It’s time to tell the Mercury outboard story. The beauty of the internet is if you google specific words, you can bring to the surface any subject out of trillions of bits of information. Consider the words Mercury Outboard and Lemon….now that’s a strange combination at first…..but I’m not referring to the planet Mercury, nor the Mercury automobile, nor the mercury in thermometers. No, I’m referring to a Mercury outboard engine. Specifically a Four Stroke, EFI, 60 hp Mercury outboard manufactured by Mercury Marine. Now this reminds me of lemons. Lemon, lemon, lemon. The more you type it, the faster it comes to the top of a google search. Not lemon the fruit but lemon the faulty automobile or Mercury outboard engine. Mercury outboard, Lemon, Mercury outboard, Lemon… If there’s a lemon in a field of oranges, I’ll pick it. And I bought a lemon of a Mercury outboard engine–here’s my final letter to Pat Mackey, president of Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

But before you read this letter, here is an excerpt from an article from Reuters about Pat Mackey:

“Mackey quickly developed a strong reputation for building successful relationships within the marine industry, with Mercury dealers, its boat builder partners, and other customers. Under his leadership, Mercury also galvanized its efforts to imbue the industry’s leading marine engine brand with operational excellence and technological advancements. Pat has been a visionary for our industry who has championed technology, while setting new standards for
customer and dealer relations.”

Oh, he’s trying so hard to satisfy his customers….now, here is my letter…..

Pat Mackey
President, Mercury Marine
PO Box 1939
Fond du Lac, WI 54936-1939

August 5, 2008

Dear Mr. Mackey:

This letter is about my experiences with a Mercury outboard and I think you ought to read it carefully.

You probably will never see this letter but I’m going to try anyway. First, let me introduce myself: I’m a customer, 62 years old, a retired dentist, speak 5 languages, hold a degree in Geology and also a DDS. I’ve visited every continent except Africa; and been to the South Pole twice. I’ve restored three large vessels for a total of 169 feet. I am also fairly mechanical. And I am no fool.

Here is a photo of me with my tugboat and brand new Toyota Land Cruiser:

What’s a Toyota got do with this letter? Everything as you’ll see. I first purchased a Jeep Cherokee and it fell apart within two years. The radio quit working after signing the contract and the paint fell off—within two years. I wrote Lee Iacocca a letter offering to fly out to Chicago and buy him lunch to discuss how American manufacturing is going down the tubes. He wrote back and told me I’d be a “hard sell for another Jeep.” He was right and I now own two Toyota Land Cruisers and plan to purchase an FJ cruiser within a year—about a $100,000 loss for the American automobile industry. Chrysler Corporation is now on its knees with the other two following (see current news) And this has everything to do with my Mercury outboard….

So, let’s talk outboards. I sold my dental practice nine years ago and decided to travel a bit and then move to Alaska. I restored an 1899 Tugboat myself, rebuilt the engine and drove it to Alaska in 2002. Before I left, I also bought an Alumaweld 17’ skiff and a new Mercury 60hp four stroke (serial # OT615611) from Three Rivers Marine in Woodinville Washington near Seattle. They were a good dealership but they undersized the engine by half—an 18’ Alumaweld should take a 115 hp engine, not a 60hp. They work great on a glassy lake with a new polished aluminum bottom, but not well when kept in Alaskan waters where barnacles and kelp grow. But I didn’t know that then. After I left town, I noticed that within two weeks of use, my boat would only go about 12 kts.

After arriving in Haines, Alaska, I decided to go on my first fishing trip—imagine my excitement! I drove alone from the town of Haines across Battery Point and half way to the Katzehin River when the high temperature alarm went off and the engine shut itself down. I was quite taken aback—I wanted to fish and now I had to stop and start the engine pumping the fuel bulb as I limped back into Haines.

I went to the local dealer, Canal Marine, and he went through the engine and couldn’t find anything wrong. I explained how the engine seemed underpowered and he told me to clean the bottom and install a tachometer. I did those two things and the performance picked up a bit. I continued to fish that summer but could not average more than 10-12 knots, and the alarm sporadically triggered. I brought up an orthopedic doctor friend of mine who loves to fish and we limped half way to Skagway before returning to Haines. Fishing became a disaster for me. And my friend didn’t buy a Mercury for his boat.

Then I moved to Juneau. Willy’s Marine there told me to paint the bottom and that it would be $3000. I explained that the boat only cost $12K and that represented a 25% increase for bottom paint. I did get the bottom painted from an ex-Coast Guard person and the paint is still there today and it keeps much of the marine life off the bottom. He charged me about $1000 for the job. But still, I only got about 12 knots of speed.

