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Common Mechanical Failures of Outboard Motors

Blog | 22 June 2018

Don’t be left floating hopelessly on a lake. Without your outboard motor, you’re left having to call for help on your VHF marine radio. The weekend outing is a bust. Wouldn’t things go better if you knew the common mechanical failures to expect? Put the VHF handset down, think for a moment, and put your best outboard motor repair eyeglasses on for the work ahead.

The Mechanically Well-Prepared Skipper 

If you don’t wear eyeglasses, skip that tip and move on to the real work. Like a poorly tuned car, your boat is losing power. The outboard motor is sputtering and surging. What’s going on here? In all likelihood, the fuel filter is clogged. Alternatively, the engine plugs are fouled. After making sure you’re not out of fuel, turn everything off, and pull the filter. Have you brought out a spare? If not, clean it with an approved solvent, or soak the clogged part in soapy water. For those fouled plugs, you’ll need replacements. Fluid cleaners are an option, but spark plugs are inexpensive, so you should really have a handful of spares. In other words, be prepared.

Fixing Overheating Issues 

First of all, you’ll want to get under the hood and check for obvious problems. Is there a broken belt? Flexible belts age and experience wear. Depending on the engine manufacturer, the belt could be driving an alternator or water pump. Either way, you won’t get far without a working belt. The use of a jury-rigged belt may get you back to shore during an emergency. Ideally, however, you should have several spare belts on hand. If that’s not the problem, know the location of your water intake. Outboard engines don’t usually install radiators. To solve that problem, they draw water directly from around the boat. If the intake is clogged by seaweed, then the cooling medium can’t reach the engine.

Mechanical problems start with fuel filters and move deeper. Carburetter problems were common on older engines, but direct injection models have mostly eliminated that failure cause. But what if the mechanical failure isn’t under the engine cowling? The engine is running rough, and every component checks out perfectly. Have you been in shallow waters? Have you hit a rock or other obstruction? With a little luck, you’re looking at a seaweed jam or a short length of fishing line, and a repair engineer can clear the knotty strip. For a worst-case scenario, however, the propeller is damaged. It’s gouged and creating propulsion imbalance. Carry a spare prop.

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