Car engines are extremely costly world over, it is this and many other reasons that drive motorists into having their engines modified to ensure that they can be used once again. However, the dangers accruing from this practice are many and cannot be overlooked.
Ugandan mechanics have in recent times tried to invent various technologies, especially in terms of spare parts. Through this they have discovered how different car brands can share spare parts or even engines in this case. Modifying vehicle engines is becoming common in Uganda and motorists do so for various reasons such as the need to modify their petrol engines into diesel, failure to get spare parts for their engines, thus opt for a different type all together. There are others who have switched engines between different models or brands of vehicles.
However, the modification of engines has its own dangers, not only for the vehicle and owner but also for other road users. Experts say motorists should know that opting for a modified engine could actually be more expensive and time wasting.
Engine modification is the process of rebuilding a car engine’s specifications to fit in another car model. It involves a lot of fabrication involving engine mounting, welding and wiring.
Thomas Kayinja, head technician at Grace Lubega Motor Garage, says, “Car engine modification is not professional but there are certain conditions that might force motorists and the mechanics to install modified engines. Some people do not have enough money to buy the right engines since it may require ordering from foreign countries yet some mechanics have experience with cars to put one together cheaply.”
The dangers of modifying engines
He points out that modified engines are dangerous seeing that the engine is the heart of a vehicle, thus any slight modification might cause malfunction, which could cause accidents. Besides that, poor rewiring could cause fire outbreaks while over-welding weakens the engine, the body and the chassis.
“Engine modification is commonly done in Japanese vehicles. However, we do not recommend it since model specifications may not match resulting into weakness of the vehicle body and chassis resulting into breakdown due to heaviness,” he says.
Kayinja attributes engine modification to the high cost of engines, lack of right spare parts and that some people just prefer a particular type of engines; even if one buys a different car model, they go for a particular engine and have it fixed it their car. He says that for every 3,000 km a vehicle has to be serviced and for certain vehicles with new model engines they have a system which keeps on measuring the viscosity hence guiding the motorist.
Kayinja says that a motorist who wants to find out if the engine of their car is modified, needs to look at the way it is mounted, and the specifications on the car compared to the engine. If they do not match, then that engine was modified.
He, however, advises those driving vehicles with modified engines to have a regular service to avoid accidents and other related problems.
However, Bosco Kigongo, a mechanical engineer says, “Engine modification does not cause any problems if done by a professional mechanic. However, it changes the vehicle’s power. The chasis capacity (CC) may either increase or reduce which will change the vehicle’s speed and sound. However, very few motorists take note of that which may affect their safety.”
Kigongo also says that apart from the requirement to update the registration details with Uganda Revenue Authority, he knows no law against the practice. This practice is intended to check vehicle robberies and to ensure that engines of stolen vehicles do not end up in other vehicles.
Although he does not point out any garage that specialises in modifying engines, he says that most mechanics can handle it.
“While I wouldn’t support any one to go for engine modification, there are times when one’s car engine gets damaged and fails to get a replacement or spare parts leaving them with only one option; modifying the engine,” Kigongo says.
How to check your car has its original engine
According to Godfrey Batte, a mechanical engineer, when shopping for a car, especially a used one, the condition of the engine, transmission and the car body are the most important. The fact that the car looks ‘clean’ and drives well does not mean much if its engine has a hidden problem or was poorly maintained by previous owners. Batte adds that engine repairs are very expensive seeing that it is difficult to evaluate the mechanical condition of the engine through a quick test drive. That is why he strongly recommends to have a used car properly inspected by a qualified mechanic. He also shares a few tips on how to spot signs of an engine with problems or one that has been poorly maintained.
Check service records
Batte says that while service records are not always available, they help if a dealer or the seller can produce them as proof that the vehicle was regularly maintained. He says, if one can get access to the service records, look for oil changes and mileage records. It helps if you can verify that oil changes were done regularly. Depending on the manufacturer, Batte says the recommended oil change interval varies from 3,750 to 10,000 miles. And he adds that if the vehicle was driven between oil changes for much longer intervals than recommended, the engine might be worn out inside.
Batte also sights that if a car has a timing belt (not all cars have it), see if there is any records that it was replaced. Typically, a timing belt needs to be replaced every 60,000 to 105,000 miles, depending on the vehicle.
Have a look under the hood
Bosco Kigongo, a mechanic with Icony Garage, says when you are checking a used car engine at a dealer’s lot, have a quick look under the hood before the test drive. “It helps if you have a small flashlight, he advises, “In this search, look for leaks, smell of burnt oil as these are signs of poor quality repairs or lack of regular maintenance and ‘racing’ modifications.”
He cautions that even when everything looks clean and shiny, it does not yet mean much, as car dealers often clean their used car engines before showing them to clients.