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Narrowboat engine issues

I am looking at a used 45' narrowboat next week, with a view to buying it and have a couple of questions about the engine. Answers will guide me as I look at the boat! The engine is a Lister Petter LPW/S 3 cylinder 30HP.
1. It has 2605 hours on the clock. Is this a lot (I am used to cars and miles, not boats and hours!) or OK?
2. What sort of records of repairs and maintenance should I expect to see?

Asked by: Paul Taylor  | 7.48pm, Saturday 7 July


WW says:

2605 is quite a lot of hours, but well within normal expectations. As long as the engine is well maintained, canal boat engines can last a long time!
There are several things that you can quickly check to give you an indication of the state of the engine. A very clean engine bay is a good sign, without lots of oil in the engine drip tray. Also the oil on the dipstick might be black, which is normal in an older diesel engine, but should be within the normal marks- engines that tend to lose oil often how around the lower mark on the dipstick.
Check the coolant is blue (or pink) and not a rusty colour- if the coolant if not changed often, it means corrosion can take hold, either in the engine, or in the coolant tanks.
Also, check that there is no oil (or white emulsion) inside the engine header tank, which could suggest oil leakage into the cooling system.
When the engine starts, it should get up to working temperature fairly quickly, and not smoke once the engine is up to temperature. Check the oil pressure, if a gauge is fitted. A cold engine, even one that is almost dead,Neil give a good reading- however, a reading of around 30psi when hot and cruising is a good sign- below 15psi should be treated I with suspicion. The oil filter should also look fairly new and not as if it hasn't been changed in years!
The engine should v freely in both neutral, forward and reverse- it shouldnt slip out of gear at tickover- a common problem with low oil levels in hydraulic operated gearboxes?
Heavy black smoke under load might suggest air filter problems or dirty injectors/fuel system- white smoke might indicate cooling fluid loss. Check that under cruising speed, the engine doesn't start to overheat,nwhich could indicate an airlock or water pump struggling.
The alternator drive belt should only have about an inch give on the longest run, and if there is lots of rubber belt dust on the pulleys, it may mean that it hasn't been changed in a long time.
As for paperwork, any engine servicing receipts (preferably annually) or receipts for parts, such as oil, filters, etc. will give you some peace of mind.
Remember that a full survey will pick up the condition of the engine, as well as the hull and boat systems, and is well worth the money for the reassurance it brings.
As for other maintenance,the more receipts, etc. you are shown, the better the boat has been looked after, but a survey is a very important part of buying the boat- at the very least, a hull and engine survey, plus a new boat safety certificate, should pick up any major issues.

Mark Langley  | 5.38PM, Sunday 8 July

Apologies for some of the typos in the above answer- autocorrect on the iPad taking having a field day! It should start, of course, with "Vetus" and not "Vets"!

Mark Langley  | 5.49PM, Sunday 8 July

It's always a pleasure for us to answer questions- sometimes they can be a challenge for us to answer, but we enjoy it!

Mark Langley  | 9.42AM, Monday 9 July


Readers say:

This is really helpful, thank you - and thanks for your other answers to my questions as a new boater!

Paul Taylor  | 8.46AM, Monday 9 July

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