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Engine Rebuild
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On December 27, 2006 I had traveled down to to do a little maintenance.  Following the changes to a fuel fitting I ran the 12vdc generator for a while, and then started the Perkins 4154 diesel (the primary power plant).  The 4154 started immediately, I checked for water coming out of the exhaust, and a few moments later it started losing RPMs.  The engine started knocking and then shut down.  I tried starting it again and it ran for only a moment before losing RPMs again, knocking and dying.  I went below to check, only to find oil being projected from the air intake, all over the engine room.  I had been down below for a few minutes when I heard a banging topsides.  Going up I found two firemen, complete with their fire truck asking if everything was under control!  It seems that some saw so much smoke coming from that they thought I was on fire and called the fire department. 

We knew the 4154 was dying.  Starting 3 years ago the oil pressure dropped from the normal 50 psi to 25 psi on a good day, and occasionally down to 0 psi.  I had been adding an oil stop leak product to try and delay the inevitable - an engine rebuild.  We had also been seeing some oil coming out of the air intake (not much, just some dribbles) and had been told it was a sign of the main seals going.  Even though I knew the day was coming, even planning on how I would cut the sole of the cockpit out to remove the engine, the actual dying of the engine was still a shock.  I stopped by a marine dealer in town (Washington, NC) and talked to him about my options.  Talk about depressing!  He could get a rebuilt 4154, minus all the external parts (alternator, starter, cooling system, etc.) for $7000.  This price did not include removal of the current engine, the installation of the new engine and transferring parts between the engines.  He was pushing me toward a new Beta engine for about $12,000, again this did not cover removal of the old engine and installation of the new engine.  I left totally bummed out.  I do not have that kind of money - what to do.  On the way home (about an hour's drive) I finally remembered that I had been planning for this day and had intended to rebuild the engine myself.

I spoke to the local marina (McCotters Marina) and they assured me they could remove the engine without having to cut the cockpit sole.  The estimate was 9 man hours at $55/hour.  They would also pull , power washer the bottom and place her on the hard for $400 - this included a months rent on the hard.  I was ecstatic.  Now I had to figure out how to getto the marina, some 8 miles away.  We have Towboat US insurance so I gave them a call.  Yes, there is a local affiliate only 30 miles away in Belhaven.  Cool - then the bad news - since this was not an emergency, they would only pay 1/2 of the cost of the tow.  The clock starts ticking when they pull away from their dock and would stop upon their return to their dock.  The estimate was 3 hours total at $175/hour.  My fair share would turn out to be $262.  McCotters Marina told me they could do it for about $200.  I gave them the job.

McCotters communicates via email, which is great for me.  On February 23 I was out of state when I got an email that had successfully been moved from her slip to the marina.  Then on March 2 I got a pair of emails - the first indicating the engine was out of the engine room, and the second that the engine was out of the boat.  I went down on March 3 and picked up the engine and bought it home for the rebuild.

I had done some prep work a couple of weeks prior.  First, I had been told that most of the external items to the engine would have to be removed.  In order to reduce their time, I removed the alternator, all wiring, hoses and cables from the engine.  I had previously drained the oil.  The removed items were placed in one of a pair of plastic bins I picked up at Lowe's.  Next I built a "motor home".  One my side of the garage, I put down two 4'x8'x3/4" OSB for a work area to protect the concrete floor.  There is a piece of 6mil plastic under the OSB to prevent any fluids that might spill from getting to the concrete.  I then used angle brackets to support two 2x4s eight feet tall, tied them together at the top and then ran a pair of 10' 2x4s to the wall.  I covered the whole structure with 4mil and 6mil plastic.  The idea is two fold - less volume to try to heat for now, and to keep dust down.

The second item I built, Mary has dubbed the "elephant corral".  We have a 4'x8' trailer, which I intended to use to haul the motor in.  I took dimensions from the Perkins 4154 Workshop Manual and built two rails for the engine to rest on.  The rails were 22" apart and each rail consisted of a pair of 4x6s and a 4x4.  The engine's oil pan would be about 3" above the trailer with this arrangement.  Bolted down, I had no worries of the engine moving while being towed.  Turns out the elephant corral was wasted money.

Arriving at McCotters on Saturday morning, March 3, I found they had done as promised - the engine was out of without any cutting.  The only "damage" I found was smear of black on the hall wall opposite the engine room - not bad.  As it turns out, in order to be able to  remove the engine from the engine room, the engine had to be partially disassembled.  The coolant tank, transmission and cylinder head had all been removed.  All removed pieces that would fit in plastic bin were there in the bin as requested.  In the boat the 4154 looks enormous - out of the boat, without its transmission it does not look as imposing.  The engine was loaded into the trailer, along with the transmission, cylinder head and coolant tank.  The two plastic bins rode in the back of the Pilot.  Upon arriving at home I backed the trailer into the garage - the adventure was about to begin.  In retrospect, I was not real happy that McCotters had left the fuel injectors  open to the atmosphere where dirt could get into them - of course I was not the sharpest knife in the drawer putting them in the trailer, uncovered for the ride home either!  According to the Perkins 4154 Workshop Manual, the injectors should be serviced every 2700 hrs.  I know that they are over the 2700 hour mark, so they are going to be serviced anyway.  If I had it to do over again, I would have covered them anyway.  In reading Nigel Calder's Marine Diesel Engines: Maintenance, Troubleshooting and Repair book, he preaches on how small a piece of debris can be that will clog an injector.   He points out that a 4 cylinder, 4 cycle diesel engine running at 3000 RPM and using 2 gallons of fuel/hour has 0.0000055 gallons (5.5 millionths of a gallon) injected for each cylinder on each compression stroke.  Accuracy has to be within 0.00006 seconds (60 microseconds)

Late Sunday morning, March 4, I used my son's engine hoist to remove the transmission from the trailer.  I also removed the cylinder head and coolant tank.  Finally it was time to remove the engine.  Again, using the engine hoist, the engine was lifted out of the trailer and moved into the motor home - the final wall of plastic was stapled into place.

As previously mentioned, the elephant corral was not needed.  The 4154 has a cast bottom to it that functions as an oil pan.  It is a large flat area, capable of having the engine rest on the oil pan (known as the sump).  Not to fear about the cost of the elephant corral, Mary has decided to use it for a compost pile!


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