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Resurfacing and Automotive Work for a New Shop

WakelessFoil

Aluminum
Joined
Aug 18, 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.

Thanks!
-Justin
 

Garwood

Diamond
Joined
Oct 10, 2009
Location
Oregon
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.
 

Comatose

Titanium
Joined
Feb 25, 2005
Location
Akron, OH
When you open your doors, you're only bound to get work that you take. If you don't know how to do automotive work, why take it? People take less kindly to you scrapping their engine than they do to scrapping out a spacer machined from a $2 block of aluminum.

There's a whole ocean of things people might pay for that you COULD do that you won't. Some guys don't do racecar stuff. Some guys don't do medical. Some guys aren't willing to catch and butcher an employee when a customer comes through the door needing a new kidney. Takes all sorts.
 

jccaclimber

Stainless
Joined
Nov 22, 2015
Location
San Francisco
Blunt but honest questions.
1. Are you trying to get into the machining business, or just looking for an excuse to not sell your toys?
2. I’ve been in pretty large successful shops that don’t have 90 machines, much less manual ones. What are we talking? Having 30 identical clapped out Bridgeports isn’t any better than having one or two if there’s nobody to run them all and no work for them. On the other hand, if you had a large number of uncommon machines that bill at a high rate AND you’re proficient with them, then you might be on to something.
 

michiganbuck

Diamond
Joined
Jun 28, 2012
Location
Mt Clemens, Michigan 48035
I think engine work is so varied that mostly dedicated/special machinery has a great advantage. Doing engine work on/with tool room machines and grinders would need some very high skills more for high-end jobs like prototype and racing.

I know of an engine cylinder boring machine that was in a simplicity shop. It is only for that one task, so the skill level is way less than someone trying to do the job in a Bridgeport or the like.
 

john.k

Diamond
Joined
Dec 21, 2012
Location
Brisbane Qld Australia
Two things that have killed the car engine shops are firstly people have finally figured out you cant top up the radiator every week with the garden hose......and second would be engines lasting 200,000 miles ,before needing a rebore and new pistons..........the only engine shops still going here are one that does big diesels ,and one down by the bay that does boat diesels and gas inboards.....these guys will do car stuff,but at their diesel rates,about $300/hr.
 

LOTT

Hot Rolled
Joined
Nov 28, 2016
I get calls asking for automotive stuff fairly often, and the old geezers I used to send the callers on to retired and sold out. I contemplated buying their acre of specialty machines for about 4 seconds before coming back to reality.

Looking from the outside job shop work, production, and automotive might seem very similar, but they just aren't. Probably like asking your dentist to pull out a brain tumor, it's only two inches away from your molars....
 

john.k

Diamond
Joined
Dec 21, 2012
Location
Brisbane Qld Australia
The guy next to my shop used to do high performance race boat stuff......he knew less about proper engineering than my dog,but he was handsome with a blonde handlebar mustache,bikini babe wife,and a car and boat race star .....and him and his helper made all the "arf arf arf " noises that you have to when you are a hot racer..........very ocassionally he would get me to do something he didnt understand......which was a lot..............one time his wife got me to sharpen some drill bits for him.......back the next day ,I had to blunt them ,cause sharp ones grabbed ,and wound him up.
 

hvnlymachining

Cast Iron
Joined
Jun 21, 2019
Location
St.Onge
As mentioned previously, engine parts are a whole different process than industrial machining. The first difference is inspection for cracks in blocks and heads, cranks, cams etc.... And those inspections are an absolute must! Otherwise you'll be paying out more than you take in, and get a real bad reputation. I generally also stay away from motorcycle parts. Most motorcycle guys are out for performance and frequently destroy such, and they'll blame you. Only exception for me is the guy just trying to get his kids dirt bike going again.
 

Ox

Diamond
Joined
Aug 27, 2002
Location
West Unity, Ohio
Two things that have killed the car engine shops are firstly people have finally figured out you cant top up the radiator every week with the garden hose......and second would be engines lasting 200,000 miles ,before needing a rebore and new pistons..........the only engine shops still going here are one that does big diesels ,and one down by the bay that does boat diesels and gas inboards.....these guys will do car stuff,but at their diesel rates,about $300/hr.

IMO this is on par 100%.
Not many folks even turn a wrench anymore, and like John said - they don't really need to.
We run our vee-hickles up to around 400K and if anything - there is a valve grind, and maybe that only b/c we are already in there replacing rotten gaskets. (SBC's)

Our others are Cummins B's, and I have yet to open one of those up.

My local engine builder chum has expanded lately, but most of his work is heavy diesels these days.

You can buy a complete rebuilt motor from the Big Box shops for your daily driver for less than he can build a one-off, and if you want a perfominants motor, you can buy that from Summit or other for what you would have in just buying the parts.

Seems like a bad idea to pursue.


--------------------------

Think Snow Eh!
Ox
 
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Garwood

Diamond
Joined
Oct 10, 2009
Location
Oregon
I think everything has been covered. 40 years ago every independent auto parts store had a machine shop in back. Those are all gone for a reason.

The engine rebuilder that sends lots of machinework my way is one of those. They have good new equipment and 3 guys and should have a crew of 5. The starting wage is $25/hr with good benefits. They cannot find anyone to hire. They have a continuous cycle of idiots coming out of votech programs.

When I was 17-18 I scrubbed, steam cleaned and blow dried all the parts coming out of the hot tank in a race engine shop for free just so I could be in there and watch and learn.

Seems like that line of work is looked down upon today.
 

jatt

Aluminum
Joined
Dec 14, 2009
Location
Australia
Former neighbor was doing engine rebuilding/ machining with right the gear to do the job. Last time I spoke to him he was doing servicing on taxis. His words, " I do better with stuff like oil changes nowdays than the former."

What else do u wanna know?
 

john.k

Diamond
Joined
Dec 21, 2012
Location
Brisbane Qld Australia
saw an interesting one on the Haggerty site in f book......reconditioning a Model A motor ........work done at a specialist shop in Michigan ......pour new bearings in block and rods ,line bore ,rod journal bore ,rebore cylinders,etc,etc ......seems the shop does all flathead Fords ,and nowt else......some young guys there too......no worries about electric cars.
 

michiganbuck

Diamond
Joined
Jun 28, 2012
Location
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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