A car's engine can best be described as the nucleus of power for any vehicle- simply because without a functioning one, it will not get too far.

That's the reason why, when evaluating a potential restoration car before purchase, the buyer should have a more than average understanding of how a car engine functions. If not, they should bring someone along for a pre-purchase inspection who does.  

The state of the engine should always play a significant part in selecting a particular vehicle for restoration. Careful inspection will allow the buyer to consider the effects on their overall budget, as restoring an engine will always be a prime factor in any restoration.  

Internal combustion engines are fitted with pistons that move up and down inside metal cylinders. These pistons are connected through rods to the vehicle's crankshaft.

Through the action of moving up and down, the vehicle's piston spins the crankshaft sending power to the car's drive wheels.
Power to the pistons comes from tiny, controlled discharges caused by mixing the car's fuel with oxygen, which ignites.

The combination of heat and expanding gases react to thrust the piston down in the cylinder.

The internal combustion engine derives its power from its pistons. There can be between two or twelve cylinders active in a car engine, although the norm is either four or six.

With that basic knowledge, a beginner restorer should be able to look over an engine and ensure that all the major components appear to be in place.

If the engine cannot be turned over, then only the most cursory of inspections can be carried out before deciding to buy the car.

A car engine has thousands of parts that cause it to operate, all of them designed to work together.

Several factors can lead to a seized engine, the major ones as follows:

In most cases, one or more of the significant components has deteriorated over time. The owner has either overlooked replacing it or did not want to invest the money to replace or repair the faulty parts. The parts eventually fail, causing the engine to seize.

  • Another major cause of a seized engine if allowed to run with a faulty radiator causing the engine to overheat.  When the engine overheats, its pistons will expand, restricting their movement. Eventually, the heat in the pistons becomes so intense that some or all of the pistons begin to melt and weld together, causing them to seize.
  • Insufficient engine oil in the engine is another cause of engine failure. The internal combustion engine needs oil to provide lubrication whilst keeping the internal moving parts cool.

    If oil levels are insufficient, tremendous friction levels will be generated in the engine, causing its components to dry up and absorb heat, eventually seizing rapidly.  

    Water seeping into the engine through a faulty seal or blending with fuel in the fuel tank is yet another principal cause of engine failure.  Water is incompatible in any format in an internal combustion engine and will cause the components to rust. Rusted parts will begin to grind against each other, causing the metal to shave and break off inside the block, causing irreparable damage.

    There are several other reasons why an engine will not turn over, and all of them usually point to expensive repairs or even replacement.  That certainty means assessing a non-running engine is not as difficult as it sounds.

    The restorer should simply absorb the likliehood that they are looking at an expensive repair and adjust their offer to buy accordingly.

    When the engine does run, the restorer has to be more careful when assessing its authentic state, possible damage, and subsequent cost of repairs.

    When the engine is turned over, if a knocking noise can be heard, appearing to rise and fall in line with the engine's RPM, this is an almost sure sign of failed bearings.

     Engine bearings support the movement of the engine's moving parts. If the engine does seize, major damage will follow.

    If excessive smoke is being emitted from the vehicle's tailpipe, it is another cause for concern and should be investigated.  If the smoke is blue coloured that this is a sign that the engine is burning oil.

    White exhaust smoke will generally mean that coolant has leaked into the combustion, while black smoke indicates that the engine is consuming excess levels of fuel.

    Unless the seller is an extremely patient individual, the amount of time and effort spent appraising an engine pre-purchase will have its limits.

    The only way an in-depth assessment of the engine can be carried out is when it is on a bench in the workshop.

    That is only when the actual state of the engine's health will come to light and how much it will cost to get it back to prime condition- or if this is indeed possible.

    If the restorer has made all of the correct decisions, they will be able to know how accurate their repair assessment is and how far ahead or behind they will be in their budget to bring the engine back to life.

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    A guide to acquiring, restoring and maintaining UK or European Classic Cars of the Fifties and Sixties- as well as a recollection of the iconic cars of the era and the visionaries that produced them.