14 Ways to Damage your Engine

May 3, 2016 - 8:48 AM by Samantha Pudney

If you take pride in your engine, have a read, and avoid the pitfalls and snags that even the seasoned pros, like yourself, can overlook from time to time. Here’s what not to do.


Watch your dashboard

1. Ignoring your warning lights and buzzers

That’s a fast way to rack up a repair bill. Sometimes in sunlight the lights are hard to see. Check your lights in the shade, or install brighter lights. Likewise at high RPMs, noise can reach the 95dB range and higher – it can be hard to hear warning buzzers when they go off. Installing louder buzzers for relatively cheap (upwards of 110dB alarms around $20) should do it.

2. Install your thermostat backwards

If the sensor is on the wrong side, your engine will cook and you won’t even get a whistle until it’s too late. Very easy to do.

3. Turning the radio up

Squealing noises mean a belt is loose. Metallic tapping in time with the engine revs means you’ve got problems with your valves, lifters, or rocker arms. Grinding/grating metal on metal noise could mean water pump bearing malfunction. Higher-pitched or louder exhaust noise could mean there’s less cooling water running through the system – a good cue is to check your water pump.

4. Not looking down

Your gauges are important and ignoring the early warnings your gauges give you will cost you money. Often by the time a warning light or alarm has gone off you’ve done some damage. Keep an eye on your gauges so you notice abnormal activity before it reaches problem stage.

5. Holding your nose

Your sense of smell can, when tuned to your engine, provide some warning of impending engine demise, and also a clue as to where to look for the problem. Burnt rubber has an unmistakably acrid reek and might indicate a dry-running water pump impeller (see if the water intake is blocked), insufficient coolant reaching the exhaust or a slipping v-belt. Burnt oil has another distinctively noxious scent that could indicate an oil leak dripping on to the hot engine and the smell of an electrical fire probably means, well, an electrical fire.


Check the oil you use

6. Throwing cheap oil in your vessel

It’s not a money saver long term to use an off-brand engine oil. To meet the industry standards, the oil only has to pass the test once – it’s not monitored by the batch and brand oils are more consistent. The good stuff is tested and produced to higher standards. With the cheaper stuff, you are getting what you pay for.

7. Taking for granted that your filter elements are doing their job

You should have two water filters per engine but don’t put the same type of element in both filters. Another no-no is putting the finer element in the first filter. Put a coarse (30-micron) element up front and a finer (2-micron) element second. This shares the load more evenly between the filters and prevents accelerated wear on the one filter that is doing all the work.

8. Ignoring the shakes

Engines always vibrate, but assume all vibrations are the same and it could cost you. Vibration is normal, but pay attention to changes in the type of vibration and when. If it changes at different RPMs, when turning or when a boat climbs on plane, something may be out of alignment.

9. Revving it up before you switch it off

The myth that it will make it easier to restart your engine if you give it a rev before you turn it off is, well, a myth. What it DOES do is leave unburned fuel coating the cylinders, forming a gummy deposit.

10. Miscounting your anodes

Sacrificial zinc alloy blocks go on your drive or prop shaft, but you’ve got an internal one to think about as well. Remember to replace it when you change the oil. If not it can crumble and clog up your cooling system.

11. Assuming your hose clamps are all stainless steel

Though the clamp may be, the screw probably isn’t. It will rust and break and you’ll lose oil/water/coolant/etc. Check your clamps regularly.

Engine filter

Engine filter

12. Not changing your oil and just diluting it

Never should you aim to completely change your old oil for new. If you can’t suck it all out from the top, install an oil draining kit under the sump. Make sure the engine’s mounting angle allows the oil to flow towards the drain plug.

13. Using the cheapest fuel

Don’t take shortcuts with your fuel purchases. Your engine manufacturer will specify a minimum octane rating and if you use a lower octane fuel your engine will knock and ping when it’s under load. Over time, this practice will build up carbon in the piston ring grooves and behind the rings. It’ll jack the ring outwards and score the rings, locking up your engine if it goes on too long.

14. Throwing the engine manual out

This is the ultimate way to damage your engine. If we just kept them on hand for the occasional reference and stay clear of the aforementioned don’ts, our engines will last longer and run better. In short, if you can wear out your manual from overuse, you’ll save your engine.