What’s the worst engine you’ve experienced?


We’ve seen the good and the bad in our lives, haven’t we? And when it comes to our passion for the automobile, does anything get us more upset than a poorly performing engine?

Take the photo above, as I am (sadly) quite the fan of Ford’s fairly disappointing Essex V-6. I am painfully aware of the issues with its head-gasket-munching demeanor, but I remain firm in my convoluted logic to find appeal in this mill. Which is irrelevant when the aluminum heads and flawed gasket design take over … but what was the motor that I truly hated?

1979 vw rabbit diesel engine worst

I was but a young child in the back seat of this poor little VW product. Thanks to its diesel engine, the memories of my family’s temporary ownership of the VW Rabbit linger to this day. (A family friend wanted us to run it periodically while he was tending to family matters in India over the holidays.) I was freezing cold in a damp parking garage, realizing that perhaps a 3-to-4-year-old VW diesel wasn’t as cool as I was expecting it would be. The engine refused to fire up with my Dad behind the wheel for several minutes—an eternity, for a kid my age.

The owner had told us his Rabbit was finicky, but the frustration in my father’s eyes was hard to forget. He had some choice words for the Rabbit, words that kids aren’t supposed to hear. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when my father made a long-distance call to India about that particular VW product.

The diesel Rabbit sputtered and stalled when it was cold, behavior which was kinda terrifying with all the bigger vehicles here on the mean streets of Houston, Texas. Things fared better when it warmed up, but the engine’s 50-ish horsepower meant merging on any of the interstates was an act best reserved for the most faithful of the flock.

This was the first time I remember my clothes smelling like the fumes emanating from a tailpipe, for better or worse. To this day I wonder how long the glow plugs are supposed to last on these engines, and if this particular Rabbit needed a new set.

No matter, this question remains:

What’s the worst engine you’ve experienced?

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    1981 Chev. Citation V-6. Two of the 6 went bad/ serious misfire. I disconnected the 2 bad cylinder wires & looped them together. It didn’t miss just sputtered. It must have burned the converter out because it spit raw gas out the tail pipe. It averaged 9 mpg in this condition & performed like a snail. Finally got a new company car after harassing the fleet manager.

    I can honestly admit all the “bad” motors I’ve owned only went bad as a consequence of being owned by me. The most shameful one started turning when I didn’t take the timing belt change interval seriously.

    The absolute worst engine I’ve ever owned was the 2.8 Liter GM V6 that Chrysler/Jeep (in a fit of utter insanity) put in their 1985 Jeep Cherokee. It had no power, sucked gas like a much larger engine, and despite many repair attempts by multiple SAE Certified mechanics, the intake manifold leaked persistently from the time the Jeep was new until I finally got rid of the thing. Interestingly enough, among the best engines I’ve ever owned were the Chrysler/Jeep 4.0 straight sixes that came in the Cherokees later on.

    NorthStar V8. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, “Dual Overhead Cams” – whatever. You can get more power and better reliability (and better serviceability) from an LS or LS-related SBC. And GM even made a FWD version for the last of the SS Impalas and Monte Carlos!

    Yeah…An oil-sucking Northstar in an STS….Plenty of grunt, but it didn’t take me long to see why there was an ‘oil level’ readout in the instrument cluster. I’m not sure those Northstars weren’t 2-cycle engines 🤣.

    My worst owned was my V6 Ford 3.8 with bad head gaskets.

    Never owned another bad engine.

    The worst Quality I worked on was a Yugo. Renault, a few others.

    Worst one to work on was a BMW inline 6. It was like the engine was never intended for the car.

    As for the 2.8 V6 Chevy. I worked on a fleet of them while in school. They were best yo death at news paper route manager cars. Over loaded but only one failed and it was in the first few hundred miles.

    The one in my Fiero runs great and sound like anything but a 2.8. I my buddies runs great too. K

    1985 Mercury with the 3.8. The local dealer notified my wife and I of a recall. When I went to pick it up, the dealer told me that it had a serious “drive ability “ issue. When I asked them what it was, they said they had no idea!!
    Within a month the intake gasket was leaking and the motor had internal issues. That was at 16,000 miles. We had it rebuilt and at 22,000 it threw a rod

    I expected at least one person to hate on the 3.8, but I will defend this engine. I have an ’89 Taurus with over 375k miles and an ’88 Sable with over 108k miles, and both have been rock-solid reliable, so I guess those issues were limited to early versions. Later versions in the Windstar were even better.

    I think you lucked out on the service you have received from your 3.8L Ford V6 engine. The 3.8L in my 89 Ford Taurus blew the head gaskets at around 60K miles then shortly after that the automatic transmission failed on the same car. I asked Ford for help on the repairs even though it was out of warranty. Nothing doing! The told me it was my problem. The only Ford I have owned since is a Ranger with a SOHC 4L V6 which has been pretty good.

    The worst engine ever owned was A pontiac “Iron Duke ” four banger It constantly ate Throttle position indicators and cracked the cast iron exhaust manifold three times . All that together with a bad four speed shifter that was prone to locking, in or out of gear, caused to invoke the lemon law

    Mh parents had a 78 Oldsmobile Delta 88 diesel. The dreaded 350 diesel engine derived from the gasser engine. After about 5-6 blown head gaskets andeven one full shortblock replacement, it was finally traded off. Only good thing was GM trying to save face and all of those repairs were covered under extended warranty.

    I am a car guy and former auto mechanic and by far the worst designed and engineered engine was a Toyota 18rc , I have had experience with more than one and they all burned valves every 15,000 miles even after Toyota did a factory upgrade to “fix” the problem which it did not. I drove the car for 75,000 miles and did 5 valve jobs before I woke up and sold it for $500.00, it did have a good clock though.

