The Engine Investment

By David Frank


An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. And when it comes to making a purchase, investing time into research up front pays off in a quality, dependable product that consumers can count on for years to come.

Products, such as power equipment, should offer long-lasting dependability and often require some research, as well as a lot of math to find the best solution. While machine features and the initial price tag are always factors, a wise customer will look beyond those elements to consider the unit’s total cost of ownership. When purchasing power equipment, the first thing to consider is the heart of the product — the engine.

If long-term value and dependability is the goal, choose power equipment that features an engine with a proven record of exceptional reliability, increased durability and minimal required maintenance. An engine that minimizes maintenance and incorporates money-saving durability and design will pay dividends in the long run. Here are some things for consumers to consider to ensure that their engine offers the best value and performance for the life of their equipment.


Ask ALL the questions


Any equipment investment should always start and end with total cost of ownership.

Customers need to know what to look for and ask the right questions up front to ensure they have the information needed to get the best value for their investment. What is the purchase price? How much will it cost to maintain? And, of course, how long will it last?

When buying equipment, consider the use and application. Will the product be used every day or just sporadically? Is the application demanding and dirty or a basic backup? Answering those questions will help frame the decision-making process. Then, take a close look at the design of the engine and the features that will affect life and performance.


Superior lubrication

Keeping an engine running smoothly is a science in itself. While oil eliminates friction between the moving parts, it’s the lubrication system that pumps oil where it’s needed most. A proper lubrication system is key to overall engine health and lifespan.

A lot of engines feature splash lubrication. This system gets the job done for the most part, but not without problems. For example, if there isn’t enough oil in the trough, the amount splashed onto engine components — the cam, main bearings, rods and pistons — will be insufficient, causing the engine to seize. Too much oil in the trough will cause excessive lubrication, leading to fuel inefficiency or excessive heat.

A reliable, consistent lubrication method plays a key role in maintaining peak performance and longevity. Engines that meter a direct supply of oil to the head of the engine offer superior lubrication, ensuring just the right amount of oil is delivered at all times. Pumping oil directly to every critical bearing reduces operating temperatures and friction between components, which means better performance and longer engine life.


Stay cool

Along with poor lubrication, excessive heat shortens engine life, and is a major culprit in engine failure. Overheating can damage valve stems, seize pistons and even crack or warp cylinder heads, resulting in costly maintenance expenses.

Engines that foster a 360-degree airflow around both the exhaust and intake valve stem areas will extend overall product life. This cooling system reduces oil temperatures as much as 20 degrees cooler than other designs. For further protection, some engine designs incorporate special heat dissipation fins built into the engine’s mounting base, cylinder and both inner and outer crankcase surfaces to use every possible cooling area.

Beyond the cooling system, consider other design elements of the engine that can either increase or dissipate heat. Look for designs that avoid blocking air flow with components such as gear covers. Find a design that mounts the gear cover at bolt points rather than flush against the surface of the power product. This design will allow air to travel between the engine and the product’s rotor and stator, keeping the entire product cool.


Filter, rinse, repeat

An engine needs clean air to efficiently burn fuel and maximize horsepower. Unfortunately, small engines are almost always running in environments where dirt, debris and dust accumulate making proper filtration key to avoiding diminished performance and costly maintenance.

The standard for most engine manufacturers is a disposable filter that needs replacement every three months or after 50 hours of use. At about $17 per filter, that’s a minimum of $69 per year for filter maintenance. To avoid the extra cost, owners often delay replacing the filter, and by the time they get around to it, the damage is already done.

Some manufacturers eliminate this cost by incorporating standard reusable filters. Reusable filters can be washed with soap and water and withstand numerous cleanings without deteriorating. If properly maintained, the filters will last the entire life of the engine, eliminating the added cost of filter replacements. Reusable air filters are also a win for the environment because they mean less waste in the landfill.


Overall construction

Today, engines are more powerful and durable than ever. Although manufacturers are constantly looking for innovative ways to implement new technology, some have found that sticking to the same design and materials for the past 30 years is a safe bet, relying on the history of performance. But those older designs can lack technological innovations that extend life and enhance performance.

Engines that have fewer moving parts generally require less maintenance than more complex engines. While it may not sound like a lot, the difference between six moving parts and 12 can have a huge impact on maintenance costs and downtime.


All things considered

Other components to consider when seeking the lowest total cost of ownership are the crankshaft and timing chain, because they are key factors in engine durability and overall quality.

Crankshaft bearings minimize friction between the rotating crankshaft and stationary engine block. The rolling mechanism of a dual ball bearing provides a smoother motion than the sliding mechanism of a conventional journal bearing. Low friction results in enhanced mechanical efficiency, minimal wear and increased durability to extend the life of the engine.

An engine simply cannot work without proper timing. A case-hardened steel timing chain will save on cost and reduce downtime. Case-hardened steel retains its core softness to absorb stresses and has a hard, protective surface for increased resistance of residual compression. This provides the engine with precise timing and maximum strength for reduced wear and minimal maintenance cost.


A protected investment

Know which engine parts are likely to encounter the most damage and look for ways to minimize that risk. For example, the engine recoil is one of the top five replacement parts because it takes the brunt of each engine start-up. Because of its location, it also gets hit by other tools and equipment while in use or when being transported in the back of a truck.

Most manufacturers use metal recoils, which dent or break and need replacement about once per year. At about $90 each, that’s $270 of added expense in just three years.

Some engine designs incorporate heavy-duty, impact-resistant composite resin recoils instead of metal alternatives. Resin recoils withstand harsh environments and virtually eliminate maintenance or replacement because they are 50 percent stronger than metal recoils. Because the purchase price is very similar, the resin recoil is almost guaranteed to save money.

Aside from recoil damage, another major engine problem is a dirty carburetor. Even tiny particles of debris can clog carburetor jets, starving the engine of gas. Some manufacturers offer a solution to this problem by placing as many as three filters on an engine to catch any dirt that might come into contact with the fuel. And clean fuel, of course, means a clean, fuel-efficient carburetor with no challenging starts or failures.


Added assurance

Warranties in the engine industry vary. For years, the industry standard was a single-year warranty on the engine. But as designs evolved, the new standard became a three-year warranty. Today, some companies boast a maintenance-free product and virtually no warranty claims so they are able to offer a five-year warranty on the engine. The additional two years of coverage gives the consumer peace of mind regarding potential costs of parts and labor.

Submitting a warranty claim should be easy. Look for manufacturers that minimize complicated paperwork and allow consumers to submit claims online. Some manufacturers even cover repair shop rates within their warranties. But the warranty is only as good as the company standing behind it. A manufacturer that honors borderline claims if fault is ever in question can save the customer time and frustration.


The choice

With so many features, designs and differences in engines, it’s hard to know which one will give the lowest total cost of ownership. But with a product that should ideally last several thousand hours, know that a lower initial price tag doesn’t necessarily equal the best value.

Whoever said that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest certainly understood the value of a little research. Investing in a dependable, long-lasting product is where time and money are best spent. Just give it a year — or five. Because when it comes to peace of mind, consumers can’t afford to jeopardize that investment.


David Frank, vice president of sales & marketing, Subaru Industrial Power Products.


Subaru Industrial Power Products is a subsidiary of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., Tokyo. Fuji Heavy Industries is a diversified global manufacturer of Subaru automobiles, aircraft, industrial engines and equipment. Subaru Industrial Power Products is responsible for sales and support of Subaru industrial engines and power products in North America. For more information: Subaru Industrial Power Products, 905 Telser Road, Lake Zurich, IL 60047; 847-540-7300;;; Facebook; Google+; YouTube; and LinkedIn.