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How a Dead Engine is Still Useful

How a Dead Engine is Still Useful

Chris Pollitt is an award-winning automotive word-wrangler, editor of the website Not 2 Grand and a keen collector of crappy old cars.

We live in a depressingly throwaway society. We don’t fix and mend any more, we just buy a new ‘thing’ when the old ‘thing’ breaks. And that’s a shame. Back when we only had three channels on the television, replacing broken equipment was usually prohibitively expensive. 

As such, we were a nation of fixers, of people willing to bust out the toolbox in a bid to at least understand why something had failed, if not fix it. 

Today, we don’t do that. Mass production of everything has driven prices down, so replacing is easier. This is especially the case with cars. The used car market is awash with cheap motors, so why bother fixing the old one when we can just replace it for minimal outlay? 

We should bother though, we should learn. Or should we say, re-learn? Fixing things is not only fun, but it’s also educational, it’s deeply satisfying and it’s a great way to learn and understand how things work. 

That’s why we’re encouraging you, if you have space, to acquire an old engine. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work. It just needs to be complete. And with it, you can expand your own knowledge, or better yet, you can usher in the curious eyes of the next generation. 

Why an old engine? 

While you could take the engine out of your car and dissect it, we wouldn’t advise it. The joy of an old engine comes from there being no expectation to get it running again. This is the biology class frog, it’s the mechanical cadaver, you want to learn from it, not fix it. 

What sort of engine? 

Logic would dictate that it would be wise to acquire the same engine that is in your car. This way, when something goes clang in that, you have a dummy engine on which to practice. 

Rather than generalising your knowledge of engines, you’ll have specific learning on your hands, and that will aid the repair of your once working car. 

That said, if you can’t match the engine in your car, just buy something simple. A basic four-cylinder, or maybe a Rover V8 if you’re feeling bold, though don’t worry, as there is a Haynes Manual on tat very engine. 

Why am I doing this? 

Because it’s good to learn. People get ‘the fear’ when it comes to engines, but really, they’re nothing more than big air pumps – they suck air in, pump it out – it’s that simple. It’s good to have an old engine to completely dismantle. 

You’ll gain a much better understanding of what’s going on, how things move and how the engine operates. If you do this, then prop it up by reading your Haynes Manual, or by watching educational videos online, your knowledge of what’s going on under the bonnet will expand immensely. 

This will give you more confidence, it will arm you with more knowledge should something go wrong within your working engine, it may save you money, as you might build up the confidence to tackle jobs you would have previously sent to the garage. And all for the cost of a dead engine. Well worth it. 

But I already know how an engine works

And that’s a great thing. But what about the kids or the grandkids? Do they look at your classic car with hungry eyes, but have little to no understanding of how it works? Use the old engine as a teaching tool. 

You will get to share your knowledge with them, you’ll get to build their understanding but more importantly, it’s some quality bonding time. Yes, a knackered old engine can get you closer to your loved ones. Who would have thought it? 

What do I do once I have taken it apart? 

That’s up to you. Make a wine rack out of the block? A desk sculpture out of the rods and pistons? If it’s the same engine as your running car, maybe there are some parts to salvage and keep. If not, just take it all back to the scrap yard and get something else. 

Maybe something with a turbo, maybe a diesel, or how about a twin-cam engine? There is still lots to learn. They say one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, but in this case, it’s another man’s knowledge. And knowledge, as they say, is power.