    Another nightmare with the 18RC was the timing chain setup. Tensioners would disintegrate with no warning (noise) even during a low speed cruise. Instantaneous like turning the key off.

    L98 in a mint C4 Corvette. It spun a bearing at 10,000 miles and of course, being a hobby car, it was out of warranty by then. Numerous starting and sensor issues as well.

    Worst engine I ever had was a 4 cylinder Mitsubishi engine in my 1982 Dodge 400. It was just a cheap car to get me through college in the early 1990’s so it did its job. I used to joke with my friends that I could accelerate from 0 to 35 in 12 seconds.

    The mitsoshitty 2.6 “Hemi” has to rate close to the bottom of the heap. After I rebuilt it with all the updates it ran well and lasted a long time, but “out of the box” it was CRAP.
    Second worst I ever owned was the GM 3800 in my TransSport. The replacement engine did me a favour at 99990Km when the rods started shaking hands with each other

    I agree…worst engine I ever owned was the 4 cyl. Mitsubishi in a 1986 Cordia. The A/C was worse than the engine. EVERY YEAR I had to have the A/C fixed. Also once I leaned against the rear quarter panel and it dented. I had to pull the dent out with a bathroom plunger.

    1992 toyota 3.0 liter v6, blew head gasket, pitted block at the water ports. dealer said it was because i had not changed antifreeze. 92000 miles

    Worst engine I experienced: German/Ford 2.8 liter V6. Regularly destroyed rocker arm assemblies and main bearings

    My 1990 geo storm had some kind of an ecm problem that got progressively worse over the 15 years and 100k miles I owned it. It was hard to start once when it was new but it seemed as an isolated incident. As time progressed it would start fine in the coldest weather but be hard to restart when the engine was warm on cold weather. It finally got to the point where it would shut off in cold weather and not restart until it cooled off. These was very Sad since the geo was a favorite for many reasons.

    Dodge/Chrysler 2.2 in-line 4,
    Non turbo

    I had one of these unfortunate mistakes forced upon me as a
    young fellow.
    Driving home from work in rush hour traffic, the engine decided it was time to digest itself. (It had 25,000 miles on it at the time)
    The dealership accused me of ‘racing’. I laughed long and hard at the suggestion and told them I wouldn’t be doing too much racing with 88 hp.
    After begrudgingly replacing the motor under warranty, I drove it another 3 months before selling it to another unfortunate schmuck. It was the worst thing I have ever had the displeasure of having to drive. I look back now and still laugh at that ‘you must have been racing’ suggestion.

    Ah yes, the Chrysler 2.2
    As I recall memories of the early 80’s K Car with that darn 2.2 litre I feel a tension headache coming on.
    That engine had more use as a boat anchor and I remember my poor dad spent more time and dollars repairing shoddy engineering design.
    Crazy but true, when I got my licence and started to drive – I took that K Car to town and the engine actually fell out of the car!
    The front motor mount failed in the middle of an intersection.
    I guess even the car itself was sick of that engine and tried to spit it out.

    Had a 2.2 with a 5 speed in an early Voyager minivan. Had a nasty wrist pin knock (many miles when I got it) but kept on plugging along . Too bad the engine computers weren’t more durable

    I’ve been a used car dealer for over 20 years. Started cautiously with Hyundai’s and Kia’s about 12 years ago. I’ve never had a bad one. What can I say? The V6 in the Azera had to be pampered but if you were meticulous about maintenance even that one held up well. The early Optima turbo could be troublesome but the few I sold never presented a problem. All other assessments up to this point re bad drivetrains- I totally agree. Biggest disappointments over the years have been small Ford sedan 4 cylinders, Honda transmissions thru 2015, all Chrysler engines ending in .7, Mitsu 3.0 V6, and all Chevy Aveo’s. With that said this is my 2nd career and I’m so glad to be retiring soon. Modern cars and their many computers, sensors, radar systems, etc are scary expensive and unreliable. And the past year has seen the most fluctuations in values I’ve known since 9/11. What a roller coaster!

    Interesting. I have had two of the 2.2 engines, and – other than a head gasket on one at about 80,000 miles – they have been good motors. With the sticks they both had, they were even a little peppy – provided one was willing to rev them up to at least 5000 RPM.

    The GM diesels made from gas engines in the mid 80’s and the early aluminum Vega 4 bangers. What were they thinking!

    Wasn’t the Vega’s problem valve seals?
    I think Bill Mitchell showed his ignorance when the prototypes of those cars didn’t have radiators.

    I owned a 1973 Vega GT. Yes, I’m dating myself. First, and worst car I ever owned. Engine overheated due to poor cooling system design which led to scored cylinder walls in the aluminum block. It drank oil! Bad valve stem seals and “rusting away to nothing in 5 years” were icing on the cake. MotorTrend car of the year in 1971!

    Amen. Late 80s/early 90s GM diesel engines like the 6.5 (or was it a 6.2?, who cares), was a total smelly turd from beginning to end. To this day cannot seem to make myself buy a diesel, even though I know many of the new ones are great. The price and gas penalties also factor in there…

    Worst engines in poor both design and horrible execution in modern history:
    1) Olds 350 diesel (overall winner)
    2) Ford’s 6.0 diesel ( close 2nd )
    3) Ford’s 6.4 diesel
    4) Early gen Northstar V8’s
    5) Any current Hyundai/ Kia engine
    6) Any current Ford engine

    I operate a fleet of Town Cars. I’ve never retired a car due to a tired engine and I run them consistently over 500k miles.

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