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Diesel Maintenance Tips – TLC for a Faithful Friend

Diesel Maintenance Tips - Change the oil – the best thing you can ever do for your diesel engine. Photo by Sim Hoggarth
Diesel Maintenance Tips – Change the oil – the best thing you can ever do for your diesel engine. Photo by Sim Hoggarth

For many seasonal sailors it is the time of year to start preparing for that annual trip home. Flights booked, insurance companies emailed, marina or haul-out organized, duty frees purchased and off we go …

But wait a minute. Let’s take a moment to consider the needs of our floating abode. Sure, you’ve removed the sails and the canvas work; made sure the valuables are hidden and secure, emptied the fridge and flushed the head. But were you really going to leave Percy the Perkins or Westie the Westerbeke without saying goodbye? Shame on you! With just a little bit of tender loving care, that faithful friend will carry on providing years of sterling service; without it, its days may be numbered. These few diesel maintenance tips performed now will pay dividends in the long run.

Diesel Maintenance Tips #1 – Change the Oil

Firstly, change the oil and oil filter in the normal way. Contaminants in dirty engine oil will eat away at the engine internals more than ever when the engine is not in use.

Diesel Maintenance Tips #2 – Close the Sea Water Inlet Cock

Next, close the sea water inlet cock and remove the sea water pump impellor. If it’s in good shape keep it to refit at the start of next season. If not, discard it and check you have a spare. Drain down the rest of the sea water circuit from the lowest points; don’t forget the sea water in the exhaust system.

Diesel Maintenance Tips #3 – Remove and Grease the Air Intake Assembly

Remove the air intake assembly and squirt a bit of clean engine oil into the inlet manifold whilst cranking the engine a little. Don’t allow the engine to start. This will leave a little oil on the cylinder bores and circulate the clean oil now in the sump. Seal up the inlet manifold with a rag and some duct tape and clean the air filter ready for next season.

Diesel Maintenance Tips #4 – Remove and Clean the Exhaust Pipework

Remove the exhaust pipework at, or after, the exhaust outlet elbow and clean out any deposits in the elbow and dry everything out. Then seal it up in the same way as the inlet manifold.

Diesel Maintenance Tips #5 – Change and Refill the Transmission Oil

Change the transmission oil and refill to the normal level. Note that some engine manufacturers recommend filling the gearbox completely to prevent internal corrosion if laying up for an extended period. Check your engine manual for specific data.

Diesel Maintenance Tips #6 – Drain and Refill the Coolant

Drain out all the coolant (antifreeze being something of a misnomer in the Caribbean) and replace with new. Always use ethylene glycol-based coolant mixed at the correct ratio. The coolant, as well as preventing freezing, inhibits corrosion and its effectiveness lessens with time. Make up the mixture before putting it into the engine to ensure it’s thoroughly mixed.

Fill it slowly and bleed out any air from the highest point.

Diesel Maintenance Tips #7 – Top Up your Battery

Make sure the battery is topped up with distilled water if appropriate, and fully charged. Disconnect it and clean the terminals. Coat them with petroleum jelly ready for next year.

Diesel Maintenance Tips #8 – Fill the Fuel Tank

Fill the fuel tank; a full tank leaves less room for condensation. Drain any water from the bottom of the tank and add a good dose of biocide treatment. Drain any water from the fuel filters, or better still, change them for new.

Diesel Maintenance Tips #9 – Slacken the Drive Belts

For an extended lay-up, slacken off any drive belts to give them a longer life and to take the load off the pump and the alternator bearings.

Diesel Maintenance Tips #10 – Coat with WD40

Finally, a liberal spray with WD40 all around, particularly on the starter and alternator and all the electrical connections, will help keep corrosion at bay.

Re-commissioning is pretty much a reversal of the above; reconnect the exhaust system and refit the air filter assembly. Retighten the drive belts and reconnect the battery. Check all the oil levels, don’t forget the gearbox level. Crank over the engine on the starter motor to get the oil circulating; five second bursts with ten second breaks, three or four times should do it. Hold out the stop cable or hold in the stop button. Don’t let the engine start. Refit the sea water pump impellor with a smear of petroleum jelly and open the seacock. Start the engine according to your normal procedure, check for water, oil or exhaust leaks. Stop the engine and recheck the oil and coolant levels and you’re ready for another season of trouble free motoring.

Sim Hoggarth is a British merchant navy marine engineer now cruising in the Caribbean with his wife Rosie on board their Corbin 39 Alianna.

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