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The ABCs of Shipping an Engine

Shipping an engine safely is nothing like mailing a box of candy to Grandma. Freighting an engine is subject to all sorts of regulations and procedures that you may not have considered. We hadn’t.

Maybe you need to ship an engine off to have it rebuilt, or you sold the engine from some car you own and need to transport it to the buyer; no matter the reason, engine shipping isn’t something the U.S. Postal Service does.

Because car and truck engines tip the scales at more than 150 pounds and qualify as hazardous material, shipping them is more involved than mailing that occasional package we all send from time to time.

It can be daunting to sift through pages of government regulations in an attempt to pin down exactly what your legal obligations are when freighting an engine.

ShipX is an online freight exchange that offers price quotes and trucking company reviews to help people with freight find the best-suited shipping company. The service puts some order to the regulatory clutter by distilling all the pages of legal claptrap to a few simple tips. Shipping an engine isn’t quite as daunting as it first seems.

Basics You Need to Know

Engines are usually transported by a mode of freighting known as less than truckload shipping (LTL). This process is used for items that are too heavy or too large to ship by everyday carriers like UPS, but too small to occupy the entire trailer of an 18-wheeler. LTL carriers are set up like most major airlines: They use a hub-and-spoke system in which shipments are picked up in more remote areas (one spoke) and transported to a central hub, where they are then dispatched with other smaller loads to a common destination (another spoke). All of the following tips are for shipping by LTL carriers.

Crate or Pallet?

An engine can ship one of two ways: in a crate or on a pallet. Each method has a unique classification and rate table for determining a shipping cost. A crated engine’s class is 70, while an engine on a pallet is class 85. Generally, the higher the classification the more it costs to ship. Crating, however, requires less effort in packaging. It’s a choice.

Drain the Fluids

Whether you choose a crate or pallet, you must completely drain all of fluids from the engine. Fluids such as oil pose potential dangers, which is what qualifies engines as hazardous materials for purposes of shipping. LTL carriers won’t accept an engine that’s leaking anything. “Carriers hate drippy shipments,” said ShipX founder Augie Grasis. “Simply put, if it drips, it won’t ship.”


Crating an engine for shipping is pretty cut-and-dried. The engine must be secured inside the crate to prevent it from shifting around. Also Grasis recommends that you use nuts and bolts to assemble the crate, because this makes it easy for the carrier to open.

Despite being the more popular method for engine shipping, using a pallet requires a bit more effort. When the engine is placed in the center of the pallet, it must be secured with ropes, chains or ratcheting straps. Grasis suggests that you creatively screw 2x4s to the pallet to assure that the engine is supported on its mounts (versus sitting on the oil pan). That way, it won’t be able to budge at all; it will be one with the pallet. But, you’re not finished yet. The engine must be concealed. This entails covering it with cardboard or some insulating material and then shrink wrapping the entire thing, including the pallet, with 80- to 120-gauge stretch film. When covering the engine, though, you must leave access to the fluid intakes. The LTL carrier will check the dipsticks to ensure the fluids have been removed.

Final Touch

You will need to attach a completed bill of lading that includes the classification and a detailed description to every side of your shipment.

What It Means to You

Shipping an engine by LTL carrier is no small task, but it’s fairly painless, as long as you follow a few basic tips. The cost depends on classification, weight and distance, but you can figure that it will be somewhere between $150 and $400.

Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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  1. Any shipping company suggestions for shipping an engine from a non-business to a non-business location.  Would need a forklift at both locations or a pallet jack with a lift truck?  It will be going from Oregon to Texas.

  2. Any shipping company suggestions for shipping an engine from a non-business to a non-business location.  Would need a forklift at both locations or a pallet jack with a lift truck?  It will be going from Oregon to Texas.

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