How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

Removing an engine from a vehicle is hard work, particularly on bigger cars and trucks. But that doesn't mean that it has to be unpleasant. It can actually be pretty fun if you include enthusiastic people who like solving problems and don't mind getting dirty.

Here are the basics of how to get the job done, and how to have a good time doing it.

Don't be scared by the prospect of pulling an engine. It's a huge pain in the ass, but it's not impossible, and on most cars, you can do it with basic tools and a rented engine hoist. It also helps to have at least two friends helping (don't try a solo engine pull, it sucks), and to get them interested, you have to jazz it up a bit.

I decided to turn an industrial activity into a theme party; a "harvest" festival, if you will. We started with a brunch, and had plenty of snacks and cold beverages available for while we were working. For those not interested in getting their hands dirty, we put out chairs and set up a game of cornhole.

Now, down to the more practical bits. Everyone has a different reason for wanting to remove an engine — the one you're using is worn out; you want a bigger one; you're scrapping the car; etc. In my case, a friend was scrapping a rusted out '95 Subaru Legacy with a low mileage engine I'd like to use in my car (at some point). Removal from a donor is way easier than most other engine removals (and definitely easier than putting one back in) because you don't have to worry so much about breaking things.

To start, I had to make sure I had the essentials in order.

  • a Haynes or Chilton repair manual. Don't do this without one unless you know what you're doing. Your car may have some weird parts or procedures that you wouldn't know about until you read through the steps.
  • a hard, flat surface upon which to do the job
  • basic tools like sockets, wrenches, pliers, wire cutters, razor blades, and a breaker bar
  • a jack and jackstands
  • containers/a splash pan/rags to catch oil, coolant, and transmission fluid
  • a rented engine hoist
  • a short length of chain to attach to the engine
  • a piece of paper and a pencil, and a digital camera

Let's get started!

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

First off, get your food and drinks in order. It's smart when you're going to be out on your feet all day, but it also keeps your helpers happy. We started out with pancakes and a special kind of orange juice, so everyone was well fed and mellow when it was time to get started.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

Depending upon where you live, an engine hoist can be pretty easy to find. I just googled equipment rental, and after finding out that most of the engine hoists in town were checked out for the weekend, I found a place about 12 miles away. Standard outlets for stuff like this are Taylor Equipment Rental and Sunbelt Equipment Rental. It cost me $40 for a day.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

To start, take pictures of what everything looks like before you begin tearing out wires and hoses. It's hell to try and remember how they all go back in. If you're putting this engine into a totally different car, you're screwed anyway.

Arrange your splash pan under the car, block the back wheels with bricks or rocks or something, and jack up the front end of the car on both sides. You'll need enough room to shimmy under the car and disconnect things like exhaust and engine mounts, so MAKE SURE YOU SHAKE THE CAR TO ENSURE STABILITY. You don't want a car falling on you or one of your friends.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

Helpers: They don't really have to know anything about cars, but it helps if they're generally competent (and won't do blatantly unsafe things, other than wearing flip flops to change an engine) and can be trusted to figure out basic problems.

I lucked out and got a bunch of lawyers, and those guys love to solve problems. Bolt hung up? No problem. There's a logical solution involving a different angle and a log found in the dumpster. Anyway, if you're thinking of asking that guy who always ends up lighting stuff on fire at parties to help you, you should reconsider your options.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

The $20 tarp is a great idea, unless you know it's going to be really windy (in which case you might want to postpone for more cooperative weather). It'll keep the sun off of you while you work, and if it rains a little bit, you're covered. But it's best to look at the weather forecast before you begin so you don't end up with tools and parts strewn about all over the place when the skies open up.

We elected to git'r done in the parking lot behind my house. We also (sort of) made sure the landlord was ok with this first, because having parts and tools strewn about when the landlord opens up on you is no bueno either (I just happened to know he doesn't give a crap about stuff like that as long as we clean up when we're done).

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

Now that you have the car jacked up and a good working space set up, drain all the fluids from the engine: oil, coolant, and transmission fluid. Please make sure you put them in some kind of container that you can take to a recycling center later.

You'll still need to keep the splash pan and one or two buckets handy, as fluids will spill out when you move things around.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

Stay nourished! It's hot/cold out there, and your body needs it if you expect it to help you finish this job. If you're having a beer or three, make sure you pace yourself and drink plenty of water, too. You're going to be here for a while and it's no good to be intoxicated at the end.

After you've drained all the fluids, it's a good time to start tagging hoses and wire connectors so you know where they all went later on. This can take a while, but once you're done, you can start unplugging things and disconnecting anything that looks like it will hold the engine up when you pull it out.

There are a number of things to disconnect, but the order really depends upon what car you're working on, so you really need to check a repair manual. But basically, this is what you will be taking out:

  • exhast pipes
  • radiator/coolant hoses
  • transmission cooling hoses (for automatics)
  • engine wiring
  • fuel and air conditioning lines (you should have the a/c discharged by a shop before you start, because venting compressed refrigerant into the air is both bad for the environment and illegal)
  • engine-to-transmission bolts (make sure the engine is supported), engine mounts, and weird crossmembers
  • throttle linkages and other odds and ends attached the engine and the car at the same time

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

It's a good idea to tell the non-mechanical types at your mechanic party where they should and shouldn't sit. Luckily, this woman didn't get any grease/oil/soot/battery acid on her nice skirt, but it happens if people aren't careful. That stuff never comes out of clothes.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

Other than having extra muscle for lifting and prying on things, two extra sets of hands is invaluable when it comes time to get to some hard-to-reach spots. For example, we encountered some rusty exhaust manifold bolts and sticky engine mount nuts that were hard to get to, but with a hand from either side and a pair of eyes spotting, we were able to get through it pretty quickly.

Plus, it was like one of those fun team building exercises you do at summer camp. Always good times.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

When you get everything that's holding the engine in the car out, and remove any obstructions (like the hood) that might get in the way when you're ready to yank it, get your chain and attach it to the engine. It should be pretty self explanatory where it attaches, usually to a pair of metal loops on either side of the engine. You can also use grade 8 bolts in really, really sturdy bolt holes in the engine block. The shackles for the end of the chain were less than $10 at the local hardware store.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

I didn't feel like buying a new chain, because I already bought this bike chain to keep bike thieving asshats from stealing my bicycle when I lived in Manhattan. It not only defends my property from jackers, but can also support the weight of a Subaru EJ22. Best $70 I ever spent.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

When you're ready to pull the engine out, MAKE SURE THERE'S NO ONE UNDER THE CAR. Also, if it hangs up on something, take your time and figure out what it is. Jacking up the hoist more won't help, it'll just pick up your car by the engine, which is dumb.

With a little bit of jacking and some wiggling of the engine, it should break loose. Then you can slowly, carefully lift it out. Make sure you always have someone controlling the jack in case something goes wrong. Also, stay away from places where you could potentially get squashed by the engine if the jack fails and it falls. Serious stuff, people.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Make Pulling An Engine Fun

Great, you're done! Now you need to have another a beer and figure out where to put that engine. The best thing to do is mount it on an engine stand in a garage, but we don't have any of that stuff. That's why we're in a parking lot. I ended up stealing a pallet from the grocery store down the street and using chunks of wood to wedge the engine into place. Then, we used an old plastic bag to cover it.

It won't be used for anything until later, because putting the engine back in and getting it to work is even more laborious a process. But when the time comes, I'll throw another party.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston