Shutting it Down

Get your outboard ready for its long winter’s nap.

There is no reason that twice a year I should go in to be poked, prodded, hearing and sight checked, and injected with who-knows-what-that-hasn’t-been-proved-to-work-on-this-strain-of-whatever, meaning I’ll have to return for yet another round of embarrassment. Most times I feel that if I were meant to go through that nonsense, I would have access ports for the scientific information doctors want twice a year, no matter how well you tell them you are.

Fortunately, on his patented invention, Ole Evinrude was thinking of the people who would have to work on one. Have you noticed access screws to check the gearcase? Zerk fittings for grease? Spark plug holes to see the piston/cylinder condition? Carb intake to see what’s been in-taken? A side-discharge hole. But once a year, you still take your form of propulsion to your mechanic and say, “It’s yours.”

It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the engine got constant use, but if a marine engine is used the national average of 50 hours per year, that means I’m staying active 3,600 more hours than it is, based on my 10 to 12 hours of activity a day, every day. I’m movin’. I stay limber (even my titanium parts are limber). Many parts on an engine are constantly immersed in oil: lower unit gears, four-stroke cranks and cams. But if the engine sits a week, the oil drains down and moving parts start “dry.” As soon as a two-stroke is shut down, it gets no further lubrication until it’s restarted. Both types of engines have gear lubrication … or not, if fishing line has opened a lower unit seal. Both engines are susceptible to steering seizure; to tilt motor disintegration; to block erosion from the vagaries of salt water.

Your engine isn’t going to be your man-servant or handmaiden. It truly doesn’t care about you. It will do your bidding only if you take care of it — not only when you’re using it, but also when you’re not using it! Take a look at some of the things you can do in the fall, the spring and year round to keep your engine running smoothly with a minimum of drama.


↦ The last tank of fuel for the season has to have a great stabilizer/cleaner, such as SeaFoam, in it, and the engine has to run at least an hour on that mix. Then fog the engine’s internals with thin fogging oil until the engine quits. Don’t remove the plugs to add oil to the cylinders — it ends up puddling at the bottom of the cylinder. If your engine is carbureted, drain the carburetor bowls. If it’s fuel injected, it’s an air-tight system that should be OK over the winter.

↦ After the engine has cooled, drain the gearcase of the season’s oil. This is when you find out if there’s water intrusion into the oil and can take corrective action before any expensive parts are ruined. If it looks like oil, refill it with fresh.

↦ If it’s a four-stroke, change the oil and filter.

↦ If the steering has been getting sticky, that won’t be a problem in the spring: it’ll be seized, unless you remove the steering ram, grind out the rust and reinstall the steering system.

↦ If you can easily access it, remove the thermostat and clean it by boiling it in a solution of vinegar and water to ease out the corrosion. Look at the thermostat closely. If anything looks as though it could break soon, replace the thermostat — and be ready to pay $50+ per thermostat.

↦ If it has a grease fitting, grease whatever the fitting is attached to.

↦ Put a tiny bit of tape over the “pee hole” so mud daubers don’t build. Trust me, they do. I don’t know how.


↦ Remove the engine cover, paying close attention to new birds’ nests, mud dauber homes, and errant warm black snakes (no, I wouldn’t lie). None will harm you, unless you’re susceptible to heart attacks.

↦ Get rid of the varmints and nests before attempting to start the engine. A loose dauber nest is equal to throwing a handful of sand into the intake.

↦ Check for any petroleum leaks around the prop. The most frequent problem I hear is about unburned exhaust, which leaves black liquid residue. You don’t want to see what you put in last fall, or oil that’s gray or creamy.

↦ If it’s been a couple of years since you replaced the water pump, take one of those miserable spring days, drop the lower unit, and with the help of a SELOC manual, change the water pump. Or call me and I’ll walk you through the process. All I’m doing is catching up on the sleep I’m getting ready to lose in the summer, so a little chitchat won’t hurt.

↦ Change any water separator or fuel filters, and make sure they will hold their prime.

↦ Two stroke? Change the plugs. Four stroke? Leave ’em be, unless you have thousands of hours on the engine.