how to buy a used outboard

Like if this guide is helpful

Buyers Guide to Second Hand Outboard Engines

Due to so many people coming to us with problems with the engine they have just bought from  ebay, private adds etc we have created a very simple outboard buyers guide..

Oh this guide is written by Dave of Clyde Outboard Services and if you need to know more just google us.

Topics covered on this page include

  • Does it work?
  • Compression
  • Gear box
  • Power head
  • Impeller
  • Paperwork

How to buy? 

  • Value of the engine
  • What it comes with
  • How to transport it
  • Where to buy

These are the most common issues when buying a second hand outboard engine and we hope that it stops even a few people getting rubbish. Also please remember the most basic advice of “If it sounds too good to be true, well it probably is!”

Does it work?

This part of the page explains how you can protect yourself from buying engines that have mechanical problems that can be spotted without the need to take it apart and that can be done by anyone regardless of experience.


Cost Rating to fix/ repair = £500 upwards.

This is the one that we see all the time and in most cases the cost of repair for an outboard engine over 10 years old will not be viable and you would be better selling the engine for spares.

To test for low or uneven compression simply take with you a compression tester (available between £5-£20.00 and are the same as the ones used for cars) and a socket set for taking out spark plugs.

Remove the petrol hose going from the fuel tank to the outside of the engine by pushing in the small silver leaver on the connector at the engine and simply pulling away. Take off 1 lead/cable going to a spark plug and using the socket set simply unscrew the spark plug. Screw in the compression tester and turn over the engine for 2-3 seconds. Note the reading and then replace the spark plug and the lead and repeat for the other cylinders. If it is a small engine it might have its own fuel tank that can be drained instead of disconnecting the fuel hose.


If the reading is low or there is more than 10% difference between each cylinder you are looking at a huge bill at best or in many cases the engine will not be worth repairing so avoid and move on.

If possible it is also good practice to see the engine running under stress i.e. pushing a boat. Just because the engine starts does not mean that it can push a pea down a hill let alone boat so it is always best to see engines that can be fully tested on the water but obviously this is not always possible so a compression test is the next best thing.

Gear Box

Cost rating to repair/ fix = £300 upwards.

This is more of a problem with older engines (10 years +) and ex commercial engines where the general public can hire a boat out for fishing/ cruising for the day.

Ask for muffs to be put on the engine or for it to go into a tank so that the engine can be started and either manually push the accelerator or use the tiller/controls to put the engine into forward and reverse. The engine seller should have no problem with this (we have never met one that did) and again if they do, then it is better to save your money for a more helpful seller.  If it sounds clunky or is difficult it is a strong sign of a serious problem.

Though this is not a perfect test for a gearbox it will highlight an obvious problem and hence we strongly recommend that it is done prior to purchase.

Power head

Cost to repair = £50-500 upwards

Having a quick look over the power head can often show how the engine has been maintained and hence is worth a closer look.

First of all look to see if the gaskets are in good working order. These are found where two metal plates have been bolted together to create the power head and are basically a way to create an airtight seal. If the seals look in good condition then there is a good chance that the engine has been well maintained or that any repairs have been carried out properly.

Next, look around at the wires and tubes to see if they are in good condition and secure with no frayed wires or lose connections and that the fuel filter looks clean etc. With 4 stoke engines also check the oil filter (often it will have the date it was replaced on it) and colour of the oil.

Though again this is not fool proof it does help eliminate obvious problems and the more of these you eliminate the better!


Cost to repair = less than £100 for small engines up to 55hp and up to £150 for larger engines.

This is a very simple test but is vital for the health of the engine. Simply check that when the engine is running that there is a strong stream of water coming out of a pipe around the bottom of the engine hood. If the stream is weak it means there is a good chance of the engine overheating and hence the impeller should be checked ASAP for problems (the part costs £20 for small – £50 for large engines) because if fails you with a huge bill to repair the damage.

If the engine has been in the sea a lot it could also be caused by there being blocked/ partially blocked channels that water flows through around the engine due to the build-up of salt and dirt.

Either way, ask the seller to fix the problem before you buy your second hand outboard

Paper work

Increasingly you will see adverts with things like low hours, just been serviced etc. This in many cases is not true and hence simply ask for copies of bills and any paper work that they have to justify these claims. Obviously if they don’t have proof, then we would recommend taking their claims with a pinch of salt and look even closer at the engine or try and find a more trust worthy seller.



We have seen people pay more for a second hand outboard engine than a new one due to there being no guides for the general public like there is for cars.

Our tip for this is to do your homework, and the more you do the better deal you will find. Look at as many fixed price engine adverts as you can and create a spread sheet so that the price and age are easy to compare. Also if possible buy outside the season i.e. November to March as you will find many engines cheaper.

Your spread sheet should look something like this:

Age        Hours if known      Trim and Tilt       Last Serviced      Warranty             Price      Extras

Your other option is to call us and we can tell you what the engine is worth but this service does cost  £25.00 inc vat and we can only do it for engines up to 20 years old.

What it comes with

The first and best extra by far is 3-6 months warranty if buying from a dealer. It is also always worth asking even a private seller for them to give you the working state of the engine in writing i.e. if they say it is in 100% perfect order and this is not on the advert as for them to give you a note stating this.

The next most vital extra is the wiring loom as these are costly to get hold of and should not be kept by the seller.

Other extra’s that are not vital but will save you money include

  • Engine Controler & cables
  • Rev Counter
  • Other Gauges
  • Oil for 2 stroke for mixing or 4 stroke engine oil
  • Spare service parts i.e. filters, gearbox oil, impeller etc.

Any extra will save you money but a warranty, wiring loom and engine controles should be your top priority.


We hear lots of strange and silly myths about how engines are damaged in transit and yet they manage to get from the far-east to the UK without a problem and if buying second hand outboard it will have bounced around on the back of a boat without any problems.

Please dont sign for delivery until you have checked the engine!

Most engines can be posted if the oils are drained from the engine and some companies require the gearbox oil from the leg to also be drained (you can never change this oil enough so this is not a problem) with the larger engines going on a pallet.

As for cheap and reliable companies we have found anyvan to be great value if you are not in a rush as delivery (at a very good price)  could take up to 2 weeks.

Where to buy

By far the safest place to buy is from a dealer who provides a 3-6 months warranty and even better if you know them or have been given a recommendation.

The next best option is to buy an engine from a boat owner you have met on the water or who is also a member of your local fishing/ boating/ sailing club.

We also don’t see many faulty second hand outboard engines that have been bought from specific boat forums i.e. if you have a Shetland, you can ask/ post on the Shetland Owners forum for anyone selling an outboard.

You next option is an ex commercial engine and these are often sold by the companies on sites like boats and outboards and most are as described and have full service history’s included.

If the above is not possible it means buying from a private seller and hence please be careful as though there are many honest people selling engines we get a huge amount of business from people who have got so called bargains from Ebay and other websites that are no more than junk. Please remember it is “buyer beware” and if you pick the second hand outboard engine up, Ebay will not refund your money and this is because you collected the item.

If you really must buy online the safest way is to pay by PayPal and get a courier to deliver it. This way Ebay will refund you if it is not as described. If it is not Ebay then the risk is even higher and all we can do is recommend the above checks and wish you lots and lots of luck.

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides