Marine Power Outage
than four years ago BoatU.S. Magazine published “Engine
Blocks Choke on Water” about water ingestion problems
involving marine engines built on GM automotive “big
blocks.” After over 50 boat owners reported similar engine
failures to BoatU.S. and long after three major engine manufacturers
developed ways to mitigate these failures, Marine Power USA
has yet to bring an end to the engine failures experienced
by a Connecticut couple.
Dave Farrington of Fairfield, CT, reported to BoatU.S. that
their Luhrs 32 Convertible has been out of commission for
months each and every boating season they’ve owned
it due to catastrophic failures of its twin 5.7L Marine Power
These engines are built on GM 5.7L automotive blocks. As
was outlined in our January 2003 article, marine engines using
GM 7.4L, and 8.1L blocks have a well-known propensity for suffering
valve failures when condensation from the exhaust migrates
back to the engine due to the vacuum created during the intake
stroke. Over time, salt crystals from the condensation cause
rust on the valves, the valves stick or do not close properly
and more water migrates back to the engine.
four replacement engines have been installed on the Farringtons’ boat, the installations have been the
rough equivalent of replacing a burnt-out light bulb. Each
time an engine fails, it has been bench tested at the Marine
Power factory, failure has been diagnosed as water ingestion
and an identical engine — with no modifications — is
sent back to the owners in exchange.
The engine problems are bad enough but, concurrent with the
first engine breakdown in 2003, the Farringtons discovered
that the gel coat below the waterline was peeling off in at
least 30 places. Temporary repairs were made but a major overhaul,
paid for by Luhrs, occupied most of the 2005-06 winter. In
the ensuing years, the retail dealer, Petzolds Marine Center
in Portland, CT, has corrected a number of cosmetic and mechanical
conditions fairly typical of most new boats.
these problems for the most part have been remedied, they
have added to
the disappointment and anger Mrs. Farrington says she and
her husband feel.
purchasing the vessel, the boat owners’ costs
run close to $40,000 for boat payments, slip rental and other
expenses, to say nothing of cancelled vacation plans and the
utter frustration of paying in good faith for a boat Mrs. Farrington
describes as a “lemon.”
to the boat owners’ complaints, Luhrs,
Marine Power and Petzolds have all demonstrated to varying
degrees exactly how far they are willing to go to assist their
customers. In the case of Luhrs and Petzolds, that would be
pretty far indeed.
BoatU.S., the Farringtons, Luhrs and Petzolds have contacted
Marine Power numerous times, up until recently, the engine
response has been limited to bench-testing the faulty engines
at the factory and providing rebuilt engines. Period. Luhrs
and the dealer contributed time and labor to get them installed.
Marine Power offers a flapper valve with a rubber lip that
is supposed to prohibit the engine pulse from sucking water
up the exhaust. Despite requests by the owners, Luhrs, Petzolds
and BoatU.S., Marine Power has not sent an engineer to evaluate
the engines as they are installed in the boat, nor has the
Ponchatoula, LA, company been able to explain why salt deposits
form on the intake valves to the point that the engines fail.
Marine Power 5.7L engines are marinized versions of GM automotive
power packages. Like Volvo, Mercruiser, and Crusader, Marine
Power buys long blocks containing the engine block, cylinder
heads, crankshaft and pistons from GM and converts them for
marine use by fitting them out with ignition-protected electrical
components, as well as raw-water cooling and water-cooled and
wetted exhaust systems. The blocks are also reinforced to withstand
the prolonged, heavy use common to marine engines.
alter in the automotive-to-marine transformation is the valve
overlap GM builds into the engines to improve efficiency.
Valve overlap refers to the brief interval when the intake
and exhaust valves are open during the start of the intake
stroke, when the fuel-air mixture enters the combustion chamber.
