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It Should Only Take One More Day. . .Again

April 8, 2015

What would you do? The mechanic says your car has died a terrible death and the only solution is to replace the engine. A used one is $3,000-$6,000. The car is probably only worth $4,000 at the most. 

And of course, I had plenty of time to make this decision. Well, not really. I was standing in the mechanic’s shop on a Friday afternoon. The clock is ticking. What’s it going to be? Do I have them call around and find a used engine or do I put a stake through the heart of my car and move on? 

I did want many people do in this situation. I opted not to make the decision just yet. Oh, I had the mechanic start calling around looking for an engine, but I hedged my bets. 

Do you ever have money unexpectedly show up just before you need it? Is that serendipity or just an excuse to impulse buy something really big?

I called my friend, Jonathan. He’s a backyard mechnic. . .if your backyard mechanic rebuilt cars and then gave them away. Jonathan had given me the car a year earlier. It was a “free” car. There are two types of free: free like a lunch and Free Like A Puppy. This puppy had run up some pretty substantial bills, even when you consider that Jonathan and his sons did the labor for free. (No, I don’t really understand it either, but that will come up later in teh story.) 

Good morning!

Jonathan answers the phone like this regardless of what time it is.

I’ve got a car problem.


The Lexus engine seized up. I’m at the mechanic’s now. They are looking for a replacement.

How much will that be?

Probably $3,000-$6,000. I don’t know if the car is worth it. 

You know we have that other Lexus, the red one. We could take the engine out of that and drop it into your car. 

How long would that take? 

We could probably get it done tomorrow. 

Why is this sounding like a good plan to me?

Because it IS a good plan. 

And so we decided that we’d try the swap the engine process. I’m not much of a car guy. I have a garage full of tools because my grandfather was a junk dealer and no one else wanted his tools. But, I figured, what do I have to lose? Worst case, I’m out the towing fee and no worse off than I am now. 

I went and hunted down the mechanic. 

I think I have access to a spare Lexus engine.

That’s great. 

One question, Mine is a ’96 and the replacement is a ’95. Will that be a problem? 

Not at all. 95 and 96 are interchanable. 

The two truck came and loaded up my car and drove it 20 miles back to my house. Another $150. Tally so far? $315 in towing fees. We parked the broken gold Lexus in my driveway facing my garage. Next we had to get the red Lexus moved. It was only a few miles away and a friend offered his 20 foot trailer. Loading the non working car onto a trailer was an interesting exercise. Basically, we threaded a tow rope through the trailer and then Jonathan “drove” the car. We had about 4″ clearance all around the car when we got done. 

That car also ended up in my driveway facing my garage. 


I was also holding a friend’s car that had a dead battery. I realized my driveway was turning into a redneck joke.

I have four cars in my driveway. Only one of them works. . .It’s my wife’s.

Remember the backyard mechanic description for my neighbor? He’s the only backyard mechanic I know with his own engine lift, engine stand and transmission jack. We all set to work disconnecting the engine in the red Lexus. “All of us” included Jonathan and his two adult sons. I mostly fetched tools. 

The idea was that we’d pull the red Lexus engine, put it on the engine stand and give it a good working over and then move the gold Lexus engine to the red car and then drop the “red” engine into the gold car. 

Simple, right?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either. But, Jonathan was offering to do this for the price of a couple of lunches. Remember we were goign to done on Saturday. No. That didn’t happen either. 

Lexus, like many cars is front wheel drive. That means that there is an axle going from the wheel directly into the engine. If you don’t take out those axles, there really isn’t room to lift out the engine. The axles were not cooperating. We spent a lot more time on them than we expected. Well, one axle popped right out. The other one wouldn’t budge. 

After a couple of fruitless hours where I thought Jonathan’s kids might pull the red Lexus off it’s jack stands, we decided that we didn’t have to keep that axle. Remember, the axles in teh gold Lexus were fine. We could cut the boot off this on and just use the one in the other car. 

By the time we got to that point it was time to quit for the day. Saturday? We almost got the engine out. None of us wanted to work on Sunday. And besides, I’d put in a lot of long hours at work. I told my boss I was taking Monday off. After all, it was only one more day. 

Monday we all skipped work. But, it was going to be worth it to get my car back. After a lot more hours than I expected, we finally carefully lifted the engine out of the red Lexus. It comes out attached to the transmission. We had to lower the car to clear the fender. 


as we started to prep the engine for a move to the gold Lexus we started to run into a couple of problems. First, there’s a bolt that connects a pully to the drive shaft. We  had experience with this bolt on the gold Lexus. We’d had to use the engine’s starter to get the bolt off. We tried everything. We tried breaker bars. . .really really long ones. Like a 15 foot steel pipe extension. We tried impact wrenches. Another neighbor is a Snap On dealer. We borrowed his impact wrenches. We tried dousing it with oils. Nothing worked. 

This was a show stopper. 

Without removing that bollt, we couldn’t mmake the engine work in the gold Lexus. 

So, Jonathan,, what’s our plan? 

Well, I we can either take this engine to a machine shop and have them break it free, or we can switch directions and partially rebuild your current engine.

How long will that take? 

Probably one more day.

The second problem we discovered with the red engine was that the oil had congealed to the consistency of chocolate syrup. It looked delicious, but would have not been good for the engine. 

As Monday drew to a close we were not much closer to a running car. I was beginning to think that I might as well buy a new car. Well, a used one anyway.

No, it’s simple.. We’ll just pull the head from the red engine and replace the bad head on the gold engine. And we should replace the oil pump while we’re at it. It will go much faster tomorrow. 

Tuesday was scheduled as a work from home day. I was sure  I’d get some work done. And it was just one more day. 

Tomorrow I’ll explain how building model airplanes prepared me for engine rebuilds. And I discover something disturbing about my neighbor’s qualifications.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
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