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Tips for buying a used outboard
Author: Stuart Buckingham Date Posted:28 February 2018
One of the biggest misconceptions that people have is that an outboard with good compression on the block is in excellent order. This is only a partial truth. An outboard does not only consist of the engine block, a damaged gearbox or trim and tilt unit can be an expensive exercise to repair or replace and can quite easily cost you thousands of dollars.
There are many things to consider when purchasing a used outboard. So, here are a few things you can check that might help with your decision:
1. Do a compression test. An outboard can have great compression, meaning the rings and cylinder walls are ok, but have damage to the bearings, connecting rods, crankshaft and other internal components. I have heard nightmare stories of people buying used outboards that have perfect compression but when they run the engine it sounds like a chaff cutter!
2. Run the engine. Preferably, if it's on a boat, down at the boat ramp or take it for a drive and see how it performs. Is it hard to start? Does it idle ok? Does it run smoothly or are there odd vibrations or sounds that just don't sound right?
3. Check the gearbox oil. If the oil is milky in colour then it's likely the seals are leaking water into the gearbox. If it's black, then it could be due for an oil change. If it's clean and translucent, then it's probably just been replaced but you want to make sure the oil has been replaced as part of routine maintenance and not to hide a problem. If it were me, I'd be trying to drain the oil and then use a pressure and vacuum on the gearbox to see if the seals are holding up as they should be. If you or the owner are not comfortable doing this, then you may need to employ the services of a qualified marine technician.
4. Check the trim & tilt unit seals and operation. This is quite easily done by looking around the trim and tilt rods and inspecting for leaking trim and tilt fluid. You also want to trim the unit up and down and make sure there are no shudders and that the trim and tilt can hold the engine up without leaking down.
5. Check engine oil. If you're buying a 4 stroke then, just like a car, you want to check the colour of the engine oil. It should be clean and translucent. If it smells burnt and horrible like the coffee from some dodgy roadhouse you may want to check things a bit further.
6. Service History. Just like buying a car, you really want to know if the outboard has been looked after. Checking the service history through the owner’s receipts should be able to tell you how much love the outboard has received. If the owner hasn't kept the receipts but has had it serviced, then contact the workshop directly and they may be able to assist you with any information.
7. Engine Hours. It's not the ‘be all and end all’ of buying a used outboard but engine hours can be important. I'd be remiss to say that an engine with 1600 hours compared to one with 16 hours was as equally valuable. Lower engine hours generally mean the engine has done less work and ‘theoretically’ should have a longer life span than one with high hours. There are exceptions to the rule though, as an engine with high hours that has followed a strict maintenance schedule may be in better condition than a lower hour engine that hasn't followed a service schedule.
So just remember, there's a bit more to examining a used outboard than just checking the compression. If you're not mechanically inclined, then employ the services of a qualified marine technician to do a pre-purchase inspection. What may cost you in the short term, may certainly save you in the long run.
MercuryBy: John Kershaw on 1 March 2018Thanks for your advice much appreciated