Sometimes vehicle repairs and modification get serious, so serious that you have to yank the engine out. Seasoned pros do it all the time, but for the average DIY mechanic, yanking an engine is a pretty big task. The process of engine removal varies greatly by the vehicle, so we are not going to discuss that, but the tools you use to get the engine out and store it are pretty much all the same. These tools are the engine hoist and the engine stand. There are some variances to these tools, as they are not all created equal. Let’s have a look at some of the different options.
Most DIY engine hoists, also known as a “cherry picker” are of the fold-up variety. This means that the long legs in front of the main structure fold up for storage. When in use, the front legs support the bulk of the weight. This is usually a little longer than the fully-extended boom (the part that connects to the engine and lifts) in order to provide a stable base for the hoist.
Another type of hoist is the slider type. Instead of the legs folding, the forward legs are removable, and are secured in a larger section of square tubing with bolts to hold them in place. These are less common, but are also considered a little more robust as it does not rely on lynch pins to secure the legs.
The other version of hoist is the heavy-duty full size hoist. These do have adjustable or removable legs, they are all one piece. These are the strongest version, but also the hardest to store when not in use, which is why these are usually only used in professional shops with lots of space to store them. Using an engine hoist is fairly simple, but there are some tricks to making them work for you instead of against you.
The main concern for using an engine hoist is connecting the engine. There are several ways to do this, but today’s modern engines are typically secured with chains. An older carbureted engine can be picked with a bolt-on plate that mounts where to the manifold in place of the carburetor. Some engines even have lifting points for hooks, which is really convenient. Most, however, require bolting a chain to the head or block.
Always use a heavy-duty chain for this task. One of the best chains for engine lifting is a trailer security chain. These ¼” chains have hooks on both ends and are stout enough to handle a 5-600-pound engine without any issue due to the 5,000 lbs. working strength.
Unless your engine has loops for hooks (and the hooks have security clips), do not use the hooks to pull the engine. That is a recipe for disaster, and no one wants a disaster when pulling an engine. Always ensure that the engine is secure and cannot come loose during the process.
Another concern is the type of bolts used to attach the chain. Use a minimum of grade 5 (8.8 for metric) bolts. Anything less runs the risk of bending or breaking under the strain and bounce that is typically seen when lifting an engine out of the vehicle. When it comes to length, do not use bolts that bottom out in the hole, leaving too much exposed thread or shank outside of the block. This provides more potential for bending or breaking. At the same time, don’t use a bolt that is too short. You need at least two times the bolt diameter of thread engagement for a safe engine pick.
Knowing where to attach the chains is a another tricky issue for the inexperienced. You have to support the engine in the center, which when using a single chain, usually means attaching the chain across the engine diagonally. If you use the driver side head for the front bolt, use the passenger side rear head for the other bolt. Use the minimum amount of chain as well, an engine hoist only has so much lift, and a long chain could max out the lift, requiring you to reset the chains.
Some cars, such as front wheel drive and older vehicles, are easy to lift up the engine straight away, no fuss, but larger engines in newer vehicles often requires tilting the engine front or back to clear immovable obstacles. You can do this with a single chain lift by setting the hoist hook on the chain between two bolts (to keep it from sliding, which is a always a good idea), but is you have to change in the middle, this can be tricky. The other option is to use a leveling lift. Instead of a single chain, these tools come with two chains, you use four pick points on the engine, a single hook to the hoist, and the leveler is adjusted with a crank or bolt. This allows you to tilt the engine as needed without resetting the chains. It also keeps the engine level side to side and unlike single chain lifting, the engine doesn’t twist as it comes out of the engine bay.
One Side Lift Trick
Once all your work is done, and the engine has to go back into the car, lining up the motor mount holes can be a real bear. Sometimes you get lucky, but usually, you have to fight it. In really difficult cases, you may need to lift just one side of the engine to get the other side to drop in place. You can choose the pick-up point, and go to town on the raising and lowering the engine. Just keep this in mind when you are re-installing the engine.
Once you have the engine out, you have to store it somewhere. The best way to do this is to mount the engine to a stand. There are all kinds of stand designs, but the most common is the three- or four-leg stand. These stands have a rotating head to which the engine is bolted so that you can rotate the engine while you are working on it. This is necessary for complete rebuilds so you can get to the top and bottom of the engine.
Most engines stands are fairly compact, but there are some heavier duty stands with adjustable or foldable legs. These support larger engines. A modern aluminum block engine does not weigh as much as a 1960s iron-block Chrysler HEMI, which have been known to fold a typical three-leg stand in half. Pay attention to the weight limit of your engine stand and do not exceed it. Better yet, try not to get close to it.
Mating the engine and stand together is another tricky spot. A lot of people try to level the engine so that it lines up with the stand on the floor. This creates a lot of issues and headaches. The better method is to remove the rotating head from the stand itself. This is typically done by removing the handle and sliding the head out of the stand. Adjust the head to the fit the engine, bolt it on, and then lift the stand itself so the stand slides of the rotating post. Once the head is secured on the stand, lower the engine hoist until the engine stand is on the ground and safe to disconnect.
Another frequent problem for engine stands is bolting the engine to it. Different engines have different sizes of bolts for the transmission bellhousing (which is the surface used to secure the engine to the stand). If you work on multiple vehicles with different types of engines, you should keep a selection of bolts in a bag or case attached to your engine stand. This ensures you will always have the bolts you need when your engine is hanging in the air.
Make Your Engine Stand Easier To Use
One of the most frustrating things about an engine stand is rotating the engine. There are hand-crank head available that allow you to turn a crank with slowly spins the engine. These are really neat, but the typical DIYer does not need it. Instead, you can make the job easier with a little prep work on your engine stand before you load an engine on it.
The issue is that the rotating head spins inside a tube, but there are no bearings or bushings in there to make it easier. Add in the factory powder coating or paint, and you have stand that is hard to spin when loaded down with a 600-pound engine. The solution is to paint both surfaces, the rotating head and the inner support tube, with Slip Plate graphite spray. This provides a slick surface that does not bind up on each other under the weight of an engine.
Using an engine hoist and engine stand is not difficult, but these tips and tricks will certainly make your tasks easier, and you can get started on your project without the frustration of fighting the weight of the engine itself. As always, seek professional assistance from your local NAPA AutoCare if you get in over your head, and always practice safe wrenching.
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A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.