Seven Steps to Keep Your Outboard Kicking
A good flush and an annual application of grease and oil are just what the doctor ordered for small engines.
If you live in a colder climate or if your boating plans include an extended hiatus, you’ll want to put your outboard engine to bed at some point. Prepping your kicker for a layup is relatively easy, and if it’s done properly, will not only lighten your workload when it’s time to get going again but will also help your engine last longer and remain free of trouble.
Begin with the fuel. Whether your engine is a two-stroke or four-stroke model, the impact of ethanol-blended fuel that’s been sitting around for much longer than 90 days can be quite profound. So Step One is to treat fresh fuel with an approved fuel stabilizer. Engine manufacturers have their own branded conditioners and stabilizers, and many general brands exist. The debate, of course, is which one is best. I’ve used STA-BIL with good results, and the manufacturer claims it works for up to 12 months. Still, I’m sticking to my 90-day limit to be on the safe side because I’ve experienced problems even with stabilized fuels that were older than that.
Add the stabilizer to your fuel tank according to the directed ratio on the label. Then you can perform two important winterizing functions simultaneously. Most small outboards today have a water flush port integrated into the lower unit. Remove the screw-in plug and insert a hose adaptor, available from your engine manufacturer. If your engine doesn’t have a flush port, pick up an engine flusher (it looks like a pair of ear muffs) at any marine-supply store and slide those over the water-intake ports on the bottom of your engine with a hose attached.
Then run the engine with the stabilizer in the fuel and the flush hose turned on. For safety’s sake, remove the propeller first. I run the engine for at least 15 to 20 minutes to ensure that the engine comes up to operating temperature and its thermostat opens, allowing water to flow through the entire cooling system to flush out any salt deposits that, over time, can be damaging. This also lets stabilized fuel circulate through the entire fuel system.
A third reason for following this procedure in this sequence is that in the case of four-stroke outboards, this will completely warm up the engine oil, which must be changed as a part of the winterizing regimen. (See “Four-Stroke Engine-Oil Maintenance,” below.)
Most manufacturers recommend that you change the lower-unit gear-case oil every 100 hours. On a small kicker engine, that could equate to years of engine operation; you be the judge, based on use. Whether changed as part of winterization or not, the oil level should at least be checked.
With the engine upright, remove the top gear-case plug. You should see gear oil slowly seep from the access hole. If not, the level may still be adequate if it’s just below the screw hole. To check, I use a matchstick or pipe cleaner inserted into the hole and tilted slightly. I’m also looking for any signs of water that’s mixed with the gear oil; it will show as a milky-white color and indicates a lower-unit seal leak that must be attended to immediately by a qualified mechanic.
If you’re going to change the oil, remember that the gear case is refilled in a rather nonintuitive way. There are two access screws to your engine’s lower unit, an upper (see photo above) and a lower. The lower access screw is found on the forward, lower end of the gear case, which is the bulbous section of the lower unit. To refill the gear case, use the manufacturer’s recommended gear oil, which can be purchased in squeeze tubes with a nozzle-type top. Insert the nozzle into the lower access hole and squeeze until oil seeps out of the upper screw hole. Next, insert and tighten the upper access screw. Then remove the nozzle from the lower screw hole and insert and tighten that screw. Make sure that both screws have O-rings on them; if the rings look crushed or worn, they should be replaced.
The next step is to lubricate the engine tilt and steering points. To do this properly can be a bit messy, so have a good supply of rags or paper towels on hand. You’re going to need them.
Water migrates into both the engine tilt and steering tubes, and you need to get it all out. With a grease gun and the appropriate fitting, pump grease into the grease fittings until all of the old grease is pushed out and all you can see is clean, new grease seeping from the pivot points. Here’s where the rags come in: Wipe off all the old grease and properly dispose of the rags.
One point needs to be made here related to the grease fittings: Some engine makers use traditional zerk fittings (see photo above; the fitting is on a typical steering-tube lubrication point), and the nozzle that comes with your grease gun will work just fine with them. Other engine makers (notably Yamaha) use a fitting that requires a needle-type device for your grease gun. These are available at just about any automotive parts store.
Also note the small wire bonding straps coming from the fitting to a bolt on the engine’s lower section. If broken—and the wire will corrode and break—they should be replaced. These help to ensure that the engine anodes are protecting the entire motor from corrosion.