But still the engine kept stalling and the alarm kept ringing with no explanation. I continued to break down in some of the most wonderful fishing grounds on the planet. I broke down in at the upper end of Mitchell Bay behind Angoon and was towed back 26 miles by the Forest Service—a lucky one that one was!

I also hitched rides in Hoonah and all over Sitka. I became quite the talk about town as everyone had towed me. I told them how unhappy I was this engine and that no one could find the problem. Finally in 2004 I drove back down to Seattle and stored the boat at a covered marina. I had the boat guys drive it around to keep the oil circulated, etc. They noted how underpowered it was also. Of course, I had it serviced regularly.

After returning from Antarctica in 2005, I again returned to Alaska on my 1899 tug with a 1944 Washington engine—the one that I rebuilt. Now this engine loves to run! But I continued to have problems with the Mercury. It was then that we moved to Petersburg and again, I consulted a dealer, Tongass Marine. The owner is named Ben and he now resides at Lemon Creek in Juneau—that is a State Prison. He plead guilty to raping his 14 year old babysitter—real nice guy—the sort of guy you want to have representing your company. He told me that the engine was under propped and to go from the original 17” one to a 13” one which I did—but then I had to run the engine at 5900 all the time just to stay on plane. Now this is wrong I thought….

So I wrote your company a letter dated June 12, 2006. It’s probably in your left bottom file drawer or in your out basket. But if you cannot find it, I’ll copy and send you another one. The reply I got in June 22, 2005 stated that I should run this engine in “the upper half of the 5500-6000 rpm range.” It’s all in your original letter. But Ben, who was bound for Lemon Creek, told me that this would “shorten the life of the engine”—his exact words. He even showed me a whole shelf of blown up power heads. Man, was I puzzled. But I figured you guys knew what you were talking about so I kept breaking down—this time in the Wrangell Narrows.

Ever visited the Narrows? Here’s a picture of me in the middle of the Narrows where I usually break down. My house is in the background and Petersburg is behind the photographer—this will become important later.

Except there are two differences here—first, its daylight and I would mostly break down at night. Second, I’m running with a new 90hp Yamaha. Boy do I love this Yamaha—very reliable and you have to be reliable when you’re crossing the Wrangell Narrows in winter at night. You see, every tug, barge, ferry, and tourist boat has to come down this body of water and you can get run over. How did I end up with this new motor—well read on.

Mercury, in their June 22, 2006 letter also told me that they had a warranty fix campaign that I was eligible for. Wow! A free fix! So I took my engine back to Tongass Marine for installation of a Voltage Regulator Kit—that’s what you call it. But I only got a voltage regulator. The mechanic who installed it was Tim Hammer—remember this name. And my Mercury outboard kept alarming and running down batteries and breaking down in the Wrangell Narrows at night and in winter. Six times in the winter of 1005-6. And I keep going back to the dealer and still no one can find out why.

OK, on to the fishing derby of 2006. It’s held at the end of May when all the King salmon are running and it’s something to enjoy. We had four days of perfect weather. I call up some buddies and my girlfriend and off we go for a great weekend. We get all our licenses, food, a few cold brews for celebration afterwards, all our gear—we’re ready. We drive out to Frederick Point about 4 miles SE of Petersburg in Frederick Sound and…..the alarm goes off again. Damn, thought I’d had that fixed. We turn off the engine, let it cool down and finally are getting alarms within a minute of idle. Finally it dawns on me—something’s wrong. We limp back into Petersburg with the alarm ringing, shutting down the engine, restarting, one minute another alarm which takes us almost two hours. And it was embarrassing weaving around all those other derby people with this engine beeping. Really embarrassing!

Well, I call Tongass Marine but guess what, Ben isn’t there. Ben is in Lemon Creek now and Tim Hammer answers the phone and tells me he’s busy but he says that it’s probably the impeller that’s causing overheating. He has one which I pick up I go over to my beach and drop the lower unit and discover I’ve the wrong impeller but it gets better….

And guess what happened? You won’t believe this. The entire exhaust pipe assembly falls out!! What the heck? I call back Tim, the new owner who knows this engine and he tells me I have to bring it in—it’s $150 just to haul it to the shop because I don’t own a trailer. Here’s a picture of the pipe:

Now doesn’t that look like a crack to you? That’s what I thought so I took it back to Tim, the new owner and just to be sure, I took it to Rocky’s Marine—he’s the Yahama dealer here in town and runs a nice shop. You will hear more about Rocky later. Anyway, Rocky looks at the muffler and says: “That’s where all your power’s going.” That’s exactly what he said. And so did Tim. And Tim also told me that this had probably been cracked along time; “from the very beginning,” he said.

