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What Are the Causes of Sneezing in Outboard Motors?

by Erin Watson-Price

Outboard motor sneezing is an audible result of a lean fuel mixture resulting from problems in the carburetor. Described variably as a sneeze, cough or stutter, an outboard motor or any engine will lose its ability to run smoothly if it does not receive enough fuel. In small engines, the culprit is the carburetor. On modern automobiles a fuel injection system has replaced the carburetor. However, small block engines, such as those used for outboard motors, still use carburetors as a part of their fuel system. When the carburetor fails to provide the correct mix of fuel, the outboard motor will no longer run smoothly.

Improper Fuel Mix

When an engine receives too much gasoline, it is described as running rich. The engine is flooded with gasoline and not enough air to allow combustion. However, when an engine receives too little gasoline, it is described as running lean. When the injection port from the carburetor becomes damaged or clogged by foreign material or general wear, the engine becomes starved for gasoline. Pressure build-up along the gasoline line will intermittently cause gasoline to spray into the engine causing the stuttering or sneezing effect from sudden combustion.

Adjusting the Mix

Carburetors contain a screw assembly that allows the owner to adjust the mix of fuel manually. Unless the carburetor has been rebuilt recently, these screws should never need to be adjusted. However, if you have recently taken it apart for cleaning and the outboard motor has begun to sneeze, check your owner's manual for the correct screw positions. Typically, screws should be out 1-1/4 turn from flush.

Improper Storage

Improper fuel storage is the biggest cause of gunky build-up in a carburetor. Gasoline is a highly volatile liquid and even storage for a few weeks can cause significant evaporation. In particular, evaporation from the float bowl of the carburetor leaves behind a gum-like substance that can break off and clog up the injector needle as well as other parts of the carburetor, reducing the amount of fuel that can reach the engine for combustion.

Carburetor Cleaning

Even if your outboard motor ran fine for several hours or even days after bringing it out of storage, the cause of sudden sneezing could be carburetor gunk breaking loose and gumming up the works. The only way to fix this is to take apart the carburetor and use a low pressure aerosol carburetor cleaner to remove the buildup from all the parts.

About the Author

Transplanted Yankee Erin Watson-Price lives in Birmingham, Ala., and has been writing freelance articles since 1997. She worked as writer/co-editor for Coast to Coast Dachshund Rescue's newsletter, "The Long and the Short of It." In 2007 she obtained a certification as a copy editor. Watson-Price holds a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

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