Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Cracked Engine Block, Replace Engine or Sayanara

My wife is the CEO of a small (read: struggling) non-profit that recently had a car problem. They have a wheelchair accessible (modified) 2003 Chevrolet Intervan that was recently diagnosed with a cracked block. The garage has given a quote of $5600 to replace the engine (with a rebuilt one, I guess); A new replacement for this vehicle is over $40K. The car appears to be otherwise in good shape, with only 34000 miles…it just happens to be 10 years old. By virtue of a few Y chromosomes, I was deemed to be sufficiently knowledgable to decide on a course of action, so, I turn to the community.

My questions:

Are there some specific things we should ask about the condition of the rest of the van that would help decide whether the old van has some life in it?
The van was bought in June with only 28000 miles on it, pretty low, could the very low mileage be a problem, that is the engine was not run enough for a long period of time?
The mechanics made a comment like “chevy engines don’t last very long”, as an explanation for the problem…bogus?

Thanks for any insights

$5600 is too much money. Do some shopping on the internet. A scrapyard engine from a wreck could do well but ask a lot of pointed questions and insist on a written guarantee without unreasonable weasel wording. Chevy engines are as good as any in my experience with owning Chevrolets. Also, Chevrolet engine life has not been mentioned here on CarTalk as being inadequate. You might want to shop mechanics also as yours wants a high price and is spewing verbal garbage.

Not running is not a problem for an engine if it is maintained correctly according to the owner’s manual. A cracked block can result from freezing w/o good antifreeze. Some older engines had a tendency to crack blocks even w/o being frozen including flathead Ford V8s from the early days and Pontiac’s Iron Duke four from a couple of decades ago.

What are the symptoms and the driving situation leading up to any failure and that diagnosis?
Overheating, loss of coolant, towed, etc, etc.

Cracked blocks are rare and especially on a low miles, late model. Based on the comment you were given about Chevy engines not lasting that long I would take a cracked block diagnosis with a grain of salt.

PS, that may have been a year when GM had problems with the intake manifold gasket that could leak antifreeze. A new gasket may solve your problem, not a new engine. Google or Bing are your friends. A cracked block can also present an antifreeze leak problem.

What engine is in the van? If it’s a V8, the Chevy smallblock V8 is pretty much bulletproof. One of the most forgiving, most reliable engines ever made. If it’s a 4.3L V6, well… that may be a different story. Either way, even at the price you were quoted (which seems high to me), it’s a lot cheaper than replacing the van. I’d see if you could get a salvage yard motor for this first. But do get a second opinion on the problem and cost to fix.

A second opinion is definitely in order, along with a second or 3rd estimate. It is kind of a pain but anything over $500 we have to get 3 estimates, I know it may be hard to ask, but saying I need 3 estimates really works. There can be a double cost vs the low bidder.

@oblivion the 4.3 liter V6 IS the classic 5.7 liter chevy small block V8 minus 2 cylinders.

The explanation given by the shop as a cause of the problem would have me backing way up…

$5600 seems reasonable if that is an installed price (parts and labor) and it comes with some kind of guarantee. The alternative, buying a new vehicle, would be a major cash flow hit to the family, compared to replacing the engine.

If the engine block is actually cracked, there might be a chance that Block Sealeant might help at least for a while. I had a Chev 6, years ago that was leaking from front to back on the left side. I put some stopleak in it and it stopped leaking in a couple of minutes. I don’t know how long it lasted tho.

The Chevrolet Entervans I found online are Chevrolet Ventures. This would give it the 3.4L engine, subject to intake manifold leaking coolant and may have lead to the distruction of the engine.
Labor to replace a long block is 16.3 hours.

@db4690: I know the 4.3 is a chopped-off V8, but they seem a lot more troublesome.

First…get a second opinion. It is within the 12year block that GM had problems with their Intake manifolds. The problem could be just a misdiagnosed intake manifold problem where the anti-freeze is getting into the oil. OR the antifreeze getting into the oil caused the engine block to crack. So get a second opinion. The fix could be just to replace the intake manifold/gasket.

Was the $40k for a new(er) vehicle or for a new engine?? Couldn’t tell that from your post.

Do nothing until you get a second opinion, preferably from a reputable independant shop. A cracked block in a stock engine is extremely rare, and other causes of the same symptom set are extremely common.