You Can Do It

My friends are the absolute best. As I was recuperating from knee-replacement surgery, my “pal” Mike stopped by to show me his new Mercedes AMG. He didn’t mention his car-payment number, but he started rattling off performance numbers, which were a little less dramatic than my 289CID Ford-engine-powered Toyota. I brought that to his attention. In a snit, he opened the hood — and there was a magnificent sheet of plastic, bolted in side-to-side. Supposedly there was an engine under there. My guess was that it takes as long to remove the laminate as it does to yank the engine from my Toyota. It’s tough to be arrogant if you can’t see what you’re being arrogant about!

Sadly, if you remove your outboard’s engine cover, you’ll understand what I just wrote about the AMG: If there’s anything that is part of the operational system that might appear on an early-morning TV ad for 800-LET-US-SUE, it’s covered by plastic and bolts. Sorry, guys, you’ve been emasculated. However, since Mother Nature isn’t a guy, there are parts of your engine that are exposed where She attacks.

You don’t have to be a gearhead to own an outboard, but there are some basic maintenance issues you should understand if you want to provide a little TLC to your powerplant. Here are the top five.

1. I can’t stress enough the importance — every spring, before using the engine — of surveying the entire powerhead and removing mud dauber (nonlethal wasps) nests. Any nests you find, carefully break off, toss overboard and vacuum the residue. If you have a four-stroke with the timing belt on top of the block, take a peek to see if there are any nests up there. Most covers are designed to pop off or, at most, have two bolts holding them. See if there are any bird nests or dauber nests in the engine cover itself. Anything the factory did not put on that engine will destroy the engine when it breaks loose: Dauber nests near the carburetors or airbox will go straight into the induction area and replace the gas and oil that are supposed to lubricate the pistons. A mud dauber nest by the timing belt will invariably cause the engine to jump timing and cause the valves to interfere (that’s a euphemism!) with the pistons. Remove any bird nests and put everything back just as you found it.

2. The remote control cables terminate at the engine, where salt water is the obvious villain. Any encrusting of salt where the shift and throttle cables operate will slow the reaction time of the engine. This may be insignificant — e.g., a slightly higher idle RPM. It may be more significant — e.g., a shifter that doesn’t want to return to neutral as you approach a pier; a sticky shift-interrupter switch that keeps the engine running on only half its cylinders; or an oil injection pump that won’t open, creating a lean operating condition or no throttle response.

3. Follow hoses and tubes to their termini. If you see that salt water has oozed between the hose and the connection, remove the hose and the clamp, clean off the corrosion from both the engine and the hose, apply a good gasket sealer and reinstall with a new clamp. You don’t need water running amok in an engine that runs on gasoline and air.

4. Remote control cables are pretty simple, but it’s their simplicity that makes them work. At the very center is a stainless wire. It’s covered by a plastic sleeve. That’s covered with a stabilizing wire sheath, normally wound clockwise. And outside of that is a protective plastic sheath. Sometimes, due to turning or tilting, the outside cover starts to crack. Then UV rays take over and exacerbate the problem. Once the spiral sheath under the plastic is exposed, it begins to rust. When it rusts, it breaks and separates. When it does that, the internal shift/throttle cable loses its external pinning, and proper operation of the engine is impossible. This normally happens as you approach a pier, your family all aboard, in-laws on the pier. You cannot repair cables. When you see them begin to deteriorate, replace them or have them replaced by a qualified tech. They are a safety item.

5. Steering: Twice a month, I hear, “Well, it was a little hard to steer last fall, so I shot some WD-40 on it and figured it would be OK this spring.” Everybody’s words are almost identical, so I figure there’s a script floating around. For most applications, there are two types of steering: mechanical or hydraulic. Most hydraulic systems develop a leak back at the piston in front of the engine, caused by corrosion on the Z-arms where they attach to the engine. Mechanical steering, where a stainless rod goes back and forth through a tube integral to the engine, sticks and seizes when rust builds up on the inside of the tube and starts squeezing down on the stainless ram. Most repairs can be effected for a relative pittance by a tech who knows what he’s doing. If you’d prefer to spend in the neighborhood of the GNP of Mozambique, crank down hard on that steering wheel until it spins freely and the engine still won’t move! I’ll be awaiting your call.