Topic: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

Hi - we blew our tranny in our FWD, and are thinking about how to replace the engine/transmission/axels as one unit in our car.

Apparently we can unhook things and lift the car above the engine/trans assembly to remove it. (It's our first time doing this sort of thing).

However - we don't have a lift to do this.

There must some savvy Lemons folks out there with tips and tricks on how to do this without a lift - I'd love to hear your suggestions :-) 

(do we have to lift the car straight up? if we don't, I would think the back will rub / crush on the ground given the necessary height?  Can we remove the metal bar bolted on across the frame behind the bumper and slide it forward out? If so, what can we use as a dolly?).

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and suggestions!!

2 (edited by OnkelUdo 2021-07-27 01:59 PM)

Re: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

Here is how we did it with Saturn and we could change a whole subframe in an hour in the shop or 70 minutes at the track (some QD wiring was added):

Chock rear wheels
Jack from middle of subframe as high as it will go
Place jack stands
Place two jacks, one under each rear subframe mount and two people jack simultaneously and evenly
Add 7" plinth boxes under Jack stands
Reposition jacks so they are just rear of the sub frame mounts so the subframe can be lowered but the jacks are back-up support for the jack stands

NO ONE puts more than hand and a tool under the car in the high position so we do the disconnecting of things that require being under the car in the first lifted position...we had checklist for each member of the 4-member team.

You can now hook up the hoist and lower the subframe onto the legs of the hoist and roll it out.

Edit:  Forgot...rolling it out meant realloing it out through the wheel well sidways so the intake/valve cover could clear.  This works on 4-cyclinder but maybe not on a V motor...though we have done it (in a much longer time) with the 3800 in our racevan.

Re: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

OnkelUdo wrote:

Here is how we did it with Saturn and we could change a whole subframe in an hour in the shop or 70 minutes at the track (some QD wiring was added):

Edit:  Forgot...rolling it out meant realloing it out through the wheel well sidways so the intake/valve cover could clear.  This works on 4-cyclinder but maybe not on a V motor...though we have done it (in a much longer time) with the 3800 in our racevan.

I would add to this that you need to have loosened and re-tightened these bolts before. We tried this on our Saturn on a lift and the bolts didn't want to come out. There is a picture of me using a breaker bar with a 6' pipe attached to it loosening the sub-frame bolts.

1992 Saturn SL2 (retired) - Elmo's Revenge -  Class B winner, Heroic Fix winner x2
1969 Rover P6B 3500S(sold) - Super G-Rover - I.O.E Winner, Class C Winner
1996 Saturn SW2 - Elmo's Revenge (reborn!), Saturn SL1  Dazzleship
1974 AMC Javelin - Oscar's Trash heap - IOE,”Organizer's Choice" and "I got Screwed" award winner

Re: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

I've often pondered if we could do a swap on the saab at the track. We've pulled the assembly out a few times with a lift. It's a tight fit on our car, and I"m not sure what would happen when introducing the angles that come from not lifting straight off. We've kind of accepted that we're just not up to the task of swapping at the track. Even with a lift it's a long process.


One other way, instead of picking the whole thing up then lowering the engine/trans/subframe. You can disconnect everything, then set the subframe onto supports, remove the last bolts holding it together, then lift the car off with the engine crane. This has potential to let you lift the nose of the car higher, but adds the complication of not letting you roll the engine out because the crane legs are in the way. Not sure this is a better way.

20+ Time Loser FutilityMotorsport
Turbo Dodge Powered E36 Build
2008 Saab 9-5Aero Wagon
Retired - 1989 Dodge Daytona Shelby 2011-2015 "Lifetime Award for Lack of Achievement" IOE, 3X I got screwed, Organizer's Choice

Re: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

Very useful - thanks everyone!

TheEngineer - I would be very interested to learn more about your experience working on a SAAB, we have a 2005 93 we are attempting to do this swap on without a lift. If there are any pics you may have or tips and tricks you can share, they are much appreciated :-)

Re: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

chaase wrote:

I would add to this that you need to have loosened and re-tightened these bolts before. We tried this on our Saturn on a lift and the bolts didn't want to come out. There is a picture of me using a breaker bar with a 6' pipe attached to it loosening the sub-frame bolts.

Oh, in our case those bolts had been in and out so many times we eventually had to tack weld the driver side body nut.

Re: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

OnkelUdo wrote:
chaase wrote:

I would add to this that you need to have loosened and re-tightened these bolts before. We tried this on our Saturn on a lift and the bolts didn't want to come out. There is a picture of me using a breaker bar with a 6' pipe attached to it loosening the sub-frame bolts.

