Engine problems

At last we could leave Plymouth. Nice town! But almost two weeks was too much. The reason for our extended stay was engine problems.

Our engine is the Yanmar 4JH4-TE. It is 4 years, and has 450 hours. 4-5 weeks ago I noticed 1-2 seconds delay when starting. Not as crisp as normal. I thought it was just due to different fuel quality. After another 2 weeks the engine would not start hot. After cooling down for 2-3 hours it starts and run just perfect until next time you stop it.

We got to Salcombe when the outgoing tide was at the strongest. At the same time we had a rainstorm. (Hours later Cornwall had severe flooding in places.) The engine stalled just before catching the buoy. With help from the harbour master, we tied to the buoy before we drifted on ground. Once safely tied to the buoy, I called the local Yanmar dealer. (Also Volvo Penta dealer), SMS Ltd. The manager director John Bower, answered my call and said “No problem. I send an engineer immediately”. This was on Friday afternoon, when everyone wants to go home! Soon Gary shows up and makes the first inspection.

Gary in Bellas engine room.

I had done all the normal checks with fuel, filter, start motor, start relays, batteries, cables etc. Gary was listening to the engine, and thought it “sounded lovely”. Only one little problem, it does not want to start hot. I could hear Gary talking to himself in the engine room. One thing I heard was “this is not a normal starting problem, it starts cold, runs perfect all day, does not smoke or use any oil”
We decided to meet in Plymouth on Monday. SMS also have an office in QAB Marina.

We motored to Plymouth just to test if it would be any problems. The motor ran great as normal. I almost thought the problem had gone away. Arriving in the marina we T-boned the dock as the engine stalled again, when shifting to reverse. You feel pretty stupid when you have 13 tons of boat moving forward in a tight marina, and the engine stalls and it refuses to start. It was not my best manoeuvre, as I should have been more prepared for the stalling scenario. But no damaged done, aim at something cheap is the rule. There was some free space at the dock where the harbour master was standing. The harbour master looked shocked when we slammed in to his pontoon. He managed to stand on his feet, also after when we ran up on the pontoon he was standing on. Hallberg-Rassys are strong in the bow, and we did more damage to the woodwork on the dock than on the boat. On the boat it was nothing.

On Monday morning Gary showed up as promised. He worked very methodically, to rule out problems inside the engine. Valves, injector and compression were tested. Everything O.K. He even looked inside the cylinders with a little camera that he slides down thru the injector hole. All looked perfect and after three days work, he and John came to the conclusion something must be wrong inside the fuel injection pump, as everything else had been ruled out. Again he said, “This is VERY, VERY unusual on an almost new diesel engine”.

Jake is controlling the camera and Gary is looking inside of a Yanmar 4JH4-TE.

Gary said if you keep your fuel system clean you should not get any problem with the pump after 450 hours. They should last several 1000 hours. Bella Luna’s tank was clinically clean. As Hallberg-Rassy has a sump pump it is easy to check if there is water or dirt. We pumped several litres to be sure; no water or dirt. It was almost disappointing, as dirty fuel would point us directly to the injection pump. Our fuel filters have always been changed after maximum 100 hours, or before it is laid up for winter. We should not really have to face this, but there is always an unknown factor involved.
Injection pumps are not something that workshops have in stock. John called his contact on the Yanmar importer in England, EP Barrus. They had a spare (Bosch VE) injection pump that came from a new engine that was damaged in transport.

I was nervous when Gary started unscrew the old pump. The Yanmar service manual had a warning in it, “Whatever you do, Do not lose the timing. It is “extremely difficult or close to impossible to recover it”. If they write that in the workshop manual, it has to be serious!!
I could see that Gary had respect for this work. Also he was nervous, as so many things could go wrong. Following the service manual was impossible. It is never that easy as the engines are installed in a boat when it needs service!! After Gary had finished, he said this is on the limit what you can do with the engine in the boat. 10 hours later the new injection pump was in place.

No doubt we where very lucky to meet Gary. He has 26 years experience. You see a lot of service signs in marinas. What is behind the sign is not always easy to know. This was the kind of job that not that many service shops would have managed.

Thank you SMS for extraordinary service. Thank you EP Barrus for your support with parts. Without your support we would still be in Plymouth.

A repair like this is expensive. You need to spend time ruling out more common reasons before you start with the fuel injection pump.

On top of the labour we needed to buy a new injection pump. That is the single most expensive part on the engine!

This is the time you start to read the terms on your boat insurance! Do we have coverage? And yes we had!

More about Boat Insurance in a separate article.


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