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

Mileage and buying a used car with rebuilt engine

If I’m looking to buy a used car and an ad says 210,000 mileage engine rebuilt at 170,000. What does that actually mean ? Should I consider the rebuilt engine as only having 40,000 miles on it ? That sounds a bit too good to be true.

It is. The engine may have a lot of life in it, IF it was done right. However, the transmission has 210,000 miles on it, the axles have 210,000 miles on them, the suspension has 210,000 miles on it, the steering components have 210,000 miles on them, etc…

Just something to think about.

That means that at 170,000 someone rebuilt the engine. However, because everything else on the car still has 210,000 miles it actually doesn’t add as much value to a used car as you might think. Also, a rebuild can mean a lot of different things, so it’s generally not the same as having an engine with only 40k on it and without documentation of what was done you don’t really know at all. Also keep in mind that most cars these days don’t “die” from a worn out engine-- the other stuff wears out and you get sick of spending money on such an old car.

I’d generally put a rebuilt engine in the “plus” column, but it wouldn’t be a deal maker for me.

Consider the vehicle has 210k miles. The engine mechanically is the least of a vehicles problems at this old age or higher mileage. It has 210k old emmissions controls, sensors, wiring and electrical parts and big one transmission. These are far more likely to fail than an engine mechanically.

Think of a rebuild simply as an expensive repair nothing else.

And some people’s definition of an “engine rebuild” leaves a lot to be desired.
Some consider (seriously) replacing a head gasket or performing a valve job as an engine rebuild.
In cases where the engine is actually removed and disassembled there are a dozen ways of rebuilding it but there is only one correct method.

Before believing too deeply in this rebuilt engine claim I’d want to see some receipts and find out whodunit. At a 170k miles a proper engine rebuild should mean reground crankshaft, bored cylinders, etc. and the paperwork should reflect that.

In this case the engine (IF rebuilt correctly) has a legitimate 40k miles on it.
Now the transmission and suspension components may have 210k on them so that’s something that should be kept in mind.

With 40k on the ‘rebuild’, at least you know it was not a duct tape and wire rebuild. Under no circumstances should you ever buy a used car that claims “Engine freshly rebuilt”. If they had done a good job rebuilding the engine, they would be keeping the car.

Rebuilding gasoline engines to be as good as a new engine is a lost art in this country. 30 years ago, there were a number of high-quality rebuilders in the US that had seasoned professional technicians and built hundreds or thousands of engines a year. So far as I know, all of these firm have gone out of business. It is more cost-effective to buy a whole new car built by a robot than to buy a new engine that was hand-machined and rebuilt by a skilled technician.

I would price it as a car with 210k miles on it, and assume that they are getting rid of it for a reason.

I would agree with the other posts. I bought a 1955 Pontiac back in 1962 that the service department in the dealership had overhauled. I had all kinds of expenses with the car. I had problems with a chirping in the valve train. An oil filter was optional equipment in those days and the engine must have had quite a bit of sludge. I replaced the valve lifters and had the mounting studs in the valve train pulled and cleaned out. Even this didn’t completely solve this problem. I had a piston slap in the engine–while not serious does indicate an overhaul that wasn’t done correctly. I did install an oil filter on the car.

I had to have new bearings in the transmission–it was a manual shift. I also had to put on new brakes and replace the master cylinder. I learned that there are more things that go wrong with a car than the engine and that a rebuilt or overhauled engine does not guarantee a trouble free car.

Tom McCahill, an automotive writer for Mechanix Illustrated said that in buying a used car that more needed to be considered than the engine. A transmisison that doesn’t shift correctly, or a rear axle that howls could be more serious than engine problems, and a bent frame is impossible. He also said that rust and serious body repairs were much more serious than the engine.