As LS and LT swaps become more and more popular, an excellent question keeps coming up. Is a junkyard LS swap worth the time and money? Sure, the LS is a great engine that’s relatively cheap, but it’s what happens behind the scenes that need to be analyzed before this question can be answered.
When LS swaps first began to appear, they were mainly being installed in older GM vehicles. The first generation small-blocks are very similar to the LS engine which allows them to be converted over without much effort. After all, they are about the same size and close to the same weight. You can also bolt just about any GM transmission from the first-gen small-blocks to an LS. All that would be needed for this type of swap would be motor mounts, transmission mount, exhaust, and some time to figure out the wiring and fuel system. If you didn’t want to mess with the factory EFI, odds are you could use a carburetor on the new powerplant from your old engine. This type of swap is simple and ultimately affordable, especially when compared to the cost of buying a new first-gen crate engine.
Recently we wrote an article on a Mazda Miata that was an LS-swapped street/drift car. Taylor Ray, the owner of this nimble little machine, dropped in a naturally aspirated 5.3-liter truck motor that made around 350 horsepower at the wheels. According to Taylor’s video, everything needed for the conversion was $4,684. However, this did not include the price of the engine, transmission, fuel system or any other miscellaneous parts. Taylor could have built a stout Miata engine for the cost of these required components. Not only is it possible for the Mazda engine to make the same power as the 350 horsepower LS, but you would also have less downtime and none of the problems associated with a swap. The final tally for the LS Miata swap was a hefty $13,099. When you add in the purchase price of the car, you’re looking at an investment of about $20,000. Taylor could have easily bought a C6 Corvette or several other LS-powered vehicles, but he did the swap because he loves his Miata.
On engine swaps you not only have to worry about the cost, but you also have the headache of performing the swap. If things can go wrong they usually will, and installing an engine from different manufacturer can involve a lot of time, research, and its fair share of problems. Some typical examples might include things like the truck accessory drive not fitting your engine bay, oil pan clearance problems, the hood sitting on the intake manifold, or maybe the transmission tunnel is too small. All of these problems will take a toll on your time, patience, as well as your bank account.
Another thing to consider is the availability of an LS engine and it’s cost. The internet is good at telling you “junkyard motors are cheap” and that “you can find one for as little as $300.” It seems these low prices are few and far between for most of the engines out there. A high mileage 5.3-liter with accessories brings about $800 on average in our area, but we have heard rumor of high-mileage long blocks in the $1,600 range in other places. Remember in high school when that super monotonous teacher taught you about supply and demand? As the market for this type conversion increase so does the prices for the parts and engines.
At the end of the day, it just comes down to a simple question. What are your goals?
There’s no doubt that there are several advantages to an LS swap in some vehicles. They can be affordable, super reliable, and make a ton of torque and power. If you have the time, money, and skill, we say go for it. If you think you can pull off a swap for $300 over the weekend, though, you’re going to be extremely disappointed. Please make sure and do your research first before making a decision and don’t believe everything you read on the internet — it can be hazardous to your health as well as your wallet.