We’ve talked about engine installation tools previously, but this time around we’ll zoom in on engine leveling or tilter tools. There are all sorts of examples out there. Most install by way of chains to the ends of the cylinder heads, though a few bolt directly to the carburetor studs on the intake plenum.

Fair enough. But there are a few folks out there who are wary of the tools that use four carb studs to suspend what could amount to 1,000+ pounds of engine and transmission.

Engine Tilters, Aluminum Thread & Fastener Strength

In truth you won’t exceed the ultimate tensile strength of even one 5/16 inch carb stud in this application. A single 5/16 inch coarse thread, grade 2 fastener has a typical tensile strength figure of 4,400 pounds.

If a 3/8 inch fastener is used at the ends of the cylinder heads (as shown in this article), the load will be shear. Shear is approximately 60% of tensile. An equivalent single 3/8 inch grade 2 fastener mounted in shear can support approximately 3,840 pounds. But what you don’t know is the integrity of the thread(s) in an aluminum intake manifold—keeping in mind the amount of carb stud thread that passes through the intake too.

That’s what makes some folks nervous.

And of course, if you have a sheet metal intake, there’s no way you’re going to risk damage to it by using carb studs as a lift point. FYI, I have one of those carb plate lift/installation tools and I’m just more comfortable lifting an engine and transmission in and out of my car with four 3/8 inch fasteners run into the ends of the cylinder head.

Bottom line here is, there’s more fastener thread in the heads than there is in the intake plenum. The tensile strength on a single ARP 3/8 inch coarse thread stainless steel bolt (as shown in the photos) exceeds a grade 8 fastener at 9,300 pounds or approximately 5,580 pounds in shear. Hence my comfort zone rationale. You might be the same.

Want to really get into the weeds on engine fasteners? Check this out: Aww Nuts! (And Bolts. And Studs.) – Understanding Engine Fastener Types & Materials

(Image/Wayne Scraba)

Back to Engine Tilting Tools

The OTC Tools example used in this article is one I recently purchased: part number OTC-4305. It has an advertised load limit of 1,500 pounds—more than sufficient to lift and tilt an iron Chevy big block along with a Turbo 400 transmission. In order to use it effectively, the carburetor and distributor (and most likely, the thermostat housing) should be removed.

rear end of big block chevy v8 engine with chain engine lifter plate installed
Here’s the setup at the back of the engine. You’ll note I’ve removed the distributor, carburetor and thermostat housing. This is all in the interest of saving parts and not having anything hang up during the install. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

The reason is, these pieces get in the way of the chains. Plus, when removing or installing an engine, I always like to keep the distributor out of the equation. That way, I don’t have to worry about whacking the firewall or hooking on it during the process. As an added bonus, it’s easier on distributor caps.

On the nose of the engine, I retained the “L” brackets. Here, they’re mounted in shear, fastened with a couple of 3/8 inch ARP bolts. (Image/Wayne Scraba)

When you use the tool this way, the chains should prove to be the right length. FYI, OTC recommends the chains be mounted no more than 45 degrees from the head to the beam.

At the back of the engine, the “L” brackets would likely foul the firewall. I wasn’t excited about that, so I decided to slice off part of them. I clamped each of them in a vice and used a cut-off wheel to slice through it. (Image/Wayne Scraba)

One thing I did with my setup is modify the chain “L” brackets at the rear (bellhousing side). Since I prefer to lift at the ends of the heads, the rearward “L” brackets can easily hang up on the firewall. By slicing the protruding end of the chain hooks, it’s easy to get the engine into place.

This is what the modified bracket looks like, attached to the cylinder head. (Image/Wayne Scraba)

All of the available (non-heavy duty) tilters on SummitRacing.com are designed with adjustable chain locations on the beam. Typically, there are three sets of holes in one end. This allows you to position the tilter for anything from a V6 to a small block to a big block.

You can see the three adjustment holes for various engines here. Most of the regular-duty tilting tools use a similar adjustment. The clevis pin on the chain simply unscrews and you can move the links. (Image/Wayne Scraba)

Different levelers/tilters use different threads. Some are equipped with Acme threads (with a flat apex and valley). Others are coarse or fine standard thread. You’ll find that levelers with fine(r) threads can provide for more precise adjustment. No secret I’m sure.

In order to make life easier on you, be sure to lubricate the threads. I use a liberal amount of AN hose assembly oil on mine, simply because it works, I have it on hand and application is easy. EP grease is another option. (Image/Wayne Scraba)

When using any tilting tool, be absolutely positive to use a lubricant on the crank screw threads. While the Acme threads used on some tools are pretty robust and pretty easy to work with, no thread works as slick as it does when lubricated. OTC recommends an extreme pressure lube for the job. I just use a squirt bottle filled with AN fastener assembly lube on the threads (because I have it handy and it’s easy to use). Cranking will prove to be a whole bunch easier.

Something to consider are these two bearings. One found on the front of the screw and one found on the back. (Image/Wayne Scraba)

Speaking of cranks: Some load tilters such as the OTC model shown here have bearings on each end of the screw shaft. This, along with lubricating the crank screw threads allows you to change the angle easily while the tool is loaded.

Not all tilters operate on bearings. You’ll find they’re much easier to use if they’re bearing equipped. (Image/Wayne Scraba)

Some tools also have cranks designed to pivot so that it can clear the hoist while at an angle. Others also have a hex that allows you to use an electric or air ratchet (or an impact or a ratchet or even a cordless drill) to adjust the angle.

This is the articulated handle found on the OTC tool. When the engine is up at a big angle, this feature allows you to work the handle easily. Some tools have a hex on at least one end. That feature allows you to use a drill or impact driver or ratchet to turn the screw. (Image/Wayne Scraba)

As far as real-world use goes, almost everyone I’ve met who has a tilter claims they’ll never go back to any other device. They’re especially useful for installing big, long engine and transmission assemblies. They’ll work in every possible application, aside from those with long cowls that overhang the engine (1993-2002 Chevy and Pontiac F-bodies and later model Ford pickups come to mind). Click over to SummitRacing.com and you’ll find an engine tilter for virtually every pocketbook.

Level playing field? No doubt. And no more pinched fingers either.

Author: Wayne Scraba

Wayne Scraba is a diehard car guy and regular contributor to OnAllCylinders. He’s owned his own speed shop, built race cars, street rods, and custom motorcycles, and restored muscle cars. He’s authored five how-to books and written over 4,500 tech articles that have appeared in sixty different high performance automotive, motorcycle and aviation magazines worldwide.