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Proper Engine Break-In Procedures

Break-Fast - Proper Engine Break-In Procedures Break-Fast - Proper Engine Break-In Procedures

So you finally finished rebuilding the engine for your muscle car. All the bolts are torqued, the valve covers in place. Now what? The typical answer is to drop it between the frame rails, hook it up and go. Not so fast cowboy, there is a little more to it than that. Every fresh build needs to be broke in. This is the process of running the engine for the first time to set the camshaft’s wear patterns. This is the most critical moment in an engine’s life, how it runs for the first 20 minutes determines the wear patterns forever; and just like impressions, you don’t get a second chance. 

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Whether you choose a run stand or install it in the chassis, the process of breaking in an engine is the same. However, there are some very real benefits to using a run stand. At first glance, a run stand might seem like a waste of precious shop space and money, but in reality a run stand can not only save you on both, it can also save you the things that is most valuable- time. While many engine builds go smooth, they don’t always. Imagine a situation where you run into a problem on the break-in; the cam goes flat, there is knock or loss of oil pressure. Any one of those things can ruin your day, not to mention the fact that now you have to yank the engine back out of the car, waste all those fluids and just general unhappiness with the situation. A run-stand allows you to break-in and test the engine without ever having to set it in the car. If something breaks, the repair process is much simpler. Other uses for a run stand include tuning, parts testing and even secure engine storage. 

The basic procedure for breaking in an engine starts with having everything correctly installed and ready to start. Don’t even think about firing up the engine if you do not have proper gauges monitoring the vitals- oil pressure, water temperature and RPM are the 3 most important stats you need in this process. The tach is your guide for the run, you need to set the RPMs from 2000-2500 RPMs for the first 20 minutes of the engine’s life. Don’t let the engine idle. This is most important for flat-tappet camshafts. Roller cams are nowhere near this critical; they simply do not have the friction that a flat-tappet cam sees. The cam lobes are not the only parts being broke in, the rings, bearings, valve springs, oil pump, all of these items are being run for the first time, in most cases, so it is important to follow the procedures. 

The rings are also in their initial break-in as well. The first 20 minutes of run time begins the ring seating process by smoothing out the minute edges on all the machined parts. One of the key ingredients to all of this is proper break-in oil. Modern break-in oils have more of ZDDP and other additives to protect virgin metals during break-in. Regular engine oils have been regulated by the EPA to remove these protective elements that a new engine needs. 

We recently rebuilt a Ford 302 with a flat tappet cam for a 65 Mustang. While we could have just dropped the engine into the car, we wanted to get it tuned in and ready to go so that we wouldn’t have to break our backs working over the fenders. This would also give us the opportunity to address any issues should they arise. As it turns out, that was a good decision. When our Easy-Run Test Stand arrived, it was clear that this was a serious piece of hardware. All of the components were well-designed and the assembly was straightforward. You can even mount an automatic transmission on it if you don’t have a manual-style bellhousing. 

After the 302 was setup on the Easy-Run, we fired it up. Everything was going great until we heard a faint tap. Suddenly it got louder. Oil pressure was fine, but the engine developed a miss and we shut it down. After some diagnostics, we determined that a lifter had failed. If the engine had been in the car, we would have had to pull it out, as the final diagnosis was junk in the lifter oil galley that filled the driver-side lifters, keeping them from bleeding off. The only solution was to tear the motor down and clean up what was supposed to have been done before the assembly in the first place. 

Our 302 was ready to go in the car, but we opted to break it in on a run stand.

Our 302 was ready to go in the car, but we opted to break it in on a run stand.

The Easy-Run stand has a lot of options, but everything is modular, so you can add on as you go. Plus the unit can be field stripped and set upright for storage.

The Easy-Run stand has a lot of options, but everything is modular, so you can add on as you go. Plus the unit can be field stripped and set upright for storage.

We bolted a flywheel to the 302; you have to be able to start it.

We bolted a flywheel to the 302; you have to be able to start it.

We had 2 bellhousings, one for an auto and one for a manual. We used the manual housing to match up to the flywheel.

We had 2 bellhousings, one for an auto and one for a manual. We used the manual housing to match up to the flywheel.

The engine was positioned over the stand with the hoist.

The engine was positioned over the stand with the hoist.

