Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Replace engine on a car with 160K miles?

College daughter’s 2004 Mitsubishi Outlander overheated in a big bad way… broken radiator (replaced it) - still had starting issues… turns out it apparently has blown head gasket, cam is frozen and possibly more damage. Mechanic is recommending replacement engine ranging from $3,000 for “salvage” engine to $4800 for a re-manufactured engine… but I only paid $5000 for the car and it has 160K miles on it! Worth it? Could be other issues as well related to the overheating… Or should sell the car “as is” to a mechanic and move on? He’s offering me about $1,000 for the car as is.

Does she even like the car? Is it in good shape in general, or are you embarrassed to be seen in it? Has it been maintained well, otherwise?

I’d rather pay $5k to repair a decent, well maintained car that i’m familiar with, rather than spend that much on an unfamiliar used car, unless I was financially equipped to afford say a 2-3 year old used car with less than 50,000 miles. I have a 13 year old with 180,000 that i’d be inclined to put a new engine in, because my financial situation dictates it, and sometimes it’s better to stick with the devil you know.

So it’s $5k to fix what you have, or 5-10k for a replacement. A used car in the $5k range is probably going to need maintenance and/or repairs of some sort almost immediately. 160,000 isn’t too bad, if it had 260k i’d say goodbye.


She loves the car… particularly the all wheel drive (in the mountains)… well maintained and it looks great! Just concerned that after replacing the engine other problems might arise related to it… but also painfully aware that taking the $1000 buyout and adding repair costs of 3000+ will only afford me the budget to buy another used car of indeterminate reliability.

You are wise to ponder this and ask for input. On the surface, this seems like an obvious “cut your losses” situation, and maybe that’s where it will end up. But it depends on several factors. First of all, what else could you get for $3000-$4800, and would it be as good as this car? That salvage engine is a total unknown, BTW. If you put in a rebuilt engine, you’d get maybe 200,000 more miles out of the car, how does that influence your decision?

At the very least, you should consider other potential big expenses before deciding. The most obvious is transmission - if this is an auto trans and it’s the original one, never rebuilt or replaced, then that’s another major repair that may be approaching in the next year or two or three. How is the front end suspension and steering? The A/C?

On the other hand, if you just rebuilt the transmission, then that might make a decisive difference. If the body and interior and glass are beat up, just move on, but if it’s pristine, then maybe you can make a case for the repair. I advise against selling it to the mechanic doing the work without advertising it elsewhere to see what you can get.

I know nothing about these cars, but if they are common, then one alternate solution is to find a donor vehicle for sale cheap - say for example one with a failed transmission, or has been “totaled” in a way that didn’t effect the engine. If you could pick up that car for, say, $500-$1000, swap engines, the repair might be somewhat less…maybe.

But this is an interesting situation and I’m sure there will be some useful offered by others here.
Hope that helps somewhat.

I’m not going to be much help. I’ve put a couple engines in but not at that low mileage and when I was driving 40K a year. So it was almost like a piece of industrial equipment. I guess my inclination would be to walk away from it given some potential other problems and who knows about a used engine. My first engine was a Goodwrench rebuilt from the factory and I got a couple hundred thousand out of it. I put in a used engine after that and don’t think I even made 70K out of that one. I’m always concerned when something major happens that other major events aren’t far behind. I’d be concerned with a salvage engine and I sure wouldn’t pay for a new one.

Your mechanic is milking the cow at both ends…Locate a used engine yourself. YOU do the legwork… You may find one locally or on the internet. Many of the better run salvage yards will install the engine for you or arrange to have it installed for about half what your mechanic is quoting you…

Otherwise, list the car on craigslist as a parts car for, say $1800 and see what happens…If it doesn’t sell you can always come down or sell it to your mechanic…

“well maintained”

That terminology means different things to different people.
Did that maintenance include changing the transmission fluid and filter at least 5 times so far?
If not, the next event will be transmission failure.

While nobody can predict when the trans will fail, if it has not been maintained as described, you will be looking at a bill for trans overhaul in the near future, and that bill will likely be ~$3k. Personally, with an 8 year old vehicle, I would not spend big bucks for a replacement engine, only to have to shell out more money in the near future for a transmission rebuild.

On the other hand, if the trans has actually been “well-maintained”, then it might be worth investing a couple of thousand $$ to have a salvage engine installed.

Put the remanufactured engine in. Where else are you gonna get a well maintained vehicle with a known history that your daughter loves for $4800?

Go with the reman, used engines are a gamble, that why they don’t come with a warranty. A reman will give you a warranty for a year at least.

You should at least get quotes from other reputable mechanics first. This is a business decision and that is just good business.

There is one other option that should cost you less than $1000 and that is to just replace the head gaskets. If the engine was running good before the overheat, then it will run just as good after replacing the head gaskets and it will last as long as it was going to anyway. That is that if it was well maintained and should have lasted at least 200k miles, it will make it to that point.

The “cam is frozen” part does bother me though. There is no reason for this incident to cause that unless the head got severely warped. If the cam froze, then the timing belt would have broken. I think this is worth a second opinion. at least have the mechanic show you the broken belt and try to turn the cam yourself.

If the cam is not really frozen, then it might be worth adding a new timing belt anyway, it should not add much more than $200 to the total cost because so much of the disassemble is already done.

I’d be concerned about the main bearings as well.
Personally, I’d go with the remanufactured engine. Otherwise you may find yourself spending money over and over. Severe overheating can do a huge amount of damage,

“Invest” in the rebuilt engine ONLY if you plan on keeping the car another 3 or 4 years…

Keith - I saw the car today with the head off… the mechanic says head is warped and off by 12-1000th’s… the timing belt was completely intact - dirty enough that I can’t tell how recently it might have been replaced. I’m just leery of going for reman engine then having the transmission blow next. We’ve only had the car since spring 2011 - 100% reliable til now, but no idea how well it was maintained prior to our purchase of it, although seller (dealer) assured us it was a one owner car - well maintained.

And she has 3 years of college to go - so probably would keep the car for at least 3 more years if it survived!

On the transmission: before you make a decision, consult with a local transmission specialty shop (local independent, not a national company) to see what the cost would be to bring them the transmission OUT OF the car. It may be less expensive to pull the transmission when the engine is out. You may save a couple hundred bucks that way, but find out for sure from the trans shop and the other mechanic before you decide.

HyperJuls, did you try to turn the camshaft to see if it is indeed “frozen”. The head can be shaved flat. If the cam will turn, and I suspect it will or the belt would have been broken. I believe that you will will get the needed three years with just the head gaskets and maybe the timing belt and water pump. Do not get a valve job as that will increase the pressure on the rings and could start them burning oil. Just restore to the “pre-overheat” condition.

If the trans goes, it would have gone anyway, so you want the least amount invested if this happens. The alternative is reman engine, reman transmission, new struts, ball joints, tie rods, and maybe a few other items, but that becomes a real big investment, more than a replacement vehicle. I think that is too much for a vehicle that you only plan on keeping for three more years.

Like I said, I don’t think I would invest the money in it especially since you really don’t know the history. I had thought you had owned it for quite a while and judged it reliable based on that. It seems to me this car might not have been taken care of very well so I think I would move on.