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Starter vs Vapor Lock - how to diagnose?


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New-to-me 2002 Sportster (310hp carbureted). Here are the symptoms: Starts cold, no worries. Ski for a while. Change skiers. Try to turn it over... the starter sounds like it's struggling. One-two cranks (that's what it 'feels' like) and it pauses. Turn the key again, same thing. 4th or 5th (or more) try she usually starts up, and we're all happy. Haven't been stranded, haven't had to wait 45 minutes, but it's always a stressful 30-60 seconds. Now... is my starter going? Solenoid? or is it just fighting heavy load because of vapor lock? (I'm in Canada and to be honest I'm not sure what our ethanol percentage is). I'm not much of a gearhead, but as I follow from the fuel pump up to the carb, I don't see anything that looks like a schrader valve (mentioned in the vapor lock threads).

Thoughts? And sorry for starting yet-another "can't turn over when she's warm" thread.

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I'll argue that your issue is more likely starter than vapor lock. With vapor lock the boat turns over just fine, it just won't fire. When a starter goes bad, one symptom is strained or slow cranking, which it sounds like you have.

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I would suggest testing the battery first, it sounds like it may have a cell going dead. Vapor lock won't cause the starter or the battery to cause the boat to turn over slower or not at all. Heat can cause the starter to require more amperage to turn over, so that could be another cause. Probability is higher on a bad battery.

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I had similar issues with my Echelon. I replaced the batteries, checked connections, checked cables, then I replaced the starter. The starter I bought came with a selenoid attached. I am not sure if it was the old starter or old selenoid, but it runs like a champ now. It starts instantly when Hot or Cold. Well worth the money. I had a bit of a probelm getting one of the old bolts out, but other than that it is an easy replacement. Mine only had 2 bolts and a couple wires.

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I have very recently had a similar problem in that once warm my boat would not start. It ended up being blocked idle jets in the carb. I also burnt out my starter motor due to excessive cranking. The starter would operate perfectly normal out of the boat (off load), and it would actually start the boat 1 in 5 attempts. I replcaed the starter and it starts on first crank. The starters can fail in various ways. If the motor winding is partially burnt out the starter will operate but struggle to crank your engine. The solenoid is a possibility but if it pushes the bendix gear out it's probably OK. As previous posters have commented it probably is not vapour lock, infact I'm not even sure you can get vapour lock on a carbed engine, it's associated with fuel injection. Check your battery's and then move to the starter. because mine is a chevy engine I took mine to a small automotive workshop and they can load test the starter. They rebuilt mine for $85 which included a new gear head and case - Nice deal!

if it is your starter, make sure you get a marine rated one, they are sealed to prevent electrical sparks getting into your bilge and igniting the fuel vapours.

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I would suggest testing the battery first, it sounds like it may have a cell going dead. Vapor lock won't cause the starter or the battery to cause the boat to turn over slower or not at all. Heat can cause the starter to require more amperage to turn over, so that could be another cause. Probability is higher on a bad battery.

That would be my guess as well, it is not vapor lock for sure. A bad battery will not take a full charge. Your alt maybe starting to go too.

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For what it's worth we just had one of the boats in our group experience the same problem.........turned out to be a loose "positive" battery connection

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Thanks folks. That's re-assuring/confirming my instincts. And I actually have a new battery in, and I did some checking with a multimeter (watched volts at battery, at starter, cold/warm, etc) and it seems like it's at least getting good voltage. So everything is pointing towards either the starter or (less likely) the solenoid, so with the price of the mini-starters on eBay, I might as well do the whole starter.

Anyone know what I need to look for as for as compatibility? I know it's a marine starter for a GM under-mount offset-bolt pattern, but does teeth (9 or 11) matter or anyone know the size of the flywheel? Any reason to think something like this wouldn't work: http://bit.ly/n1EInJ?

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