built about 110,000 for you to choose from, and we can already think of 50,000 perfect uses for an F20C.
At 120 horsepower per liter, S2000s used engines that sported the highest normally aspirated production power in the world while revving to over 9,000 RPM. And it’s a Honda, so longevity is assured as long as you respect its mechanical limits.
In my dreams I see a wild F22C prancing through the forest when it happens upon my orange BMW 2002, bathed in sunbeams amid a field of flowers. One thing leads to another, the F22C ends up inside the 2002, and the lovechild looks something like this.
Lucky for me somebody with more money already had that dream, and they made it happen with one of the best used engines available. Diego Loza built this mad machine around the mill from an AP2 S2K. Underneath it’s way more Honda than BMW, but nobody’s complaining because this thing looks mean AF. I suspect purists miiiiiight not like it, but f**k haters.
Watch for this car’s build video to appear in the Used Engines section of YouPorn.
Subaru EJ Boxer
It’s a common misconception that Subaru’s EJ line of engines can be powered solely by vape. The neat thing about Subaru’s used engines is you can find any old 99-09 Forester, Legacy, Impreza, Outback, or even Baja in the USA and under the hood you’ll most likely find an EJ25.
Subaru rarely makes mistakes, but in the case of the earlier EJ251 used engines there’s a high incidence of head gasket failure and coolant passage clogging. This is easily addressed during a reseal by replacing the stock single-layer head gaskets with multi-layer ones, having the heads machined, and putting it all back together. The later EJ253 engines didn’t have this problem.
Setting that aside these are some of the most reliable used engines available today. Shit, you can build them to over 900 horsepower (turn your sound down).
Problem is, they don’t easily fit in most other cars. But you can easily put one…
Into a Volkswagen
One thing used engines from Subarus were practically made to do is power Volkswagens. Beetles, Westphalias, buses, Transporter trucks, even Synchros can adapt 2.5 Subaru used engines with ease. The original mills had well under half the power of even a stock EJ, and most people report an increase in gas mileage as well. Subaru reliability, classic Volkswagen style, what’s not to love?
The 22R and 22RE used engines can be scavenged from just about any 1980s or 1990s Toyota light truck, or 4Runner. Good luck finding someone who wants to part with one though, because these used engines are gems and so are their cars.
A fuel-injected four-cylinder mill capable of 135 horsepower out of the box, they can be built for way more than that and are known to last for hundreds of thousands of miles if properly maintained.
We love the Celica. It’s underrated, inexpensive, and reliably built. A vintage example is the perfect pairing for a 22RE. This beauty lives in California, home of rust-free classics parked on every corner. It’s an example of a swap that simply improves on the experience of the original car without losing the spirit of that which came before.
Two Jay Z
The 2JZ is like the LS of Japanese engines: the mere mention of it calls to mind the sound of a 240sx bouncing furiously off its rev limiter. It’s as easy as changing your shoes to drop a 2JZ into a variety of cars, and because so many Japanese cars used engines from this family, there are literally thousands of them to choose from and they’re all pretty cheap.
Oh, and the stock bottom end of a 2JZ-GTE can hold over 1000 horsepower.
Japanese cars you’ve never heard called by these names include the Toyota Aristo, Chaser, Cresta, Progres, Brevis, Crown, and Gita, all of which used engines from the 2JZ family. If you’re feeling fast and furious you could pull one from a Supra too, but please don’t.
Everyone throws one of these used engines into a drift missile, but that’s been done. We’d rather see a turbocharger and a supercharger piled onto this straight-six to create a 900-horsepower road weapon. In stock form, these yachts used engines from BMW that were prone to failure at over 100,000 miles, since few Rolls Royces have ever seen that kind of use.
When I was young I rode to school in the back of a Nissan Stanza, and not once did I consider it to be a performance car. Little did I know that Stanzas used engines from the venerated KA line, the ones found in the early 240sx.
Later 240sx models used engines of the KA24DE derivative which had double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, as opposed to the KA24E’s three-valve SOHC setup. This resulted in higher power, torque, and redline figures. As far as used engines go, either one is a reliable starting point for your next swap.
KA Nissan Hardbody
Some of you might not consider this to be an upgrade from a Stanza. I get that. But there’s a huge following for Nissan hardbody trucks, and let’s face it, nobody makes a basic small truck anymore. Most Nissan trucks originally used engines of the VE and other styles, so keep it in the family and choose a KA swap.
