How to start your project car without wrecking the engine

How to start your project car without wrecking the engine

If you've WATCHED THE LATEST EPISODE of the Honda CIvic build you'd know that Marty and MOOG are at the most critical, butt sweat-inducing moment of Project Car Life... the first time you turn the key and try to fire your nugget into life. Sometimes they fire straight up, sometimes you're left hanging off the key as the starter turns into a molten mess and that junkyard engine refuses to cough into life. 

Not all engines can just be fired into life, and there are some precautions you should follow, lest you don't end up wearing your sad pants with a giant lump of dead car. 

If you've scored yourself an unfinished project and you don't know anything about the engine, the first step should be to rotate the engine by hand just to make sure it can wind over cleanly. If it doesn't spin cleanly then you'll be pulling the engine back out to investigate why.

Sometimes you may find it easier to remove the spark plugs to get the engine to spin over more easily, but we'd always recommend trying to turn the engine over with plugs in as we've also seen junkyard engines have the wrong spark plugs fitted, which would contact the piston when turned over by hand (which would have destroyed the engine if we'd tried starting it).

If you've got an aftermarket ECU you'll need to go through all the menus and configure your brain box. Things like setting the crank and cam trigger system, batch or sequential ignition and injection, the firing order and cylinder count, mapping the drive-by-wire throttle pedal (if you have one)

Most workshops would also choose to disable the fuel injectors for the first cranking attempt, so you can also check for fuel leaks without risking burning your shed to the ground.  

It is a good idea to go through all the hoses in the engine bay and label them, checking they're all connected correctly. This prevents fuel, oil and coolant leaks, and is a handy backup to make sure you're actually ready to kick the thing in the guts. 

Most engines will need to be spun over a bunch of times before you actually try to get it to start, as the fuel will need to be sucked up the fuel feed line and you'll need to make sure you've gotten oil pressure in the engine. If you don't have oil pressure you'll kill the engine bearings in seconds. Also make sure your engine HAS fresh oil in it.

All engines will have different ways of priming their oil systems. Some older engines will use a gear on the end of a long shaft which connects to a drill or driver, so you physically spin the oil pressure in the engine up to coat the inside of your mad motor. Other times you need to pump pressurised oil in through a gallery on the side of the motor (like on LS V8s), but sometimes you can just turn the engine over (without starting it) for 30-seconds and the pump will build enough oil pressure that way.

If everything goes to plan you should wind up with a big ol' grin like our friend Martin here is displaying. This is the smile of somene who is listening to his project car make all the right noises, and is ready to start finishing off before it goes to the dyno and then wins all the Maccanats in Sydney.

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