The motor mounts on the stand are adjustable and are secured with clevis pins.

The motor mounts on the stand are adjustable and are secured with clevis pins.

You don’t want the motor to slide back and forth on the motor mounts, which are universal, so the extra space was taken up with washers.

You don’t want the motor to slide back and forth on the motor mounts, which are universal, so the extra space was taken up with washers.

We used an Ingersoll-Rand cordless impact to make quick work of all the bolts. The bellhousing mounts are heavy straps with multiple holes.

We used an Ingersoll-Rand cordless impact to make quick work of all the bolts. The bellhousing mounts are heavy straps with multiple holes.

The bellhousing straps connect to a round bar that sits in a V block on the base of the stand. There is an adapter for this that works with automatic transmissions.

The bellhousing straps connect to a round bar that sits in a V block on the base of the stand. There is an adapter for this that works with automatic transmissions.

Monitoring the engine is critical for a safe break-in. The Easy-Run comes with mechanical sensors for oil pressure and temperature. You can always convert it to electrical if you wish.

Monitoring the engine is critical for a safe break-in. The Easy-Run comes with mechanical sensors for oil pressure and temperature. You can always convert it to electrical if you wish.

We filled the block with Royal Purple Break-In oil to ensure the flat tappet cam would be protected.

We filled the block with Royal Purple Break-In oil to ensure the flat tappet cam would be protected.

The next step is to prime the oil pump. This is done with a drill and a priming tool. Fords are easy; you just need a long socket for the pump drive rod. Chevy and Mopar engines require specialty primer tools.

The next step is to prime the oil pump. This is done with a drill and a priming tool. Fords are easy; you just need a long socket for the pump drive rod. Chevy and Mopar engines require specialty primer tools.

The mechanical oil pressure gauge showed over psi with just a corded drill. You should rotate the crank a few times to ensure the bearings get lubed up.

The mechanical oil pressure gauge showed over psi with just a corded drill. You should rotate the crank a few times to ensure the bearings get lubed up.

Next, we pulled the #1 plug and set the piston to top dead center.

Next, we pulled the #1 plug and set the piston to top dead center.

Which we verified on the timing tab. Then we stabbed the MSD distributor and set the base timing.

Which we verified on the timing tab. Then we stabbed the MSD distributor and set the base timing.

The electrical connections were next, the block is grounded straight to the Optima battery we used on the stand. The stand even has a nice battery tray.

The electrical connections were next, the block is grounded straight to the Optima battery we used on the stand. The stand even has a nice battery tray.

We bolted a set of Hooker headers on the 302, along with flex hoses. We found that universal style flex hoses are best for a run stand.

We bolted a set of Hooker headers on the 302, along with flex hoses. We found that universal style flex hoses are best for a run stand.

The stand has a mount for the coil, which we mounted up. The stand’s controls use simple alligator clips to make easy connections.

The stand has a mount for the coil, which we mounted up. The stand’s controls use simple alligator clips to make easy connections.

Underneath the radiator is a 5-gallon fuel cell. You might notice the large cap on the radiator outlet- the Easy-Run comes with inlets/outlets at all four corners on the radiator, so that it will work with any engine.

Underneath the radiator is a 5-gallon fuel cell. You might notice the large cap on the radiator outlet- the Easy-Run comes with inlets/outlets at all four corners on the radiator, so that it will work with any engine.

Another really cool feature of the Easy-Run is the throttle control. The cable-actuated throttle has threaded stop that can be used to maintain RPM or and RPM range.

Another really cool feature of the Easy-Run is the throttle control. The cable-actuated throttle has threaded stop that can be used to maintain RPM or and RPM range.

The instrument control panel has everything you need. The master switch is the key, in the event of an issue, just twist the large red key (not seen here) and it kills power to everything.

The instrument control panel has everything you need. The master switch is the key, in the event of an issue, just twist the large red key (not seen here) and it kills power to everything.

We even bolted a set of mufflers to the headers to quiet it down a bit. Without them we may not have heard the lifter issue when it first popped up. The Easy-Run saved the day, because if we had fired up the engine in the car, it would have really sucked.

We even bolted a set of mufflers to the headers to quiet it down a bit. Without them we may not have heard the lifter issue when it first popped up. The Easy-Run saved the day, because if we had fired up the engine in the car, it would have really sucked.

 

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