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Resurfacing and Automotive Work for a New Shop


Jun 28, 2012
Mt Clemens, Michigan 48035
You might get a feel for the market by going to automotive shops that take in such work, and ask what might be the pricing and the likelihood of having a new guy in the business...and ask how much demand. Agree some might tell you to take a hike and others might answer the questions.
One racecar owner/driver in California about 10 years ago told me that he had over $25K into his heads, and likely went to a top shop or such work.
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Aug 27, 2020
We are in the process of setting up a business out of our hobbyist machine shop. Before I go any further let me clarify that this is by no means your average hobby shop. It's over 6,000 square feet and filled with over 90 (mostly manual), heavy duty machine tools.

I know that when we open our doors for business, we are bound to get automotive related work, specifically engine related stuff. I myself am a gearhead but having never resurfaced a block or polished a crank, I am looking for advice. We don't have any specific machinery for automotive work; we only have general purpose surface grinders. So since a Chevy 350 small block is physically too large for us to handle, let's say a guy walks in with a small motorcycle engine that he wants rebuilt. How might we do a job like this? What are some things to consider? How much is too much to charge for a job like this?

Is automotive work the most profitable discipline for a shop in it's infancy? What are some other ways to bring in steady cash? How about marketing? We have tried our hand at the lottery too many times now and we need a way to make money with all this steel and iron sitting around!

I realize I have asked several loaded questions here... I greatly appreciate any small bit of advice you contribute.

I own an automotive machine (since 1963) as well as a second "industrial" machine shop. Our auto machine shop hourly rate is $135. Most of our machines are specialty equipment for faster, more efficient, and more accurate engine work - about 50/50 mix between manual and CNC (including 5-axis for cylinder head porting, 4-axis for block boring & decking). We do use a few "common" machines, such as lathes, and BP mills. Cleaning and inspection ( magna flux, dye, dr-mag, and pressure testing). Heat treating, stress relieving, TIG welding (alum, magnesium, stainless) is a big part of rebuilding todays engines. Since '63 we specialized in high end import /exotic engine and hi-performance engines. In 1980 we added Harley-Davidson & other motorcycle engines to the mix, and in 2000 we added larger diesel engines. Most motorcycle engine jobs start with a minimum budget of $3k, with the hi-performance auto engine jobs ranging from $15k to $40k. Stocking quality parts is a necessary part of the biz - a bare minimum inventory of about $100k will get you started.
A lot has changed over the years in the auto machine shop biz. Today's engine casting are much thinner/lighter, so work holing and pre-loading critical. Greater dynamic balancing is a huge must for a successful job. Other change: we no longer grind valve seats - instead we us dedicated CNC U-axis machines to more accurately control seat profiles. Why" greater engine efficency (HP / TQ) and new engines detect inefficient cyl combustion,set a trouble code light, or fail an emissions test. < these are also why cylinder heads are no longer simple resurfaced when warped. The compression ratio for each cyl must be nearly identical, or the ECU will fail emissions or set a trouble code. So we use heat treat ovens to straighten the heads, especially over head cam(s) cyl heads) prior to surfacing.. All engine blocks require toque plates installed to preload the block before boring and honing the cylinders - most engines also use bed-plate type main bearing cap/saddles, which are also installed before boring & honing. Due to stricter emissions, ring packs are placed higher on pistons, so the rings have become very thin. And to increase MPG, piston ring wall psi has decreases significantly. This makes honing super critical. A surface profilometer is a must is an engine is to survive as many miles as an OEM engine (typically 400k miles) or deliver big HP. Honing is now down with diamond stones, instead of old-school vitrified hone stones. our Sunnen Diamond hone is CNC controlled in order to hit the correct Ra, Rz, Rpk finishes consistantly.
Most "stone" grinding wheels have long ago been replaced with CBN wheels on our Dual Mass Flywheel grinder, Crank grinder, Valve refacing grinders, and surface grinder, T&C grinders. Cleaning is the most difficult and least profitable part of our auto machine shop - meeting EPA requirements come at a huge investment/cost.
Three significant things that make auto machining differ from industrial machining:
1. the work pieces are "unique" - no two worn cranks are the same, no two cylinder heads are worn the same - unlike a billet of aluminum or other stock that is generally a "known" element. So you must have the means to inspect, evaluate, and determine how to "fix" each piece of an engine so it operates synergically with all the other parts.
2. for most engine parts you only get "one shot" to do the job correctly. Unlike industrial work, where you might run off a test piece to set up the cutters, etc, or is you scrap a part, its not the end of the world make another part. With automotive parts, if you screw the pooch while re-sleeving a customer's 1965 Ferrari V12 block, or a set of ported AFR heads with berylium valve seats and titanium valves, you may thing you just ruined a NASA rocket part. - except the auto job you quoted won't be anywhere near enough to cover even a fraction of the cost to replace a modern engine block, or cylinder head, etc. For example, you can quote a job machining 303 billets, without prior inspection - but with automotive work, you can't quote without a thorough and costly inspection first (unless you want unhappy customers/unprofitable sales).
3. most automotive machine work is sold thru consultative selling/marketing. In other words, if you expect to make a profit in the biz, you must do the higher end work, otherwise your just taking a long slow path to bankruptcy. And to make it in the hi-end market, you typically must be known as an expert in your specialty area. Most marketing is done thru sharing of your knowledge - often at no charge, with hopes of getting a job down the road. This "sucks" a lot of the profit out of automotive machining. (our smaller industrial shop grosses 35% less than the automotive shop, but nets about the same.) If you think quoting an industrial job takes up your time, wait until you quote a few engine jobs.
With todays ECU controlled engines, light casting, etc, engine work requires a huge commitment. Can you do a few "down & dirty" jobs? of course. Will you be efficient and profitable doing them? very unlikely. With your mix of machinery and knowledge of engines, I would not recommend making such work a large part of your biz plan. Focus instead on what you really know well and can do most efficently. You may find selling many of your machines to acquire a couple of state-of-the-art CNC VMC, etc let you make widgets with an economy of scale that is very profitable. This is what we did when we established our industrial shop.
Regardless, if you decide to take on more automotive work, I recommend you join Automotive Engine Rebuilders Assn and subscribe to their Prosis data base (it has all the size & torque Spec, procedure updates for machining, as well as tech bulletins, revisions, upgraded part info, engine component identification info, and pattern failure notices). Also feel free to contact me with any auto machining questions thru our website at www.automotivemachine.com. Wish you the best of luck!


