The power tilt and trim system on a boat or outboard is vital. A push of a button will tilt the motor and lower the unit up out of the way for trailering. Push the down button to move everything into position to power up. Once you are cruising, use the system to make minor tilt adjustments to trim the boat for the optimum ride and performance. If the tilt system malfunctions, you’ll need to understand more about the system to diagnose and repair it.
The tilt and trim system consists of an electric motor that operates a hydraulic pump, a reservoir and lines to contain and deliver the hydraulic oil and hydraulic pistons (called rams) to move the lower unit up down. Usually, the motor, pump and oil reservoir are bundled together into one unit. The rams are located on the lower unit of the boat's main motor. Any of these can malfunction.
The electric motor on the tilt and trim system makes a high-pitched whine, easily heard when activated. With the boat’s motor off, activate the tilt up or down switch and listen to hear if the electric motor runs. If it does, the problem is with the hydraulics. If you hear nothing the problem is electrical in nature, either in the switches or the electric motor.
Use a 12-volt test light to check for power going into the motor. There are two wires on the motor. The up switch powers one; the down switch powers the other. Test each wire by having a helper activate the up and down switches to determine if electricity is getting to the motor.
If no power is getting to the motor, chances are the switches are bad or corroded. If power is getting to the motor but it’s not running, the problem is in the motor. Both the switches and motor are replaceable, but often cleaning the contacts on the switches or removing the motor and blowing out the accumulated dust inside with high-pressure air will get them working again, at least temporarily.
If the electrical system is okay, check the amount of oil in the reservoir. Most boats have a translucent plastic reservoirs so you can see the oil inside. Metal reservoirs will have a dipstick to check the oil level. If the oil level is low, add oil. Most manufacturers have a special tilt and trim system oil, but any hydraulic oil such as brake fluid or automatic transmission oil (even engine oil) will substitute in a pinch.
Check for Leaks
If the reservoir oil is low, visually check to see if there’s a leak. With time (usually years) the oil will gradually seep out through seals and O-rings. If it’s a well-used unit, topping off the oil may fix it for another several years. If a seal, ring or hose is leaking, you’ll find an oily mess at the spot of the leak. In the case of a ruptured hose or fitting, you can see the oil squirt out when the unit is being used.
Hoses and fittings are replaceable. Leaky ram cylinders can be rebuilt. Purchase the needed hose or repair kit from a marine dealer. Disconnect the old hose, replace with the new. Take the ram off the motor, disassemble, replace the old washers and O-rings inside with new ones from the kit.
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