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Old 14-04-2014, 11:56   #1
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Universal Engines

So in reading another thread here today where there was quite a bit of dicsussion about diesel engine life being in the 10,000-20,000 hour range I got to thinking about my engine which is a Universal M25 and is original to the boat and so is about 30 years old. Interestingly enough the engine has a grand whopping total of 625 hours on it.

We have long term cruising ideas/plans and at the moment plan to keep this engine. So I was curious what people think of Universal Engines and what their life span tends to be? Other discussions always seem to revolve around yanmar engines which seem to be the gold standard so I've never read or heard much about Universal engines until I found myself owning one.

On a 30yr old lightly used engine should I expect another 9,000 hours out of this thing or are these basically cheap engines?
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Old 14-04-2014, 12:07   #2
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Re: Universal Engines

The Universal engines are based on Kubota blocks, which are about as reliable as they come. I wouldn't agree with the comments about the Yanmars being superior.

The good news is that parts for the Kubota engine are easily available and cheap, from tractor part dealers.

However, any 30-year old engine is going to be susceptible to age-related issues, regardless of hours. A key factor would be whether it's had regular oil and coolant changes to avoid internal corrosion.

It might be worth getting an engine survey, or doing the checks yourself. A check for combustion gases in the coolant, compression test, and oil analysis should give a good idea of the health of the engine.

Other signs of a healthy engine are easy starting, lack of smoke, healthy power, no nasty noises.

Now for issues particular to the Universal engines, they relate to the marinisation part. Specifically, the exhaust manifold, other exhaust parts, and the water pump">raw water pump.

I get 2-3 years (300 hours) out of the Sherwood raw water pumps, before internal corrosion destroys the seals. I have switched to an Oberdorfer, seeing if I get better life. I would recommend carrying a complete spare raw water pump, and a couple of impeller kits.

Again, the condition of the exhaust manifold is mostly dependent on whether the coolant has been maintained. If yours looks nice with no silt or rust in it, that's a good sign.
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Old 14-04-2014, 15:17   #3
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Re: Universal Engines

Thanks for the info Mark!

For now the engine seems to be in great condition though I haven't had it professionally looked at I've been working on car engines since I was 16 so I would say I'm fairly adept at identifying the chronic problems (hard starting, poor cooling, bad oil, mixed oil/coolant, etc etc). Could be a good idea to send an oil sample off for full anaysis, maybe sometime before we head out for good.

The general operation (aside from the problems with the plugged up wet exhaust which I have resolved) of the motor is great. Recently it sat for nearly 6 months without being touched in any way and when I went to start it up it started on the second try and purred like a kitten. Historical maintenance I know little about but it looks well taken care of, no hacks of any kind and overall looks better than most used car engines i've seen. So overall I'm not incredibly worried about the engine, just curious as there's not a lot of info about these engines as far as reliability and lifespan.
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Old 14-04-2014, 16:14   #4
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Re: Universal Engines

I think for your and my engines both, Mine is 27 and had 480 hours, what will get us going into the engines is deteriorated seals and gaskets, rubber can't last forever and I'm astonished that my 27 yr old engine is leak free at the moment.
I think it's possible for you to get another 9000 hours out of it, if it's meticulously maintained. I don't know about you, but my plan is to assume nothing has ever been replaced on mine and to within the next year to replace all hoses, pumps, thermostat etc.
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Old 14-04-2014, 16:33   #5
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Re: Universal Engines

My 5424 is 30 years old and has done at least 4000 hours - that's when the hourmeter broke on one of the previous owners! I've fixed it now but I don't know when it broke. It shows no sign of wear - I change the oil once a year and don't have to top it off between.

What would kill it would be a failure of the exhaust manifold, as they're impossible (or almost impossible) to get hold of, or a major mechanical issue. I'd take the opportunity to repower then.
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Old 15-04-2014, 09:38   #6
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Re: Universal Engines

Quote:
Originally Posted by natew View Post
...On a 30yr old lightly used engine should I expect another 9,000 hours out of this...?
No.

