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Old 03-26-1999
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Engine Checkup

Before you begin the season, invest a few hours of inspection and preventative maintenance in the auxiliary. It will pay off big dividends as the season unfolds. Here's a quick rundown of those areas deserving attention.


This 20-year-old Perkins diesel has received excellent care.

Engine leaks
One little engine leak can quickly become one big engine leak. Stopping an engine leak when it's small is crucial. This is especially true in warm salt-water environments. Hot salt water is very corrosive and causes rust quickly.

Poke around the engine and look for drips of salt water, antifreeze, oil or transmission fluid. With a clean white rag, wipe the underside of the oil pan. This will tell you if you have some leakage. Common area of minor oil leaks are at the pan gasket, the valve cover gasket and the oil filter.

Now, wiggle the hoses. Look for water or coolant spurting through hose cracks or at soft spots, and look for loose connections. Areas most prone to coolant leaks are the salt-water pump, coolant re-circulating pump at the front of the engine, connections to the hot water heater, and engine or transmission heat exchangers.

Rust build-up


This owner replaces hoses and clamps without cleaning off corrosion from earlier leaks.
Engine rust is insidious and makes future maintenance more difficult. It can spread rapidly. Clean rusty areas with a de-greaser such as Gunk. Chip off large flakes or scale with a scraper or sharp tool. Then follow by sanding with sandpaper till you have bare metal-an interesting fingertip exercise in tight places. Naval Jelly or a de-rusting spray such as Ospho will help to remove and neutralize remaining surface rust. When you have finished this preparation, spray paint with a high-temperature engine paint. Match the engine color as closely as possible.

Grease, rust and loose wiring will make working on this engine difficult.

If the rusted part is impossible to access or if the corrosion is severe, you might consider removing it from the engine and having it professionally sanded. Many metal and engine shops can sandblast parts down to bare metal.

Replace any engine zincs now.

Oil replacement
Engines love clean oil. Pull the dipstick and check the level of the oil. An over-full crankcase is often the first sign of something amiss. Note the color and consistency. If it has a muddy, milky appearance-often with bubbles or a sticky feel-water or antifreeze may well be present in the oil. Sometimes it will have an odd odor. Any foreign fluids in the crankcase require immediate attention.

Even if the lube oil and filter were changed prior to lay-up (as they should have been), change the oil again before starting the season. No need to replace the filter.

The transmission is often neglected. Remember: Changing the fluid regularly prolongs transmission life. Perform the same inspection as above for fluid level and contaminants. Dark brown or black transmission fluid with a pungent, burned smell indicates slipping clutch plates.

The all-important coolant
Regardless of engine hours, the antifreeze/water mix should be changed every second year Coolant level should be checked frequently during the season, topped up if necessary. If the coolant seems to be persistently diminishing, check for possible leaks. The coolant should be cool green with no floating scum floating. From time to time, it's a good idea to check the header tank cap and its gasket. A replacement radiator cap from an automotive store is inexpensive.

Fuel filters
Again, fuel filters should have been replaced and the tanks topped before the fall lay-up. If this was not done, drain some fuel into a glass jar, allow it to settle and then inspect it for water contamination. Change the water separating filter and final filter. For fuel that has been sitting idle, try an additive with water dispersants, anti-gelling properties, biocides and a cetane booster. You can find these additives at any truckstop.

Air filters
Clean the air filter at least once each season. If it's an old-fashioned oil-bath type, dump the old oil, wipe down completely and replace the oil.

Many yards cover or plug the exhaust outlet to prevent insects, moisture and blowing dirt from entering, so check this and remove any blockage.

The engine belts
Look for wear on belts. If the wear appears to be uneven or if it's cracked, glazed or no longer flexible, replace the belt. Make sure to check the belt tension. Do this before the season

This belt is too loose and will cause wear to itself and the alternator.
starts and make it part of a regular routine on the boat. Squealing, especially on cold engine start-up, usually indicates loose belts. When pushing with your hand, the belt should deflect no more than 1/4 to 3/8 inch. Overly tightened belts, however, will result in rapid bearing-wear in the water-distribution pump and alternator.

The electrical concerns
Turn the key switch to ON without starting the engine. Alarms should sound and the gauges should register off their pegs. Go over the wiring, looking for corroded terminals or chafe on insulation. Wires lying against the alternator case or exhaust manifold are a potential fire hazard.

Engine controls
Move the throttle and shift levers. Test the shift disengagement button on a single lever control unit. If the levers do not work easily and smoothly, disconnect the cables from both the engine and control head and try again. Cleaning and oiling the control head may solve sticky operation, but the problem usually lies in the cables. Running penetrating oil down the cable sheaths may correct this. If it doesn't, cable replacement is usually inexpensive. If the diesel is shut down manually, don't neglect the engine-stop cable.

Ensure that the seacock is open and fire away. You're set to go.

Photographs by Kathy Barron

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