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Small outboard motors are not all created equally—not by a long shot—and if you’re going to spend thousands of dollars on a new one, you want to choose carefully. So, what makes for a good outboard in the 25 HP and under range? Here are a few key considerations:
- EFI is a huge advantage. Many outboard line-ups turn to carburetors below 40 or 50 HP, because traditionally many small outboards have been pull-started and didn’t have a battery. But these days, battery-less EFI systems have been developed. And as we all know at this point, carbureted engines have serious issues with ethanol fuel. (If this is a problem you’re dealing with right now, be sure to read Clogged Carb? This is How you Fix it.) Since EFI systems are closed and pressurized, the fuel that remains in them doesn’t break down and turn to gunk nearly as quickly. Even if you get ethanol-free gas, there are still a number of advantages to EFI such as easier and more reliable starting and better fuel economy, too.
- FRESHWATER FLUSHING systems can be helpful, especially if you live in an area where making lots of noise is frowned upon. With out a freshwater flush, you’ll have to get a pair of earmuffs and start the engine with an external water supply. But engines with built-in flushing systems don’t need to be started at all; just wind the hose onto the threads, turn it on, and let the water flow for five or six minutes.
- COMPRESSION REDUCTION (also called “decompression”) systems are easier on your arms. Many manufacturers now offer compression reduction on smaller outboards, which usually functions by partially opening an exhaust valve during start-up. Releasing the pressure makes pulling the starter cord much easier, and saves a lot of wear and tear on your elbow and shoulder.
- ADJUSTABLE TENSIONER systems are another feature that do wonders for your arm. With many small tiller-steered outboards you always have to apply pressure to the tiller arm in one way or another to fight propeller torque. But with a tensioner you can adjust how easy or hard it is to turn the outboard, and maintain a straight course with a lot less effort.
- WEIGHT is obviously another factor to take into account, especially if you shuttle the engine between boats regularly, or have a low-freeboard, weight-sensitive boat. But don’t take the numbers printed on a web site or brochure at face value. Some manufacturers publish engine weight without any fluids or even a propeller included. Others give more of a real-world figure. Make sure to do your homework and read the fine print, or you may end up matching apples against oranges.
Whatever small outboard you end up choosing, here’s a piece of good news: these days, all of the manufacturers make a better motor. When you buy one new, 10-tug cold starts and clouds of blue smoke should be things of the past.
Today’s small outboard motors are light-years ahead of those of the past.