Nothing lasts forever. Everything will face its end someday, but why today? The sea's calm, the sun's smiling, and life is good.
Why today? Why not. After all, you never know the intentions of the grim reaper, and this could be the day he has decided to take a swing at your outboard motor. That's right. As you read this, your motor could be on the verge of an expensive breakdown, and you wouldn't have a clue.
But your outboard doesn't have to suffer an untimely demise. With the proper TLC, any motor can last almost indefinitely. And that's only one of the lessons we learned during a visit to Outboard Recycle Parts and Marine (ORPM) in Semmes, Alabama. At this motor mortuary on the wrong side of the tracks near Mobile, busted engines arrive by the truckload every day. Hundreds of them are hung out to dry on open-air racks like sides of beef in a packing house. Eventually, each carcass is dissected and any useful parts are salvaged.
ORPM's business is reincarnation-refurbishing thousands of dead powerheads and gearcases every year so they can fish, ski, and cruise again. So we decided to dig into the guts and gore lying around at ORPM to learn what you can do to spare your outboard from such a cruel fate.
CASE 1: DEATH BY GARROTE
How could 20-pound test fishing line sink a mighty outboard? Neglect. A stray piece of line snags the gap between the propeller and gearcase. It works deeper into the crevice, then begins coiling randomly around the shaft inside. A few thousand rpm later and the line is a tangled mess. Water and exhaust pressure force this intruder into contact with the lip seal. The subsequent abrasion destroys the seal, resulting in a total loss of lubricant. The gears and bearings inside grind themselves to smithereens.
This tragedy is easily avoided. ORPM's owner Steve Chambless says, "Slipping the prop off the shaft once a month in salt water or annually in fresh water could reveal a snagged fishing line before it's done its dirty work. But just as important, greasing the shaft periodically will keep corrosion from seizing the prop's hub permanently onto the shaft. When that happens, the prop has to be separated from its hub with a puller, and the hub has to be removed with a chisel. That's a $200 repair."
A cursory inspection of the gearcase's lubricant supply every third outing will divulge both discoloration (indicating water contamination) and leakage (no lube drips out when the drain screw is loosened). It's the equivalent of checking your car engine's dipstick every now and then.
Factory service procedures call for fresh gear lube in the fall to make sure that water contamination doesn't freeze and damage the gearcase. To that sound advice, Chambless adds this sensible tip: "Those who live in cold climates should make sure their outboard is stored for the winter with the engine trimmed down. We occasionally see gearcases destroyed by freeze cracks merely because water couldn't drain out."