Used Outboard Boat Motor Buyers Guide

You want a good clean used Outboard motor that you can depend on that won’t break the bank. They’re out there but you’ve got to know what signs to look for tell the difference between a money pit and a great deal.

How Does the Prop look?

The first thing I look at as I walk up on any outboard small or large is the prop. This will be a good indicator of the type of care the owner took of this outboard boat motor.
Is it dinged and bent or is it shiny and new? Also ask if he’s ran other props on this motor and what type of boat with how much weight he was running. This will give you an indication if this particular motor will suit your needs and also how knowledgeable the owner is. The more knowledgeable the better I’ve found as he will hopefully have maintained the motor, with regular flushes, proper winterization, lower unit oil changes and water pump replacements.

Has it been in salt water?

Depending on where you live this a stupid question because the answer will be of course not, or of course it has, we live on the coast. Either way, it’s true salt water can cause premature corrosion on outboards if they are not properly flushed after each use. If it’s a larger motor I think a more telling question would be, Has it been stored in salt water.

Mercury Outboard

Has it been stored in salt water?

Many larger boats will be moored in salt water and many do not bother or can’t trim the motor up to get it out of the salt. Also many owners don’t flush with fresh water after each use. Look for quick flush attachments, these are a good sign the owner flushed the motor as these are a optional attachment.

How many hours on the motor? It’s hard to get a accurate answer on this even if the boat has an hour meter. I was told by one boat owner when trying to buy his boat that he had left the key on over night so the hour meter kept running all night. It’s possible he did but if I had known then what I know now i would have walked instead of buying his Tiderunner with a 1985 Suzuki 65hp on it. The hour meter said 1200 hours on it which I now believe.

This was years ago and I’ve learned a ton about outboards since then, mostly the hard way. The motor blew up the first time I used the boat. It ran fine on the muffs for hours but actually loading the motor is different and caused major internal parts to fail.

burnt-outboard-blockHow does the engine block look on the outboard?

Does the paint look clean and uniform on the block and head or can you see bare aluminum in spots where the paint has flaked? If parts are bare, that means the motor has overheated and cooked off the paint. Who knows when it was shut down or if it was before it did permanent damage. I would walk away. That is a deal breaker for me.


When was the water pump changed last?

damaged impeller aka water pump You need to change the impeller or water pump every 2-3 years no mater what. Don’t wait for failure on these. It’s very hard to notice your telltale cooling stream has stopped before the motor overheats. I’m sure you can imagine how inconvenient an over heated motor can be, down right deadly in certain situations. It’s worth changing the $18 impeller. Most outboards don’t have temp gauges and only the ones with controls have temperature alarms that may or may not work. Of course I’m not talking about new computer controlled outboards but the vast majority of older outboards out there.

What do the plugs look like?

Fouled and oily is better than white and burnt on a 2 stroke, too much oil being better than not enough? On a 4-stroke they should look like the color of toast.

How does it start cold?

When you first approach the motor, feel it briefly to see if the owner has warmed it up before you arriving. If it’s been warmed up there may be an issue with it starting cold. It’s worth asking what the cold start procedure is and if you can start it cold. I hate motors that don’t start well. Nothing worse than cranking your motor over and over on the lake or the ocean, hoping it will start while your passengers wonder why they came out on your boat!

milky lower unit gear oil

Milky Gear Oil – caused by water intrusion

How’s the Lower Unit? That’s boat talk for a transmission. It’s an important part of the outboard and can be expensive to fix or replace. How does the outward appearance look? Is paint missing where it drug through the sand? Worse yet is part of the skeg missing where it clipped a rock or the boat ramp? The skeg is there to protect the prop so if the skeg is gone the prop was damaged and possibly the prop shaft bent.

Do you see any gear oil leaking from the lower unit? The seals on the lower unit can leak if fishing line has be caught in the prop or freeze damage has occurred. I always bring a large flat head screw driver and a rag to drain a little gear oil out and make sure the color is right. Depending on the brand it should be greenish yellow or dark blue. Not brown, black or ever milky grey. Milky means there is water in the oil and the seals are bad. Also if this water is left in the lower unit it can freeze in the winter and crack it.

Do the gears work?

Does it engage smoothing in forward and reverse? You can sort of test this in the owners driveway on the hose, if he will let you but it’s dangerous and it will never tell you the whole story. Best to take a test drive if the motor is large and on the boat. If the motor is small just run in it a trash can. Make sure it holds both forward and reverse while you’re on the throttle and doesn’t pop out. Do the controls operate smoothly? This includes tiller controls and separate remote controls. If you buying a larger outboard with cockpit controls, try to get the controls with it, they are worth about $200 used. So always try to get a package deal and make sure the seller isn’t planning on keeping them or selling separate.

Looking to buy a used outboard motor online?

I’ve got some great deals off ebay in the past. If a seller sells many boat parts and/or motors and has a good seller rating, there is a good chance you will be happy also. Consider the shipping price. It’s much easier to buy smaller/lighter motors online since shipping is less expensive and much easier than building a crate. Also consider that buying a motor from the middle of the country will almost assure you will get a freshwater motor!

Here are some current eBay listings for Used Outboard Motors under $2000.