Mar 21, 2006
In 70 I opened my first parts house in a new 6k sq ft bldg. Way more space than I needed for parts. The Idea was to put an auto machine shop in the back half , just like larger NAPA stores had. In the meantime I had a friend who owned an auto machine shop and did all the engine work that came my way and I made a 20% mark up just for pick up and delivery. At that time the parts sale was about 3:1parts to labor. So the machine shops were probably making more off parts sales than labor.

Every year I would run the figures to see if it was more profitable to put in my own machines. Most machinery sellers would sell on a lease/ purchase agreement so you could get an immeadiate tax deduction instead of a deprecation schedule and you wouldn't have to lay out a lot of cash to buy the equiptment out right. Never did make economic sense in the 15 years I had it before I sold it. Now the simple drum and rotor machines and flywheel grinder made lots of money because of the volume and related parts sales. No machinist to run them either, I could train a couple of my guys easy enough.Most rotors now are so cheap they are not worth turning even if there is enough meat left to turn.


Dec 21, 2012
Brisbane Qld Australia
Strangest story in engine work I know is a local shop that does big diesel work......they are in a very low lying area,its the first to flood ,and has been thoroughly flooded at least three times in the last 10 years...........yet they clean up,and back to work.........Anyhoo....in this city there once was two bit car engine shops on every street corner...........now,there is one cylinder head exchange franchise ,the afore mentioned diesel shop,and a marine engine shop down on the bayside..............Did I mention ? maybe 20 used engine import sales outlets...


Aug 18, 2020
You can treat it like any other repair work. "Our shop rate is $120/hr and this looks like a couple hour job" . Then they will say "Jimbo's engine shop only charges $17 for that." You can explain they have just the right machine to do that job and you have not spent the $75k to buy one for yourself because you don't specialize in that kind of work.

I do some manual repair work. I have never, ever, ever done any commodity type automotive specific machinework because engine rebuilders have the right machines for it, they have all the specs and they charge almost nothing to do it. I send work to those guys (including lots of my own) and they send a shitload of work to me.

Now if this is outside the scope of small engine stuff- like cutting liner counterbores, line boring a tugboat engine, angle matching a V8 intake on a race engine, welding up and machining a cracked bellhousing or any manner of stuck/broken bolt removal then that's good work for a repair shop.

90 manual machines in 6000 sq ft sounds like something you'd see on that TV show Hoarders. 5 or so manual machines, 3-5 CNC's ten tons of tooling and a couple forklifts sounds more like a one man business, but maybe I'm not seeing it.
This is a shop born from a friends hobby. He just happens to be the best hoarder east of the Mississippi!
What kind of work keeps your shop afloat?