Oh, in our case those bolts had been in and out so many times we eventually had to tack weld the driver side body nut.

<sarcasm>No, that's never ever happened to us on any bolt evet</sarcasm>

1992 Saturn SL2 (retired) - Elmo's Revenge -  Class B winner, Heroic Fix winner x2
1969 Rover P6B 3500S(sold) - Super G-Rover - I.O.E Winner, Class C Winner
1996 Saturn SW2 - Elmo's Revenge (reborn!), Saturn SL1  Dazzleship
1974 AMC Javelin - Oscar's Trash heap - IOE,”Organizer's Choice" and "I got Screwed" award winner

Re: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

Passaable wrote:

Very useful - thanks everyone!

TheEngineer - I would be very interested to learn more about your experience working on a SAAB, we have a 2005 93 we are attempting to do this swap on without a lift. If there are any pics you may have or tips and tricks you can share, they are much appreciated :-)

So like I said, I've only ever done it with a lift. And I don't know what major differences there are between the 93 and 95. But it's not that hard to do, it's just time consuming. Most FWD cars you can drop the whole subframe and drive train, so steps are similar. Make sure you disconnect everything and go slow. You'll find that the car needs to lift higher than you think to clear the engine. I don't know if the 93 uses a shift rod or cables (or if you're automatic). If it has a shift rod be very careful not to catch and bend it. We did that our first time and it messed up shifting completely. We had to pull a spare from another car and swap it in because we couldn't get it bent back correctly.


The hardest part is always lining things back up during reassembly. Even with a lift and the subframe on a pallet stacker it takes a ton of time getting it lined up so the bolts go in again. I think if I was going to even attempt to do it without a lift I would get the car over the subframe and situated flat on jack stands in the air. Then I would find all thread rods the same thread as the subframe bolts and thread in an ~8in section to each bolt location, bonus points if they're tapered/pointed. Then I'd use an engine crane to pick the assembly up from the top so you could have one person lift while others guide the subframe onto those threaded rods which would align it. Then when it's 95% raised, one by one remove the threaded rods and replace with the actual bolts.


I don't have any helpful pictures, sorry. But feel free to shoot me questions here or through email. I'll do my best to share what I can, if I have specific answers.


I think if I were going to do this in a garage without a lift, I'd look at getting an overhead hoist, not an standard engine crane. One of these style:
https://www.harborfreight.com/material- … 41188.html
Because with that you can lift the nose of the car itself without having the engine crane legs in the way of sliding the drivetrain assembly out. Plus it will lift higher.

20+ Time Loser FutilityMotorsport
Turbo Dodge Powered E36 Build
2008 Saab 9-5Aero Wagon
Retired - 1989 Dodge Daytona Shelby 2011-2015 "Lifetime Award for Lack of Achievement" IOE, 3X I got screwed, Organizer's Choice

Re: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

I always like to throw a wheel (or 2 if they'll fit) on each side of the car as a fail safe. 

Google 2x4 wheel cribs and see if those interest you.  In a 16"x16" formation each board will give you 4.5" of height.  For the layer the tires sit on, make it a solid platform of 2x4s to distribute the weight.  5 boards will give you enough material for a 22.5" platform.  Less than $40 with screws per wheel.

Re: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

Bricoop wrote:

I always like to throw a wheel (or 2 if they'll fit) on each side of the car as a fail safe. 

Google 2x4 wheel cribs and see if those interest you.  In a 16"x16" formation each board will give you 4.5" of height.  For the layer the tires sit on, make it a solid platform of 2x4s to distribute the weight.  5 boards will give you enough material for a 22.5" platform.  Less than $40 with screws per wheel.

Just remember if you're dropping the whole subframe you're likely unbolting a bunch of suspension, so you can't support the car on the front wheels. You can still use them, but place them at your front pinch seam jack points instead. Put hockey pucks at the contact so you don't split the 2x4 with the narrow contact area.

20+ Time Loser FutilityMotorsport
Turbo Dodge Powered E36 Build
2008 Saab 9-5Aero Wagon
Retired - 1989 Dodge Daytona Shelby 2011-2015 "Lifetime Award for Lack of Achievement" IOE, 3X I got screwed, Organizer's Choice

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Re: Lifting a car to get a FWD eng/trans out - without a lift?

You didn’t say what kind of car?

We used to do our Honda Accord thru both top or bottom.