Tim says he cannot fix this engine in time but he could get me in his shop first thing Monday morning—last day of the derby….. Oh, well. I made the appointment. He told me he had an old lower unit with the muffler part in it and I could have it. It would take him 5 hours to change it out and I’d be back in business. This amounted to $500. Ouch!

Well, I was in a pickle. The derby was lost and I’d just spent $40 for the full four days and didn’t even get a fishing line wet. And the Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t give me my money back—I was out 40 bucks. And another $500 by Monday.

We’re getting close to the end, Pat—stay patient. Well, I took the engine in on Monday morning and was told to check back in that afternoon. I arrived about 4pm—this was on May 28, a Monday. Tim told me he was having difficulties. He told me that the heat had almost welded the bolts into the oil pan case (mid unit) and his technician had to drill it out. Now is this usual, customary and reasonable?

The technician was named Eric Overdorff and he was not a Mercury trained mechanic. But he must have been good as I was getting charged $75/hour for his services. And I was told it would be another day but I would not be charged for ‘extra’ hours. And then Tim added; that a part came in from Mercury for me and had been sitting on the shelf for several weeks (remember, he’d just bought the business).

It was….a voltage regulator kit!!! Mercury had come through after all but I, of course, thought it had already been done. So I called your offices and they told me the difference between the kit and the regulator—the kit has a thicker exhaust valve cover which insulates the voltage regulator to keep it from frying and setting off engine alarms. And Tim didn’t know that. But I did–because I’d been paddling into every harbor in Alaska with this problem now for five year!……

But I digress…

Here is a photograph of that stage of repairs showing a big drill hole in the oil pan:

Now, if I did this as a dentist, I’d be sued for malpractice…..

The drill hole is right in the middle of the narrow slot on the right. Well, I told myself, I just had to be patient. At least my engine was in good hands. It was a long wait—two more days but I was so happy to be back in business. On 1:17pm Thursday, May 31, I finally got my engine back. I was told to “expect a big one” but I wasn’t sure what was meant by that until they told me that the bill was…..are you ready…..$1937.63. WOW!

It was then explained to me that they had to replace the ‘whole mid section—oilpan and all.” And it cost an additional $260 because they “couldn’t figure how to get the exhaust pipe apart from the oilpan.” I asked to see the old oilpan—figuring that maybe it could be returned. Here’s what I found:

Man, this was literally hammered! Now I would never do this to my tug engine. But I figured these guys knew what they were doing. After all, Eric was paid very well at $75.00 so they must be professionals.

Do you know what I get paid as a dentist with 30 years experience; doing surgery at the South Pole, Russian icebreakers and the foggy, icy far north in Eskimo villages? I get $75.00 per hour also. Now that didn’t seem fair to me so I turned to Tim and I asked him a question:

“Tim,” I said, “you know the trouble I’ve had with this engine—do you think that this will be a reliable engine?”

And Tim (He’s your man in the field—representing Mercury) replied: “Doug, this will be like a brand new engine; I would take it anywhere.” That what Tim said. He was a Mercury dealer, had experience with my engine and I trusted him. I was still clinging on to hope that some day I could fish and enjoy retirement. So I made the second biggest mistake of my life (the first was using a case Hershey Bars for a pillow in bear country) and paid the bill with my credit card.

Well, at least I was back on the water. I drove home in the boat (remember, I live on the other side of the Wrangell Narrows) and it worked fine. I had also scrapped the bottom so I went even faster than before. I went home which is about a five minute ride (it’s a mile exactly from the boat launch). I’d missed the derby but I had a ‘new’ engine that I could take anywhere.

Well, a friend, Peter, who was on the disastrous fishing derby, needed a lift home so I thought I’d give him a ride which is 8 miles down the Narrows from Petersburg. I picked Peter up and away we went. I took the engine right up to the recommended speed of 5750rpm. We got up on plane, albeit slowly, but away we went. Then a slight ticking sound was heard. It got louder so I throttled back. This sounded serious so I began to make way to Scow Bay—less than three miles from Petersburg. Finally the engine seized up entirely and we could not restart it. This was June 10th and I’d less than two hours on the repairs. We got towed again.

