Reader Question: Worth Rebuilding?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Jeff asks: I’ve got an ’89 Chevy pick-up that needs a new (or rebuilt) engine. Is it worth doing?

My reply: The answer to this one depends on the answer to a couple of objective – and subjective questions.

First – and perhaps most important: Do you like this truck? If not, then it probably isn’t worth spending money on it, unless what you spend can be recovered via selling or trading it in for another vehicle which you do like.

Second – and related to the above – is the rest of the truck worth keeping? Is the frame solid? Many trucks this old have structural rot, which can be fixed – but may not be worth fixing. How about the transmission, suspension and other major running gear/components?

I would do an inventory of the truck’s overall condition before doing anything else.

If the truck could be brought back to at least “good” condition (this is the term used by used car value guides to describe a vehicle that is free of major mechanical and cosmetic defects; one that can be driven as is, without having to put a lot of money into it to make it drivable) by installing a new or rebuilt engine – and you like the truck – then my answer would be yes, it’s probably worth doing.

That vintage truck is pretty simple; small block V8 with a TBI; GM sells brand-new/warranted crate engines for these vehicles for about $2k, last time I checked. That is much less than what you’d have to spend to buy a “good” condition equivalent truck to replace yours, or even a “good” beater car.

On the other hand, if the truck needs additional work, not just a new engine – especially if it has major rust issues – and the cost of those repairs is more than $2k or so, I would consider selling the truck and using whatever you get toward the purchase of a good condition replacement.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. One train of thought I have frequently regarding large scale car repairs is, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t!” If the rest of the truck is solid, and you know about all its other major systems, it is probably worth fixing. For example, I have a 95 Subaru that over the past few years, essentially, has been gone over bumper-to-bumper. So, I think I have “punched thru” most of the main issues and should be relatively repair-free for the next few years.

  2. You can get good warranted crate engines cheaper than GM. One of two of these places builds GM crate engines since GM doesn’t build them.

  3. 2wd or 4wd? 1500 or 2500? These days, unless you live far south, a half ton 2wd pickup isn’t much worth saving. But if it’s a keeper, you might find another old GMT400 with a decent motor as an organ donor.

  4. I would also ask: can you (or are you willing to learn to) do the work yourself? If so, a lot of the other potential mechanical issues (other than rust) are less of a problem and expense. Few things are better than going down the road in something you put together yourself versus paid someone to do.


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