If you need an occasional parts hauler that doubles as a weekend drift machine, these are a pretty good choice.
Mazda 13B Rotary
We started the Japan section of our Used Engines Countdown with a rare find that only came in one car, and these aren’t much better. Used engines of the Wankel variety are most commonly found in models that we didn’t get in the US. Score one point for eBay.
The earlier models are 10A, though you won’t find many of those floating around in the States. The 12A, and the more recent fuel-injected models are 13B, are found in any Craigslist Special RX7. Simply take that baby out, build it to your heart’s desire, and swap it into any project where engine bay space is on short supply.
Reliability is great, though gas mileage is bad compared to other used engines.
Of course, even a 1.2-liter rotary makes upward of 130 horsepower, so that’s the tradeoff. Tuned examples can make over 250.
250 horsepower sounds a lot better when the entire car weighs under 2000 pounds; such is the case with this 13B-powered 1966 Volkswagen Beetle. It runs a 10.5-second quarter mile and packs eight times its original horsepower.
The owner says it will barely turn 3000 rpm at 80 miles per hour. This Bug can rip, and Jay Leno agrees.
Motorcycles Have Used Engines, Too
1.0-Liter Honda CBR1000RR
My 1000RR recently decided one of its rods belonged outside the crankcase. When I started looking at used engines I found out you can get a 2008+ 1000RR engine, one that’s good for 200 horsepower with only mild tuning, for under $2000. And my mind started running.
Smart cars, MGs, Minis, Miatas – every small car in the world would be a lot crazier with a redline of 15,000 RPM. Lucky for me another deep-pocketed gearhead has lived this dream too.
Honda S600 RR
Most of these swaps have involved rare used engines going into common cars, and this is quite the opposite – somebody threw one of the used engines from a Honda CBR1000RR into an insanely rare 1964 Honda S600 convertible. The result? Nearly 200 horsepower, or over three times stock, in a car that weighs about 1500 pounds.
We love the irony of taking one the most mass-produced used engines ever and sticking it in Honda’s first mass-marketed car ever. And if you want to undertake something like this yourself, check out this detailed guide which chronicles how that engine got where it is.
1.3-Liter Suzuki Hayabusa
The Hayabusa is the king of cheap speed – it’s the fastest cheapest stock vehicle ever made. That’s not surprising when you consider they used engines with a 1300cc displacement, the size of many small car engines. The difference is your Fiesta doesn’t rev to 13,000 RPM.
Used engines from Hayabusas go for about $3000, or about $1000 less than what you can get an entire bike for. Like the LQ4 from earlier your best bet is to buy the entire thing if you can, that way you have everything you need for the swap into…
A Smart Car
If you haven’t seen this video before, prepare to want a Smart for the first time in your life. One of the oldest car videos on YouTube never ceases to entertain, and the fact that this beast probably gets better MPGs than a stock Smart only adds to the absurdity.
Smarts originally used engines under 1 liter in size, and you can pick up a rolling shell for under 3k easy. That means you can have this much fun for under 8k – fabrication included. Try doing that with a 5-liter ‘Stang.
If you thought that one was nuts, one thing that’s true in the world of used engines is…
Italian Used Engines Are Expensive AF
There’s nothing wrong with pulling used engines from Ferraris, except the price. With an F136 you get a 4.5-liter 570-horsepower V8 mill that’s won International Engine of the Year eight times, and it’s wildly dependable as long as it’s maintained.
The F136 can be found in the Ferrari F430 and California, the Alfa 8C, and Maserati models dating back to 2002. This includes the often-daily-driven-by-pretentious-fools Quattroporte, lending credence to its reliability, but if you want the real deal step up and pull one out of a 458.
If anyone deserves to have too much time and money on their hands, it’s someone who will stuff a Ferrari 458 engine into a Toyota GT86. Enter Ryan Tuerck, an American professional drifter from New Hampshire who ran the internet a few years back with his wildest creation to date, dubbed the GT4586.
This engine is so big they literally had to remove part of the windshield for it to fit. The engineering is insane all-around, and while we don’t have time to get into the details here, we have before, so go check out all the work that went into this beast.
There you have it, some of the best used engines you can buy today. Did we miss something near and dear to your heart? Let us know!
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