Built Motors: The Beginners Guide (Performance & Parts)

If you’re new to the automotive performance scene, you may be a bit puzzled when hearing someone mention a “built motor”. Or maybe you’re an enthusiast already somewhat aware of the increased performance and reliability effects and want to add them to your own vehicle.

Whatever the case may be, this quick beginner’s guide will give you a simple breakdown of everything you need to know to understand the concept of a built motor and how it works.

What is a built motor?

A built motor generally refers to a process (or an endpoint) wherein the internals of a car, including the motor, are upgraded in such a way as to increase the overall power of a car—if that be the desired upgrade. The term ‘built motor’ can also merely represent any kind of DIY upgrade to the car, as a sort of umbrella term.

In most cases, drivers invest in the process because they’re looking to boost power and energy or longevity. This involves aspirating your engine and increasing the amount of compression your car is able to handle.

Ultimately, a built motor has usually had several of its integral parts swapped out at some time or another in order to optimize that which the engine is naturally supposed to d; it’ll be able to take care of increasingly high pressures in its cylinder, and have the capacity to funnel more air through the engine. 

But what does this process look like in its most basic form?

Some of the common swaps can be:

  • Displacing where the cylinders are and upgrading their stroke elongation
  • Making the bore a lot wider
  • Making the intake and exhaust ports a lot larger
  • Taking the time to install valves which are much bigger.

A significant trend, as you may have guessed, is to perpetually be in the business of making the car bigger and able to handle more with its component parts.

What specifically goes into the process of building a built motor depends entirely on what you plan on doing with the upgraded car! 

What is the purpose of a built motor?

The purpose of a built motor is multifaceted, ranging from performance to simply enjoying tinkering with your car! If you want to go faster and have a more powerful car and you also enjoy DIY work and rolling up your sleeve from time to time, you might have already tried your hand at swapping out the component parts of your car’s motor. The result is a built motor.

There is a sort of symphonic purpose to a built motor as opposed to a built motor that relies upon the knowledge of the person doing it, however.

Anyone can simply take a motor apart and put it back together again, or swap out different parts according to a manual or a Youtube video. (These are sometimes referred to as merely ‘re-built’ motors.) When a technician or a DIY car enthusiast is putting together a built motor, however, he or she is examining the different components of a motor and re-engineering them, re-putting them together and crafting an entirely new engine with the express purpose of re-designing the piece for a different operation.

The difference that comes to mind is the difference between the paint-by-numbers enthusiast and an artist—a master of the craft.

Not that one has to be extremely knowledgeable and dedicated in order to put together a built motor (although, of course. But unless you are quite knowledgeable, it’s recommended that you work with a professional if you’re taking apart a car (especially if it’s a vehicle that you need to be useful on a daily basis). An optimal job usually requires a sense of direction that often transcends merely swapping out one part for another.

The Performance and Reliability Effects of a Built Motor 

As touched on earlier, the performance and reliability effects of a built motor are entirely reliant upon the goals of the person building the new motor. However, in a very broad sense, the goals can be stated as investing in higher-quality parts to allow the motor to take on more stress in the course of its everyday usage, ie, being able to burn more fuel more efficiently so that it can create more power, rev louder, and go generally faster and last longer.

So, simply put, the performance and reliability effects of a built motor are that: they’re both better! When completed properly, a car which has a built or simply upgraded motor should have far more power than one with a stock engine. In addition, the car should be able to have this high level of performance for far longer, as you’ve taken care of most of the maintenance involved with a motor if you’ve essentially created a new one.

However, it has to be said again that the performance and reliability of a built motor are dependent entirely upon the skill, care, and willingness to invest of the person creating the built motor. If you’re not investing in far more superior parts, the resultant built motor’s going to perform the same as it did before. Likewise, if you don’t have the vision and expertise necessary to know exactly what you’re doing, you won’t see amazing (or any) results!

Creating a built motor involves having the skill and vision to be able to see what you can interpret as problems with your existing motor and having the creativity to solve them—and the know-how to practically make it happen. You’re thinking as an inventor, an engineer, and a mechanic all rolled in one. Because of this, having a built motor is not only a sign of money and power, but real creativity and love for the craft of car maintenance. It’s not a surprise that they’re such a go-to power move (literally) for those who want to be respected in the car community. 

How, generally, does one create a built motor? 

Very generally speaking, one creates a built motor by diagnosing one’s current motor with a problem (even if that problem is just ‘it runs fine, it just isn’t fast enough’) and figuring out which components can be swapped out or upgraded to get your current motor to your dream motor, fast.

This can be an extremely expensive process, experts note—saying that anyone can slap a turbo onto their car, but actually taking apart the motor takes a lot of time, specialized expertise, and specialized parts.

What are the most critical motor parts involved in the process of creating a built motor? 

In a typical built engine upgrade, motor parts involved encompass the rods, the pistons, the camshafts, the springs, the valves, etc. Again, the motor parts which are swapped out are entirely dependent upon what you want the output of your built motor to be!

One of the reasons that people laud creating a high-performance built motor is simply that it isn’t a universal process, but a highly individual one that is based on the skill and investments of the owner. Almost any part of the motor is truly fair game!

And this is another reason why it’s such a respected art form: In many cases, you might argue that it’s more efficient and economical to simply buy a new, better engine in the first place! However, to postulate such a solution is to miss the point of why people build out their engines in the first place.

It isn’t only to get a great upgrade on their car—although that is one of the stated main benefits. It’s also to feel a connection to the craft and an investment in their brains, as well as in their vehicle.

There’s a reason that a man with a skillfully built motor can stand tall; he’s done something truly beautiful in the wide world of vehicle performance.

P.S. – Don’t confuse “built” and “bolt-on”.

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