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A seized engine is one of the most serious and costly automotive problems you can encounter. When an engine seizes or becomes “locked up”, it usually requires replacement due to substantial internal damage.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with a seized engine in your car. But if you do, you’ll likely notice one or more tell-tale signs that indicate big-time trouble.

What Does a “Seized” Engine Mean?

A seized engine is one that won’t turn over (or won’t turn over completely) due to an internal failure. In other words, the engine is “locked up” or “frozen” and will not run.

Seized Engine Symptoms

man having problem with his car
A seized engine is one of the most serious and costly automotive problems you can encounter.

Do you think you might be dealing with a seized engine? If you notice one or more of the following symptoms, you might be right.

Note: Other problems can mimic a seized engine. You (or your mechanic) should perform a thorough diagnosis before conducting any repairs.

Engine Doesn’t Crank or Start

The primary sign of a seized engine is a vehicle that doesn’t crank or start. In some cases, the engine might turn over slightly (often while making abnormal noises), but it will refuse to crank normally or run. You might also hear a click or clunk noise as the starter tries to engage the engine.

Obvious Internal Engine Damage

In some cases, there might be obvious damage that points to a seized engine. For example, you might see metal in the engine oil or a hole in the engine block, indicating a catastrophic internal failure.


What causes an engine to seize?

A variety of internal problems can cause an engine to seize. The most common reason for the failure is a low engine oil level, which creates friction between the internal engine components (pistons, cylinder walls, etc.), resulting in seizure. Also, overheating can cause expansion and distortion of the internal components, making the engine seize.

Other mechanical problems, such as a broken timing belt or timing chain, can cause major internal engine components to collide, resulting in a seized engine.

How to tell if an engine is seized?

The best way to tell whether an engine is seized is to try to turn it over with a breaker bar. First, remove the engine’s drive belt. Then, place the breaker bar on the crankshaft pulley bolt and try to turn the pulley in the normal direction of engine rotation (usually clockwise). If you can not rotate the crankshaft pulley completely, the engine is likely seized.

How much does it cost to replace an engine?

Replacement is the usual course of repair for a seized engine. The cost of replacing an engine will depend on a variety of factors, such as the type of vehicle you have and whether you decide to install a used or remanufactured engine.

If you have a professional replace the engine, you can typically expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 to get the job done.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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