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Old 06-07-2002
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Assessing Engine Wear

We are looking at a sailboat with a Perkins engine that has 3,400 hours on it. It is a 50 horsepower. Is that a lot of hours for a 1990 sailboat?

Sue & Larry respond:
On our last boat, Safari, we accumulated just over 3,000 engine hours on the Perkins M-80T after cruising for three years. When we sold her, the engine looked, and performed as new. But we know of other engines that have needed to be rebuilt after hardly 500 hours of use.

Engine hours provide only an indication of the running time of an engine. There are many other things you should look at in evaluating whether an engine is a good one or a bad one. First, ask to see the maintenance records. Was the oil changed regularly with a proper notation of same in writing? If there's no written record, there's probably been improper maintenance. Is the engine room clean? Is the oil clean and free of water? Does the engine smoke excessively on a cold start up? Does the owner keep spare filters and belts on board? Is the trouble-shooting section of the owner's manual smudged with oil and pages well worn?

If the engine passes the above preliminary inspection and you are still serious about this boat, we think it's a good idea to hire a mechanic to perform an engine survey in addition to hiring your marine surveyor. The mechanic will likely check compression and ignition, ensure operating temperatures are within the normal tolerances, confirm the alignment of the engine, and he'll also be able to interpret subtle noises, vibrations, and other characteristics correctly. This may cost you several hundred dollars in addition to a marine surveyor, but it sure beats a surprise multi-thousand dollar re-build job, or a new engine six months down the road.

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