Remember Rocky’s Marine? Well, I drove over to his shop and, after consulting my credit card, I paid Rocky almost $10,000 for a brand new 90 horsepower Yahama and it was installed the next day. I then drove to Hammer’s Marine and talked with Tim. He was actually over at Scow Bay which is across the road from Hammer’s Marine—I found him in a pickup truck with his silent partner, Tom Reinarts, seated beside him. Now, I didn’t know Tom was a silent partner however, Tom is my neighbor here in Kupreanof, which is the smallest city in Alaska—23 people. Word gets around in places like this.

I told Tim what happened and I wanted a refund on the engine. He told me he wouldn’t and started to get very defensive. Then Tom broke in the conversation and explained that he, too, owned the business. He offered to tear down the engine and see what the problem was. We didn’t get to this until August 8 because in the summer it’s fishing season.

But I wasn’t fishing. I was writing another letter to Mercury, dated July 27, 2006 about how Mercury, Three Rivers Marine and Hammer’s Marine should buy me a new engine for factory cracks in the exhaust tube (see your page 2, paragraph 1 of your June 22, 2006 letter).

I also put in a call to Three Rivers Marine and talked with the other owner besides Dave Lee. His name is Scott and we had a heated discussion about engine sizing. He finally told me that the Mercury field rep had looked at the situation and was going to get me a new powerhead but that “I had handled it poorly.” When I asked what I had done ‘poorly’ he replied: “I went out and bought a Yahama.” That’s actually what Scott said—that I had “handled it poorly…..”

So to continue, on August 8, all parties went down to Hammer’s Marine and we tore apart the engine. The upper end of the engine was fine—no heat damage to the head and the cylinder walls were perfect. No discoloration, nothing! Boy, am I lucky. We did find a loose magnet, though—it had become unglued. This was minor I was assured as it could be reglued.

Then we tore apart the lower end of the engine—the bearings–by splitting the case. Guess what we found? You’ll never guess. The bearings were completely welded to the crankshaft. Tim exclaimed: “Oil starvation, definitely.” Those were his exact words and he huffed off. I asked him how much oil had been removed from the engine and he replied: ‘just over a quart.’ I then asked him how much it took and he said “Three.”

Then he asked me if I’d changed the oil or removed any—can you imagine? And he also asked me if I had checked the oil before using the engine? I reminded him that I had just taken the engine out of his shop and had only one hour or less on the engine (the meter said two total hours which would have included ½ hour testing). Of course I hadn’t—why should I. He then told me that the oil had leaked out over at Rocky’s when they took the engine off and put the brand new 90 hp Yahama on. Well, I went immediately over to Rocky’s to ask if this was possible—that the oil would have leaked out after the engine blew up. Do you know what Rocky told me? He told me that “they knew how to lay down an engine and he didn’t want oil in his parking lot.” Then we walked over to the place where it had just been removed and guess what we found? Nothing.

The oil didn’t leak out (after the engine blew up from oil starvation); it was 1.) either not put in in the first place or 2.) it leaked out. I think it leaked out. Now why do I think that? First, they charged me for three quarts of oil—although they could have forgotten if the phone rang or after a break, etc. But that’s not as likely as it leaking out—remember, they put in an oil pan out of their junk pile and they had no idea what exact engine it came off. They also banged the old oil pan off with a hammer and that could have dented the adjoining surface.

Well, I needed another opinion so after being told to get my engine out of their shop, I shipped it directly to Seattle to Three Rivers Marine and had Big Dave, their head mechanic with 19 years of Mercury, Yahama and Honda experience look at it. Now you won’t believe what he found! He found…. SHODDY WORKMANSHIP!!! But you should call him at 1-425-415-1575 and find out for yourself.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Here I had just paid $1937.63 to a Mercury dealer who told my engine was ‘like brand new’ and ‘could be taken anywhere’ and they destroyed it by putting in non-dealer parts and maybe no oil. One bolt was hacksawed off and there was silicone everywhere; not the sealant described on page 1B-2 of your service manual. And two bolts were loose. But talk to Big Dave (Dave Edison) who also found an improperly crimped oil pick-up tube….now think a moment…lack of oil…. And ask Dave about the gaskets they didn’t have causing them to reused the old ones.

Well, now I’m hopping mad so I do two things in this order: First, I write a letter to Bank of America to try to reverse the $1937.63 on my credit card and second, I file a small claims action against Hammer Marine for shoddy workmanship and ruination of an engine asking for $3000.

