What do Ties, Treadmills, 1980s Prom Dresses, and Car Engines Have in Common?

Thrift stores are a wonderful treasure trove of exciting bargains. It’s a horde of unique costumes for Halloween, dishes for newlywed apartments, and clothes for growing children. Buying used is good for our wallets and the environment. But, there are some things, such as toothbrushes, that we don’t want to buy used.

Other things, such as engines, can be a great second hand purchase, but it demands a careful eye and some research. There are fantastic deals to be found with a used engine, you just have to pay attention and keep your eyes open.

Let’s start with a basic checklist of parts that every used engine should have.

Engine Harness

Make sure one is there and that it is in good shape. The engine harness is the set of wires, cables, and terminals that control the car’s electrical system. Clearly, this is important. Check that all the wires in the harness are in good condition and ready to work for you.


There are lots of sensors in an engine! Every type of engine has its own unique set, so look up the manufacturer information for the engine you need to see what sensors are included. There are some common sensors that pretty much every car will have, so keep an eye out for these:

  • engine oil sensor
  • engine oil pressure sensor
  • coolant temperature sensor
  • mass airflow sensor
  • intake air temperature sensor
  • oxygen sensor
  • knock sensor
  • crankshaft/camshaft position sensor
  • throttle position sensor
  • manifold absolute pressure sensor
  • fuel pressure sensor
  • coolant level sensor
  • nox sensor
  • exhaust temperature sensor
  • boost pressure sensor

Just looking at this list can be overwhelming. But, trying to repair or replace one of these sensors–or the parts that break because the sensor is missing or malfunctioning—is even more overwhelming.

It’s worth the time to double check the sensors on the engine. Don’t be afraid to nag a little and ask plenty of questions of the person or company selling the engine. They should know what they are selling, and they will be happy to work with an informed (and happy!) customer.


Generally, we like our engines to start. Therefore, a starter would be required. The starter is basically a very small motor that kick starts the engine. Make sure it is there, and make sure that it works. Most starters can be checked by a tool called a multimeter. This is a simple way to make sure the starter is in good working order.


While the starter and the battery get the car going, the alternator is the workhorse that keeps the engine running to get you where you want to go. It’s an important part of the engine. The multimeter can also be used to make sure the alternator is getting power and working properly.

Power Steering Pump

Can you drive a car without power steering? Absolutely. Granny did it all the time in that old Model T. Of course, she was also only going 35 miles an hour and probably didn’t have to do much parallel parking. Power steering is a wonderful thing. The pump pressurizes the hydraulic fluid, which makes it much easier to steer the car. We’ve come a long way since the Model T. Make sure there’s a pump.

Spark Plugs

Spark plugs are essential for a working engine. It’s an easy check to see if they are there. The more important check is to see if they are in working order. Check for damage or signs of melting. There are several different kinds of problems a spark plug can have, and they can be costly to replace. Double check for any damage. It might be a good idea to invest in one new spark plug that matches the engine you are buying and bring it to compare to the plugs of the used engine.


Every engine has oil, you just want to make sure it is the kind of oil you want. Ask questions about past oil changes. Check the dipstick to see if the oil is dark black or brown. If so, it is probably overdue for a change. If you see white or cream streaks in the oil or under the cap, this is the cue to give a polite, “Thanks, but no thanks” and stride briskly away. That is likely coolant that has escaped from a leaky head gasket and mixed with the oil. This is not a problem you need in your life.

One thing that you might see in a used engine inspection is some cracked or worn out rubber components. These don’t need to cause panic. They shouldn’t be ignored, but they can be easily replaced. In fact, it is a good idea to replace all rubber parts to give this engine the best start on its second life.

Even a sharp eye can miss things when inspecting a used engine. Also, the sharpest eyes still can’t see through metal. Luckily, it is relatively inexpensive to purchase an inspection camera. This tool, also called a borescope, can be found at most hardware stores. It will allow you to see inside the engine without dismantling it, possibly saving you a large amount of both time and money. We do not recommend using this tool on pets or children when looking for loose change or that missing marble. It’s really just meant for car engines.

Things break, and sometimes the engines of our cars give out before the rest of the car is ready to give up. A used engine can be a great solution to that problem. Dropping a “new” engine into a vehicle can give it new life. But, it won’t be worth it in the long term if the components of the used engine aren’t working properly.

If replacing the engine isn’t quite enough, then going for a used car can be an incredibly good investment. We are a branded title car dealership in Utah that is dedicated to connecting customers all over the country with high quality vehicles (for local purchases or for cross-country shipping). We have done the research for you and are here to help you make a decision and a purchase that will get you where you want to go at a price that works.

Goodwill and Salvation Army work really well for Halloween costumes and cheap dishes. For more important used purchases, let us help you out.