Feature Article: Quality Performance Marine

An ounce of prevention prevents a pound of headaches

BY PAUL LEBOWITZ/WON Staff WriterPublished: Jan 16, 2019

Outboard maintenance tips with Rob Clarke of Quality Performance Marine

CORONA — In nearly 30 years in business, Rob Clarke of Quality Performance Marine has seen his share of outboard problems. In his view, too many are caused by a lack of preventative maintenance and lead to other issues.

“What does a tow coast if you break down at Catalina? Unless you’ve got BoatUS it’s pretty darn expensive,” he says. And that’s not counting the time wasted. “I had a guy, it took 12 hours to get to him then he got towed back at 5 mph. It was a long day, hours and hours and hours. The idea is not to break down and ruin your day.”

qualityperformanceQUALITY PERFORMANCE MARINE Master Technician and owner Rob Clarke is smiling now but fuel system problems caused by ethanol gas left sitting too long cause him to frown. Those easy-to-prevent problems are costly.

In Rob’s perfect world (he’s an informal gent who prefers to be called by his first name), aside from regular maintenance, all a boat owner needs to do is put gas in and go. “Shops like mine, our job is to make the boat run so the customer can enjoy it,” he says.

A lot of people pull their sand toys out come October, he points out, which for many is the end of the boating season. The sand toys fit in front of the boat so they don’t even think about it until next spring. That’s a missed opportunity to get work done during down time for both boaters and service shops.

“The end of Oct., and the months of Nov., Dec., Jan. is a slow time in the boating industry, nobody’s thinking about their boats, they’re thinking about their sand toys or Christmas. That’s when they should be doing their service work, doing their preventative stuff to avoid breakdowns,” Rob says.

Rob respects do-it-yourselfers who prefer to change their own engine oil and oil filter — those are pretty easy. On the newer 4-strokes, some fuel filters are easy and some are not. It depends on the engine model. Even so, there are some incipient problems that only the expert eyes of the maintenance technicians can spot.

For many anglers, Rob says routine annual maintenance should include impeller replacement. Impellers might last 2-3 years in ideal conditions. Not for anglers who fish around kelp. “You’re out there fishing and all of a sudden there’s a piece of kelp covering the intake. The buzzer goes off, you put it in reverse and blow it off, now the lifespan of the impeller has been reduced,” he says.

Freshwater anglers aren’t off the hook either on annual impeller replacement. “Those guys fish where it’s shallow, so sand, silt, debris and grass cause the same problem,” Rob adds.

Rob says many mechanical and electrical issues can be avoided if boaters make a habit of removing their outboard cowlings at the end of the boating day when they’re flushing their motors. “If there are any water leaks — especially for the saltwater guys — you need to resolve it before it turns into a catastrophe. Bring it to a shop or fix it yourself. Either way it gets solved before it turns into a major problem and expense,” he says.

If you ignore it, every time you take the boat out you’ll be spraying water on your aluminum cylinder head, on your engine. “If you don’t take care of a saltwater leak, your engine ends up being called a salty dog, meaning you’re going to have electrical problems forever. It is what it is, there’s nothing I can do to fix it,” Rob adds.

The recommended outboard service interval is annually or every 100 hours. “Some of the tournament guys, they’ll put 200-300 hours a year on their boats. If you pay attention, you can probably go a little longer than 100 hours so you bring it in twice a year instead of 3 times. It depends on how you use the boat and how you maintain it. If you’re doing your own oil changes bring it to the shop every other time,” Rob says.

Thirty percent of Quality Performance Marine’s work is dealing with fuel system problems. This results from allowing ethanol gas to sit without using fuel stabilizer. It affects the entire fuel system, injectors, pumps, carbs and more.

A BUSY SHOP — A look behind the scenes at Quality Performance Marine. This is in December, a slow time, which is why you should be getting your off-season boat maintenance done now.

“When people let their boats sit for years, they come in here and say ‘Hey my boat doesn’t want to start.’ It’s automatically a fuel system problem. It starts with the fuel hose, goes to the tank, the part with the squeeze bulb… The ethanol is eating the inside of the hose, it’s the first thing you have to change, next is the electric fuel pump. Those don’t seem to last with the ethanol in the gas if they’ve been sitting. Then the fuel injectors get plugged up or they don’t work right, then we have to have those cleaned and flowed. If it’s a carbureted engine then we have to rebuild the carburetor,” Rob says.

If you use fuel stabilizer you can allow your boat to sit for probably 2 years (not that any WON readers will do this), but you have to do it correctly. Rob says you have to carefully follow the instructions, which usually call for 1 ounce per 5 gallons of gas. “You can’t just do the guy thing where you just put in the whole bottle. You have to do the math. You’ve got a 30-gallon tank that’s half full, that’s 15 gallons, you put in 3 ounces. You don’t have to be perfect but you have to be close to the right formula,” he says. But that’s not all.

Once you add fuel stabilizer to your tank, you have to run the boat. “You can’t just start it in the driveway, you have to drive the boat in the lake so the stabilized fuel is inside the fuel injectors, inside the VST, inside the electric fuel pumps, inside the system, because if you only do it in the gas tank, that’s great, the gas in the tank is stabilized, but none of engine components are so you’ll have problems with the engine,” Rob says.

The bottom line? “If you don’t know when you’re going to drive your boat next, always use stabilizer.”

Repairing a boat with ethanol gas issues is a costly proposition. At the time of this interview, Rob had two in the shop that each required $2,600 in work. Each boat was getting a full service plus new fuel injectors, fuel pumps and other fuel system repairs. “One job sat for 3½ years and the other for 6, and unfortunately if you want to use the boat there are no ifs, ands, or buts, there are no shortcuts, you have to do it,” Rob says.

Rob has one more piece of advice to share. If you’re buying a newer used boat, have someone look at it. It could need $4,000 in work. Do you due diligence and homework so there are no unpleasant surprises.

After all, Rob says, boating is a family activity. Whether you fish, ski, or wakeboard it keeps families together, gets kids away from screen time, and leads to bonding. Quality Performance Marine is there to help people. To help them use their boats safely and happily.

Quality Performance Marine, founded in 1990, is a full-service marine service shop that works primarily on Mercury outboards, Mercruiser stern drives, Volvo-Penta stern drives, and ski boats. Repowers and boat setup are a specialty. They are located in Corona near the 91 and 15 freeways. Master Technician and owner Rob Clarke says they are one the last shops that still rebuilds gear cases and outdrives. “We’re not parts replacers,” he says, “We solve problems.” For more information visit or call (951) 735-5503.

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