First, let’s take the Bank of America. Bank of America first told me that I had to notify them within 90 days of the purchase. However, I consulted a lawyer (my brother) and he told me that it’s the ‘discovery’ of the wrong that starts the clock. I had to petition BAC several times to get an extension but I finally got one. I’ll make this short; I contacted BAC first on October 24, 2007 which is within the 90 days and received a reply on November 8 and six other letters ending our correspondence on February 20, 2008 in which they denied the reversal of the $1937.63 because I’d procrastinated.

But I didn’t procrastinate. In fact these six letters and the three faxes from Three Rivers Marine were all approved via extensions—now the reason Three Rivers Marine had to fax it three times is that there was a boat show going on in January/February and they scribbled their documentation on a cover sheet, not the letterhead as required by BAC. This was rectified within the timeframe.

The small claims action IPE-08-5 was filed in district court in Petersburg on April 17, 2008 against Tim Hammer and Tom Reinarts, dba Hammer’s Marine in the amount of $3000 which was the value of the bluebook (NADA) value, plus 20% (wholesale correction) minus $500 which is what the engine is worth today. Trial was moved once so Tom could take vacation. On July 28, 2008, a small claims trial was held under judge Michael A. Thomas of Ketchikan. I presented one witness, Dave Edison of Three Rivers Marine who testified that the engine had received shoddy workmanship, scavenged parts, silicone sealants and that as a result of this work, caused failure of the powerhead due to lack of oil.

Tim didn’t take the stand….but his silent partner did defend the case by accusing me of opening up the engine and loosening the oil pickup pipe. He also stated that my use of the engine prior to the repairs was the cause of the damage (claiming upper engine overheating). They also stated that my driving back from the fishing derby for 1 ½ hours was “at full speed with the alarm constantly beeping” which was a lie. By the end of the trial, there was “nearly three quarts of oil” back in the engine according to Tom—better than seeing an image of the Madonna…..

But assume for a minute it wasn’t a lie—that I did run the engine in that manner. First, the upper end would show damage, and two, these alarms were caused by the fact that the mechanic who replaced the voltage regulator instead of the voltage regulator kit—causing the overheat alarm to continuously fire, would be caused by the dealer. That mechanic who worked under Ben at Lemon Creek Prison, was Tim Hammer. When asked why he didn’t replace the whole kit, he replied…..(are you ready for this one?) “I was just following orders.”

So this is the man who now commands your dealership in Petersburg. And now you may see why half the business goes to Rocky’s Marine to purchase Yahamas and the other half who are stuck with their Mercury outboards, ferry or drive their engines to Wrangell, 50 miles south via the Narrows to have The Bay Company work on them. How do I know this? Mike Ottensen was a patient of mine there and told me so—he is a mechanic there and was flabbergasted when he found out that I didn’t even get a refund.

I would strongly urge you to pull the dealership from Hammer Marine—they are costing you customers and you are losing business. But don’t take my word for it. I’m only one of hundreds—call The Bay Company and ask Mike Ottensen how much business comes their way and why.

Did I mention that I am infuriated at this incredible waste of time and money? Not to mention that I paid $2000 for a non-certified mechanic to ruin my engine under the guise of a dealership. I trusted them and they let me down. I think you ought to pull their dealership.

All dealers I talked to in Alaska (Willy’s Marine, The Bay Company, Canal Marine) explained to me that the reason this package was under-engined was “to make the sale.” To Make the Sale. Now isn’t this nice. The salesman gets his commission and the customer gets screwed. This is why Toyota is the number one automobile maker in the world today. And Yahama is doing the same thing to Mercury. Johnson/Evenrude are history because in addition to Yahama, Honda is also kicking their fannies.

What do you think Mexican fisherman, who venture 25 miles out to sea each morning at dawn, put their trust in?

So that’s my story. Now I’ll make you the same offer I made to Lee Iacocca, I’ll fly out on my nickel to Fond du Lac Wisconsin and buy you lunch and we can discuss how to get back on track. But I’d make a trip out to Alaska for some fishing and poke around some of these dealerships—you might learn something.

Oh yes, I think you owe me a new outboard. Thanks.


Doug Leen
PO Box 341
Petersburg AK 99833

PS: I forgot to mention. Three Rivers Marine agreed to buy back the engine for $500 but when I flew down to Seattle in August 2008, they low-balled me for $300. We finally settled for $400. Now, do you think I’m going to buy another Alumiweld boat from them?

Attachments: June 12, 2006 Letter to Mercury
March 7, 2008 phone conversation notes with Scott @ 3 Rivers Marine

CC: Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division, State of Washington
Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division, State of Alaska
Seattle Times
Alumiweld Boats

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