Though my last boat had accumulated 20,000 hours on her Caterpillar diesels, few can be expected to reach that kind of hours without significant repair expenditures.
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Old 15-04-2014, 09:54   #7
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Re: Universal Engines

We have one, too. One of our skippers replaced his M25XP (essentially the same engine with two more HP) after over 5,000 hours. You have a looong way to go to match that. We have 2,800+ on ours. We replaced the HX with a bigger 3 inch one years ago. Parts are redily available from Kubota. We have assembled a very extensive M25 series package of information about those engines: Catalina 34 - C34 Click on engines, manuals, electrical and other items. You might also be tinerested in our Critical Upgrades topic on our Forum, since it covers a lot of engine issues: CRITICAL UPGRADES - DO THESE OR ELSE!!!
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Old 15-04-2014, 10:05   #8
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Re: Universal Engines

Good little engines. Things go bad from lack of use and just time also though. Seals, injectors, corrosion on the mating surfaces of the head and block, etc. If it hasnt been left sitting long periods without running it, it may continue a long time. As mentioned though, seals go bad... inside the injector etc. But if it runs well, doesnt smoke a lot, just keep using it.
My impression is that the diesel engines that reach 20,000 hours are in commercial use. Some of them never being shut down except for service. Continual use is easy on an engine. short runs never reaching hot temps is death. This is why sometimes low hour engines can be not so good.
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Old 15-04-2014, 13:07   #9
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Re: Universal Engines

Quote:
I get 2-3 years (300 hours) out of the Sherwood raw water pumps, before internal corrosion destroys the seals. I have switched to an Oberdorfer, seeing if I get better life
I have clearance issues in the front of my engine. Did the replacement Oberdorfer stick out much further than the original Sherwood pump? The Sherwood is a pain in the butt to change the impeller.
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Old 17-04-2014, 16:14   #10
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Re: Universal Engines

Thanks for the links to the catalina info. Looks like I have a lot of the problems listed there, the bad alternator bracket, the bad wiring connectors, the crummy glow plug and amp meter wiring. To top it all off I have a bunch of other wiring that I can't figure out, seems like PO's took the wiring from a micro perspective and just bolted on pieces they thought would be good to have now I have some pieces that work, other pieces that are not necessary, and yet some other pieces that aren't even connected to anything.

Half tempted to rip all the wiring out of the darn thing and start over.
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Old 17-04-2014, 17:39   #11
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Re: Universal Engines

Over the years, many older boats appear to have been expertly Bubba'd by amateurs. When this reaches critical mass, it is best to remove it all and start over...with a plan.

There used to be a fellow with a tri, who worked at Ventura Harbor Boatyard. That wouldn't be you, Nate?
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Old 19-04-2014, 19:11   #12
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Re: Universal Engines

While it is true that many diesels in non-marine applications will get well over 10000 hrs before requiring major servicing, that will almost never happen in a sailboat. Sailboats tend to offer just the sort of conditions that diesels hate: light, sporadic and shorterm use in a salt water environment. Using the engine to get in and out of the slip/harbor a couple of times a month isn't running the engine long enough to get it fully warmed up, or working it hard enough to keep it happy. You would be more likely to get another 9000 hours from your engine if it had been run enough to already have 9000 hours. 600 hours in 30 years didn't do it any favors. But there isn't anything wrong with Universals.
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Old 19-04-2014, 19:23   #13
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Re: Universal Engines

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Originally Posted by Jim Walsh View Post
I have clearance issues in the front of my engine. Did the replacement Oberdorfer stick out much further than the original Sherwood pump? The Sherwood is a pain in the butt to change the impeller.
The answer is no. If you go to the link I provided earlier, it discusses Sherwoods in great detail. They simply are an inferior pump in terms of both access to changing impellers as well as materials of construction. There is also an Oberdorfer swapout topic for an M35 engine. It's a straight swap on an M25. There is also an article I wrote with pictures of redoing Oberdorfer seals, linked at another article about doing it on a Sherwood, I believe.

Re: engine hours. Just because they are low doesn't mean that the PO didn't bring the engine up to operating temperature every time it was used. There is NO WAY to know if he did or didn't. One simply can't assume that low hours means bad treatment. No way to know the opposite either. For example, every time we go out I have to motor 40 minutes to get to sailing ground. If I didn't use my boat twice as much as many of my friends, I'd have a LOT lower engine hour reading, but my engine would always have been run at operating temperature.

When I bought my then 12 year old boat in 1998 it had 888 hours. I now have 2800 in 15 more years. Do the math.

PS - If you take out a year when I almost didn't use the boat 'cuz of a broken leg from skiing, I've used the boat almost twice as much per year than the PO did.
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Old 19-04-2014, 20:46   #14
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Re: Universal Engines

The unusual 30 minute edit time out didn't let me add this:

Our companionway steps are right in front of the engine, so I am SURE that the Oberdorfer doesn't stick out any more than any other pump. The main camshaft pulley is the furthest forward part of the engine.
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Old 19-04-2014, 21:11   #15
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Re: Universal Engines

Thanks Stu. I'll go the Oberdorfer route.
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