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Hard/Difficult steering outboard motor

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  • Hard/Difficult steering outboard motor

    I've done some reading on this forum and others to gather information about fixing the steering problems on my '73 Merc 85hp motor - on a '73 neon green Invader. I'll review what I've learned so far, then run through some questions I have - as a neophyte - and perhaps get some useful answers from you experts.

    When the steering is so tight or difficult to turn the wheel there are 3 basic things to look at.
    1 - Steering wheel assembly could be tight, warped or frozen.
    2 - Steering cable might be bent, rusty or need lubrication.
    3 - Motor swivel pin or pivot point is in need of cleaning and/or lubrication.

    First step in finding out which item is the problem is to disconnect the steering cable at the front of the motor. If the wheel then turns freely and the cable moves properly - neither of those is the problem and you need to look at the motor swivel pin - manually try to pivot the motor and see if it is very difficult to move. If the motor moves well and steering is still balky, disconnect the other end of steering cable at wheel box and see if the problem is in the steering wheel or the cable. If wheel moves easily, the cable is the problem.

    1 and 2 - The cable can be replaced with parts available at dealers or with a kit that also replaces the steering box itself - the kit is often less expensive than the cable alone. For Mercury, the parts for this should run under $200. The cable is difficult to lubricate because it is sealed at each end and it's difficult to get the lube far enough into the cable to do any good. To lubricate properly, you need to slide as much of the cable out of the sleeve as possible, at each end, and liberally try to get lube inside it. A lube like Mercury's QuickSilver Anti-Corrosion Grease is good for this job.

    I assume that the kit with the cable and steering box costs less because the cable end doesn't have to match the existing older steering box and is more generic. This repair requires you to remove the old steering wheel and re-mount it onto the new box, mount the box behind the dash, pull the entire cable out and re-mount it, etc... The cable end at the motor is fairly generic. Make sure you pull the cable and/or box before ordering as the length has to match exactly! Ideally, take the assembly to the dealer and match it up.

    3 - Seems that most problems are on the motor end of the steering, the motor simply won't turn easily. For Mercury, the place the motor body attaches to the clamp and swivel bracket is called the Swivel Pin, also called the pivot point. All outboards have a grease fitting in line with the housing around the swivel pin - lubrication of the swivel pin is necessary to keep the motor turning smoothly. The grease fitting is often hard to see but will be on one side or the other of the sleeve around the pivot point - covered with a rubber plug.

    Ideally, you can just take a grease gun and lube the pin by attaching to the grease fitting. Grease it, move the motor manually a bit, grease some more, etc... It seems that when the housing of the swivel pin is filled with grease, it should ooze out around the top of the sleeve or housing. However, sometimes the existing grease is old and hardened, the grease fitting is clogged or otherwise the grease won't fill the chamber or it's already filled with old, gunky grease.

    In those cases, frequent with older motors or those subjected to poor treatment, you have to take more steps. One is to clean the area with a solvent, such as carb cleaner. Spray it and clean the grease fitting and clean around the top of the swivel pin housing. I've seen some recommendations to actually insert cleaner inside the sleeve through the fitting or to drill a hold and put in a new fitting. Heat seems to be a favorite method - although not recommended outside of a shop. If you heat up the sleeve housing with a torch, it will melt the old grease making it workable. Not a great thing if the carbs and gas lines are not drained well. I have a high-intensity heat gun designed for shrinking electrical tubing and drying things - seems it might be a safer alternative? But there's no real way that I can see of actually removing the old grease.

    I hope this covers the subject well enough, without too many errors. Here are some of my questions - again, I'm not a mechanic although handy with tools.

    * - Is the grease fitting on outboards a standard one? That is, does the connector found on a general-use grease gun, 3oz or 14 oz, fit onto it? My only experience with grease guns is working as a go-fer at a car dealership - sometimes I'd lube the front ends of Cadillacs!

    * - Does the grease really ooze out of the top of the Swivel Pin housing when the chamber is full?

    * - Is there really no way to remove the old grease? Does anyone have experience in heating up the swivel pin housing to loosen up the old gunk?

    * - The lube/grease should be marine lubricant 2-4-C. I've found Mercury's Quicksilver w/Teflon available and plan to use it for my '73 Merc 85hp and '71 Merc 7.5hp motors. Will it mix OK with the existing grease? I saw OMC's Triple Guard recommended somewhere - any advantage to this?

    I hope to get some comments on this and please correct anything I said above. Perhaps the Mods can look at this post as an addition to the general FAQs as I couldn't find anything there on this subject - edit as needed.

  • #2
    Re: Hard/Difficult steering outboard motor

    The grease fitting is standard. Fill it up, and let it ooze. If it exits the top part of the swivel pin, as well as the bottom part of the swivel pin, your steering is likely OK on the motor.

    Any marine-grade grease is fine in salt water. Just pump it up a couple of times a season, and at then end of the season. Any grease is fine in freshwater. I never had any luck getting the old grease out, without disassembling the entire motor.


    • #3
      Re: Hard/Difficult steering outboard motor

      Thanks for the answers Chris. Bad news is that the fittings on this motor haven't ever been lubed to my knowledge, perhaps done on a visit to a marina for other repairs.

      I've already done the steps to isolate the problem to the swivel pin, after a mechanic replacing the lower end assured me it was the steering cable. The steering wheel and cable move freely when not attached to the motor and the motor is very difficult to move. I'm just hoping that it responds to the grease and this concludes the issue. The small 7.5hp works fine but I'll be greasing it as well - it has a Co-Pilot screw that will likely need tightening after lubing.


      • #4
        Re: Hard/Difficult steering outboard motor

        Ok, you are sure it is not the steering cable end corroded to the tilt tube, right?

        Here is a little trick that may help you. Tilt the motor all the way up. Now tie a piece of rope around the lower unit and the upper steering rod. Now tighten the rope like a torniquet until the motor lifts up a bit, giving more room between the upper swivel bushing andd the steering rod. Now if you grease the triple clamp, it will be easier to get grease to exit the upper swivel bushing.


        • #5
          Sign up today
          Re: Hard/Difficult steering outboard motor

          Thanks. Sounds like that will take the pressure off the pin some to allow the grease to get in.

          I'll get all my lube products in next week and trying it out next weekend or so - will post about my success and failure. Thanks for the replies Chris and to the others who have read this over.