How Long Do Outboard Motors Last?


Used boats for sale are extremely common, and as they get older, it is hard for a buyer or owner to tell how long their motor has left. If you bought a used boat, and get it serviced it could last a very long time. People tend to wonder how long their outboard motor will actually last them without having to get a major service, or having to replace it. You have to keep in mind that as technology advances, so does the lifespan of motors and other systems. So a 1978 outboard motor, might not last as long as a 2000 outboard motor because it was built with different quality parts, and craftsmanship.

So how long does a typical outboard motor last? An outboard motor that has had yearly maintenance and winterization done to it every year, should last you about 7 years, or roughly 1500 – 2000 operating hours before it will need a major overhaul. If you have not had maintenance done, and did not take care of your motor in the off season, you can expect that you will only get a max of 1000 hours before having to get a major service, or have to replace the motor. Keep in mind that this is a rough estimate, and that you do not have to get a major service right at 2000 hours, but it is always good to get a tune-up and have a mechanic look at it every year to keep it running in tip top shape.

Types Of Problems

Outboard motors are just like any other motor, in that they will all have some sort of problem eventually. If you run it out of oil, or you over rev the engine for too long, or just misuse the motor, it will break. Below are some normal problems that a person can expect to encounter when dealing with an outboard motor.

  • Knocking: Knocking is never a good sign, and usually means it could be rods, a crankshaft, or worse. Turn the engine off and take it in.
  • Excessive Smoke: Black smoke is usually from a restricted air supply, or carburetor. Blue smoke is because it is burning engine oil, and white smoke is because of water vapor being burned.
  • Burning Oil Quickly: If you losing oil too quickly, it is most likely a leak somewhere, and you have the chance of motor seize.
  • Compression Loss: This is typically from a pressure leak in the cylinder, caused by damage to a ring.
  • Using Too Much Fuel: Using too much fuel could mean that the carburetor is off, and is burning too much fuel, or there is a fuel leak.
  • Oil Sludge: If your oil looks like sludge, you have waited too long to change the oil, and now your engine is not being lubricated, so you should shut off the motor, and do an oil change.

Should You Rebuild Or Buy New?

If your boat motor dies, you really only have two options, rebuild it, or buy a new one. This can be an extremely tough decision, but ultimately it comes down to two factors. The first is how much you love the motor you were already using. If you have used that motor in your boat, and just love how it handles, than it might lean you to having it rebuilt because you know all of it’s quirks. The second is always money, and how much you can actually afford to spend. The average cost of rebuilding an outboard motor can range from $2500 to $4500 depending on the motor, and the size. The average cost of buying a new outboard motor can range from $3000 to upwards of $90,000 depending on the size and model motor you want. You can find deals and sales, so it might be worth it to just replace the motor to a new one.

Does Winterizing Help?

While maintenance will help the life of your motor significantly, winterizing your boat motor will also help keep it going for extra years. When you are done using your boat for the year, the process of winterizing your engine is fairly simple, and will help with longevity of the motor. You will need to drain all the gas, and put additives in to keep it from getting all gunked up, and turning any extra fuel into lacquer. Doing this every year will make sure that your motor is always lubricated, and there are no foreign particles that might harm the motor.

Does 2 Stroke Or 4 Stroke Matter?

When it comes to motors, the difference between 2 stroke and 4 stroke will matter. A 4 stroke motor has more moving parts, and is normally a heavier, more complicated engine than a 2 stroke is. This means that rebuilding them is going to cost you a bit more money than a 2 stroke would be. The one upside is that 4 stroke motors are generally more reliable and longer lasting than a 2 stroke is. Even though a 2 stroke is lighter and usually cheaper, you will end up having to get a major overhaul done to it before you would a 4 stroke. In our opinion, a 4 stroke motor is the way to go for reliability and longevity.

Diesel Or Gas Engines

Some boats will have a choice of having a diesel engine, or a gas engine. In the research we have done, it was found that diesel motors will run smoother, and last a lot longer than a normal gas engine by many years, or hours. As long as you do the maintenance on your diesel motor, it can last two or three times longer than your typical gas engine for longevity. We could not find any additional costs associated with having either one rebuilt, so I do not think money will be a huge deal breaker. It all comes down to personal preference here.

Does Brand Matter?

Some people say that Yamaha is better, and some people say that Honda engines are better for boats, but does it really matter? In todays technology, it really does not matter what brand you buy for longevity and maintenance. It is more about personal preference and choice when picking a motor. If you grew up on Honda motors, it might be good to stay with a brand you know and love. If you are not married to a brand at all, you can probably get away with going to whatever is on sale, but still known. Do not just buy a no name engine because finding parts for them can be a real problem.

Regular Maintenance

If you want your outboard motor to last, you have to get your regular maintenance done on it always. If you decide to skip a year because you are low on money, it could mean a big difference in how long your motor will last, especially if has problems. Do an oil change, and get a tune-up once a season, and your motor will run for a very long time. If you really cannot afford a tune-up, at least check the oil, and make sure the spark plug(s) are not burned, and you should be okay until next season.

Final Thoughts

Owning a boat is great, but having problems with your motor can really keep you off the lake. It is extremely important that you keep your boat going with regularly scheduled maintenance if you want to keep it running on the water, and at least check everything over before you take it out. While rebuilding a blown motor can almost be the same cost as buying a new one, you really have to make that decision personally. If you already know how to drive your boat with your motor well, that can play a big role in making the decision for you. As technology gets better, you will find that you will have less big issues if you just do the regular maintenance.

Related Topics

How Many Hours On A Boat Is Considered High?

The typical age for a boat motor to need an overhaul is roughly 1500 to 2000 hours, so if you are buying a boat with that many, and it has not had a major overhaul to it, you will most likely have to get it done soon. A high number for diesel engines is roughly 5000 hours before you will have to get a major overhaul.

What Is The Average Hours On A Boat Per Year?

Typically, if a person takes their boat out a few times a month, the average annual hours is around 100. A low end of the the spectrum is roughly 35-50 hours a season, and a high spectrum for several times a week, is around 300 hours. The average person will only take their boat out from April to October for a season, but there are places where it is warm enough to take out all year long.

Terry Minton

I am the owner of Fast Cast Rods. I live in the mountains of Northern California where I love to be outdoors hunting, fishing, camping and hiking with my wife and three awesome kids.

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