The pressure of the incoming mix pushes out the exhaust gases
and makes the engine more powerful at high rpm levels.
ingestion is more likely to occur with through-hull exhaust
systems and is less common with the through-prop exhausts
found on sterndrive engines. Although Marine Power is keeping
mum on a definitive explanation or a means to prevent future
damage, a marine surveyor who specializes in engines confirms
that this is probably the cause of the engine breakdowns the
Farringtons have suffered. “From the dropped valves,
it is my opinion that…salt water vapor has affected
the valve stems, causing them to bind up. No solid water was
found in the cylinders,” stated marine surveyor John
Robertson of Amityville, NY.
“Factory tear-down of this engine must involve measuring
the valve stems for buildup of any sort, measurements and clearance
to the [valve] guides and a chemical analysis of any residue,” he
involved for many years on exhaust problems, dating back
to the early days of the Chrysler Crowns, Sea Bees, Interceptors
and Graymarine engines, running tests showed the valve overlap
did in fact cause water ingestion and valve problems.”
to the Farrington’s complaint, BoatU.S.
has received reports in past years about water ingestion failures
involving engines made by Mercruiser, Volvo and Crusader. However,
these three companies developed new exhaust systems to mitigate
the problem and Merc also developed an exhaust resonator kit
that can be used to retrofit older designs.
solution is to increase the exhaust rise and incorporate
baffles in the exhaust, as well as install a vacuum kit that
diverts ingested water back into the outer part of the exhaust.
Back to the present. At this point, neither the Farringtons,
Luhrs nor Petzolds is waiting to find out if Marine Power can
solve the problem. After discussions last fall with BoatU.S.
and the Farringtons, Luhrs and Petzolds agreed that replacing
the engines with a different make is the best way to get the
Farringtons back on the water in 2007.
In response, Marine Power offered to repair the faulty engines,
send them back to Luhrs, so that Luhrs can sell them, using
the proceeds to offset the cost of new engines for the Farringtons.
“We expected Marine Power USA to provide a minimum
of $30,000 as Luhrs had already covered significant expense
on engine related issues, along with goodwill, that is not
a covered expense under the boat warranty,” said Mike
Hankins, Luhrs’ director of customer relations.
“Our position is to provide 315 Yanmar diesel engines
and gearboxes in their boat,” said Hankins. “We
have always held out hope that Marine Power would provide the
dollar difference between what Marine Power could sell the
Farrington’s old motors for (which Luhrs has paid for
most of) and what a set of diesels would be, approximately
sometimes complex world of marine warranties, the boat manufacturer
usually covers just the boat structure, while the engine
manufacturer is responsible for the engine itself. Problems
that develop when the engine installation or exhaust design
do not conform to the engine maker’s recommendations
are the responsibility of the boat manufacturer. Installation
and exhaust design do not seem to be factors in the Farringtons’ case.
If they were, it is almost certain Marine Power would have
pointed out the anomalies.
boats are built by Luhrs Marine Group, which also owns Hunter,
Mainship and Silverton. The company stopped using Marine
Power engines in 2003 because they decided to power all their
models with diesel plants. “When we began to consider
using gas again,” Hankins explained, “We chose
Crusader and Volvo due to service support experience reported
to us by Silverton and others.” Over the years, power
options for the Luhrs 32 included Yanmar and Cummins diesels
and Mercruiser gas engines.
effort to move the situation ahead, BoatU.S. offered to set
up a mediation panel to review the Farringtons’ case.
Several years ago, BoatU.S., along with the National Marine
Manufacturers Association and the Marine Retailers Association
of America established the BetterBOAT dispute resolution program
to provide a peer review forum for settling complex cases,
especially ones like this, where the parties are sharply divided.
BetterBOAT settlement recommendations are non-binding.
Marine Power failed to reply to our offer, company president
W.E. Allbright, Jr., recently told BoatU.S., “I
have some strong feelings about the proposed remedy [to install
Yanmar engines] but I would be happy to participate in any
type of conference call that can move this situation forward.” However
when that call was recently scheduled, Allbright did not participate.
With an April launch date fast approaching, unless there
is more substantive participation from Marine Power, it seems
like Luhrs and the Farringtons will have some tough, expensive
decisions to make.
Copyright BoatU.S. Magazine, Mar 2007