1989 Johnson- Major Problems Help Please!


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Jan 1, 2011
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Nashville, TN
Where to start. This is going to be a long post, please bare with me!

Any help from the pros on here is GREATLY APPRECIATED!

1989 Bass Tracker
Johson 40HP Model TJ40ELCEC

I inherited this boat from my grandfather. He bought it new in 1990 and kept in in the barn. He hardly ever used it. When I got it 7 years ago, the boat looked brand new. However...

The first time we took it out, the VRO pump failed, causing a blown cylinder. The overheat alarm came on and we limped back to the ramp. All of the following work was done by a shadetree mechanic, his father was an outboard mechanic, and he has 30 years experience with Johnson motors. Nice guy, seemed knowledgeable, but man I have been through it with this boat.

The Shadetree Mechanic pulled the head cover and we had blown a cylinder. He sent it to a machine shop to have it (just the one cylinder) bored out to within factory specs. The other cylinder was not bored out. By the way, the mechanic says he thinks the motor has less than 100 hours on it.

We bypassed the VRO and started mixing gas and oil.

Carbs rebuilt, new impeller, etc.

The thing would either run like a banshee or not at all. It would stay cranked if I bumped the choke, or if it was wide open, but no in-between.

The first thing I did was replace the "power pack". No change.

Then, we diagnosed it as a bad coil or whatever, due to the green goo (epoxy type stuff) that had melted and running from under the flywheel. This was due to the original overheat, and I was told that it would run when cool (true, for a minute) and when it got hot, this had something to do with the coil getting hot, and back to either WOT or nothing at all.

Everybody seemed to think the best replacement was the newer CDI unit, which I was told by several mechanics and parts guys is the standard for replacing these older units. I don't have the part number, but it's supposedly the thing to do. This new unit comes with a replacement (what I'm calling the power pack) as well as the under flywheel parts. So now, I have two powerpacks that are fine (could probably sell them), and a brand new CDI unit with replacement power pack.

So now, we finally have consistent spark. I head out, and it runs just fine for about an hour, then some strangeness, and I'm guessing I've screwed up my lower unit somehow. The boat would run, not well, but would limp back to the ramp. It seemed that the motor just wasn't turning the prop. I don't think it's a spun hub or whatever. It's got to be something in the case itself.

So, I get back to the house and realize that I need to restart the motor to run the fuel out of the line. I hook it up to the earmuffs, turn the motor over, and it starts up and runs like a banshee to WOT, even though I'm not throttling it to WOT. I pull the kill switch, and nada- still screaming. The motor finally runs out of gas and dies. The overheat alarm is on. I put it away for the winter. Oh, and btw, I drained the lower unit oil, and it was full of water.

Fast forward to today:

Engine starts and runs fine. The impeller seems to be working fine and the motor is peeing consistently. However, the water is not warm. A few minutes later, the high temp alarm comes back on.

So, I guess I have two main problems.

1) Overheating. I have no idea where to start here. I pulled the thermostat and it looked fine. I've cleaned it and will try replacing it.
2) Lower Unit. Based on what I'm telling you here, do you think it's just the seals, or is there something mechanically wrong.

There's more to this story, but let's just say that this motor has ruined many a weekend. I'd say it's left us either stranded or hobbling back to the ramp 8/10 trips (we think we have the problem finally solved each time it goes out).

If anyone on the board thinks they can help me, it would be easier by phone as there's so much going on with this one. It would be tremendously appreciated, and I'd be happy to make a donation to the board or some charity in your name. I know I'm reaching here, but I am just beyond frustrated with this thing.

Please respond here or PM me if it would be possible for me to call.

To start with - The VRO pump cannot go out and cause an overheat alarm to come on, doesn't matter whether a piston is in the middle of a seizure or not. Chances are you had a straight overheat alarm and seized your engine and your "Shadetree" blamed it on the VRO pump.
Second - If you were pushing in the choke and the engine kept running that indicates a fuel problem, not an ignition issue. Think someone has taken some of your hard earned money on that one. Hopefully they repaired the screw-up on the carb job while taking you to the cleaners.
Third - On your gearcase. Remove your drain screw at the bottom front of the bullet ahead of the propeller and see what kind of lube comes out. Metal = bad news. Milky = repairable without much trouble, Clear = possibly good to go. Propeller should be checked for a spun hub. If the engine would idle and push the boat but sounded like it was slipping when throttle was applied chances are the hub is spun and the prop can be easily repaired. You can do a simple check by putting the engine in gear, key off and kill switch lanyard pulled out. Engine cover off where you can see the flywheel. Try and turn the propeller. If you can turn it and the flywheel is not turning the hub is spun. Remove it and smell it - if it smells like burned rubber then re-hub it.
Now for some advice. You have a good engine there. Any engine, regardless of brand, is only as good as the care that is taken of it and the people trusted to work on it. Don't blame your engine when you have tried to save some money on repairs and have found out later that you are funding a shadetree's trial and error learning curve while working on your engine. Next time take it to a reputable shop, you'll spend less in the long run. There are simple step by step checks on the ignition system that can be followed using a special ignition meter and a proper service manual. A good mechanic will write down the values taken on your system if he is troubleshooting it and go over them with you. A shadetree will BS you into buying component after component until he finally gets lucky and repairs it.
Pappy speaks the truth. As for the overheat, I would start with a thermostat. Cleaning it will do no good, it needs to be replaced. You can put it in boiling water and see i it opens but for no more than they cost I would just replace it.
I just wanted to say thank you to Pappy for the response. You're the guy I was hoping would respond!

I'm going to try some of the things you and others mentioned and will report back.
jladdsmith said:
Oh, and btw, I drained the lower unit oil, and it was full of water.

Seems like you have multiple issues, just like me.

I have a Johnson 48 special that came with my second boat. I'm slowly trouble shooting it with each outing, just like you are.

As for the water, I would think it could be something as simple as the drain plug seals or the seals on the prop shaft. My motor has two seals on the prop shaft, back to back. I pulled them out with a pilot bearing remover which you can rent at an auto parts place or simply buy it from them for around $50. It's handy if you are going to be doing your own lower unit servicing. The inboard seal was totally destroyed and installed backwards! So much for the previous owner saying that the harbor boat yard did all his maintenance.

Not sure if it is the same as yours, but my motor would occasionally not start after sitting for awhile after raising the anchor to move. I would crank and sometimes just manually prime the carbs by shooting gas in with a squeeze bottle. During the last outing a few weeks ago, it ran great. We were tearing up the lake going from one fishing spot to another. We fished a spot for a long time and had lunch then the motor wouldn't start. After brief periods of success and dying, we finally called for a tow.

Yesterday I was able to look at the motor and it had the same symptoms of a no start condition. This time I could see that the bottom carb would spill gas out while priming with the solenoid and the top carb wouldn't. I ordered the carb rebuild kits last night. I thing the floats are toast!

Welcome to the world of used boats!