How to box heads for shipping


We are happy to work with overseas customers, but we no longer arrange international shipping. The paperwork has become too time consuming for us. It didn’t used to be this way. There are now several fairly priced, reputable international forwarding providers that make the process easy for all of us and are well worth the fee they charge. Aside from handling all the customs forms, these companies are great at finding the most affordable shipping options. A popular one that quite a few of our international customers have used is Bonvu Package & Freight Forwarding


This article was originally written with Porsche M96 & M97 heads in mind, but the information applies to most heads.

Before I go any further I want to explain the reason for the tone of the first few paragraphs. I don’t mean to sound snippy, but we are a two man show.  We don’t have a shipping department with a dedicated Mr. Shippy whose sole job it is to unpack and repack heads for shipping. It’s just me (Len Hoffman) and Matt Lane and we are old guys who don’t enjoy the shipping side of things. Sometimes it can be downright frustrating. So years ago we developed a simple, easy to construct packaging blueprint that ensures your heads will arrive intact and be a snap to unpack and repack when our work with them is done. We have yet to see a single instance of even minor damage when this simple blueprint is followed, even in overseas shipping.

Keep in mind that we intend to reuse your boxes for return shipping. If we can’t reuse them and have to repack your heads a charge of 50.00/head will be applied, so remember to wrap oily heads in heavy plastic garbage bags. DO NOT WRAP HEADS IN PLASTIC WRAP. It’s difficult to unwrap and makes us ornery.

If you don’t follow our blueprint and develop some elaborate packing scheme that takes more time to unpack a minimum fee of 50.00 will be applied. Furthermore, we reserve the right to add additional fees if you pack your heads in such a complex way that we lose our minds unravelling some insane Rubic’s Cube puzzle just to get them unpacked. No one needs that.   

IF YOU PACK YOUR HEADS IN PEANUTS A 100.00 FEE WILL BE APPLIED. WE HATE THEM LIKE THE PLAGUE. Furthermomre, if the peanuts are part of a twisted scheme to make unpacking your heads a riddle (as mentioned in the previous paragraph) we may just sent them back, Freight C.O.D. 

DO NOT USE BUBBLE WRAP INSTEAD OF FOAM! The bubbles pop from the weight of the head and then you have no padding. It’s okay to line the box in foam as described below and wrap the head in bubble wrap, but do not rely solely on bubble wrap to protect your head.

Assume that your package is going to be handled by large angry people and do not cut corners with packaging. We see it all the time and have the photos to prove it. If we deem a package to be unsafe for return shipping, we will supply the materials and labor to pack most heads as described in this article at a cost of $50.00/box. 

The head needs to be drained of oil, but no further cleaning is required. Into each M96/97 head (and all OHC heads with cam bearing caps) bolt the cam bearing caps in position (no cams), place the lifter housing in position with a couple of bolts, bolt the valve cover in place (4 bolts are enough for that) and slip each head in a heavy plastic garbage bag. We do not need any other parts, including the cams, unless otherwise discussed.

Use one box for each head. One box with both heads is too heavy and increases the chances of damage from mishandling. The absolute smallest size suitable for M96/97 heads is 23″ x 16″ x 12″. This is the minimum size required to line all sides with 1 1/2″ of Styrofoam. The boxes we use measure  24″ x 18″ x 12″. HEADS POORLY BOXED OR SENT IN BOXES SMALLER THAN THE MINIMUM SIZE LISTED WILL BE RE-BOXED AT A FEE OF 50.00/HEAD.

DO NOT USE PLASTIC TOTES. They tend to crack when dropped and in some cases shatter. We have received quite a few heads shipped in damaged plastic totes. In one case the entire corner of a tote broke off and the head was sticking out.   

Lowes & Home Depot sell quality cardboard boxes and packages of white pre-cut insulation panels that are 3/4″ thick. These panels are easy to work with and have excellent cushioning and crush characteristics, but you can use any style of insulation panels as long as they add up to a minimum of 1 1/2″ thickness on all sides and top and bottom. Keep in mind that exposed studs and any sharp features can poke through the foam. A couple of layers of cardboard between exposed studs and foam are a good idea. 

Click to view Home Depot Foam

Click to view Lowes Foam

These are a great, affordable way to line the top, bottom and sides of a cardboard box. 

We put at least three layers of foam on the bottom, and line the sides and top with at least two layers. 

Be sure to leave a little crush room in the box for the sides to push in without damaging the head, in case the box is mishandled. If there’s no extra space in the box, then the sides can be shoved in and damage the head. A couple of inches of crush room works well. We fill those spaces with soft material like butcher paper, crumpled newspaper, old UPS padded envelopes, etc to keep the head from sloshing around. The goal is to get the head roughly centered in the box. Having more padding on the bottom of the box is good as that’s the side it’s mostly going to get dropped on, but it can get dropped on its top so don’t scrimp up top.  

When you’re ready, we can e-mail you UPS return labels. Since we ship a lot we get discounts that can save you $$$ over the UPS store price. Once you have the labels on the boxes just take them to a UPS store or hand them to a driver. To take advantage of this free service we need the address you want the heads returned to when the work is completed and the e-mail addy you want the label sent to.

Here’s a properly boxed Porsche M96 head.

And here’s a pair of 912 heads. Note how centered they are in the box with a layer of foam between them. 

And here’s what can go wrong if packing is given quick thrift. Two heads, one little box, nothing but shredded cardboard for packing. The box was too small to safely ship one head, but somehow two were forced in. Both heads are a total loss. One is actually broken in two. Its mate is very nearly in two pieces. Such a shame and so avoidable.

This is an extreme example of terminal damage, but we often see poor packaging cause repairable damage that adds to the cost of the job.

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