White smoke in E38 Universal diesel engine

MCD

Junior Member
Hello Ericson community,

The diesel engine (Universal M40) of our Ericson 38 exhausts white smoke when running. The issue has been here since we purchased the boat around a year ago but I would said it has become worst over the past months.

I have read white smoke is associated with low heat in the compression chambers potentially caused by clogged fuel filters or diesel contamination. Has any of you had a similar problem in the past? And if so, what helped for fixing it?

Here is what the smoke looks like (I also don't have a good sense on whether I should be overly worried about that given the amount of smoke):
IMG_20200105_124534182.jpg
IMG_20200105_125132540_HDR.jpg


Thank you in advance for your help,
Marie
 
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Frank Langer

1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
Hi Marie,
Do you know anything about past history, maintenance on your engine? How many hours of run time on the engine? Have the injectors ever been serviced?
In the absence of any more information, if it were my boat I would change the oil and filter, replace fuel filters, add a diesel additive like Stanadyne or Startron to the fuel and then I would have the injectors serviced by a reputable shop.
I'm not a mechanic, but those steps may go a long way towards resolving your smoking problem.
Others may have better advice. But again more information about your engine will improve the advice here.
Frank
 

Baslin

Member III
Marie,

We have a 1983 Ericson 38 with the same engine, and when we bought our boat about 4 years ago, I went through the same issue.....Like mentioned above, I would start by replacing your primary and secondary fuel filters. White smoke is tough to diagnose. It can be a couple of different things. If you are constantly adding coolant, and the smoke has a sweet smell, then you are burning coolant in the combustion chamber and the white smoke is actually steam.

Another cause would be low cylinder heat which is generally caused by low compression (which can in turn be caused by worn compression rings, glazed cylinder walls, worn valve seats, or valves not closing properly), but in some applications and/or when starting in cold weather, faulty glow plugs could also cause this issue. A final problem could be bad fuel. If it’s an engine that hasn’t been ran often, or has water in the fuel, that could cause white smoke. Having the fuel tank drained, cleaned, and filled with fresh fuel might not be a bad idea if the fuel has been sitting for a while.

Last year I replaced all 4 injectors, glow plugs and also replaced the exhaust hose and muffler. This did not completely fix the issue, but it did help. Removing and replacing the injectors is not a very tough job but you just need to take your time and pay attention. Cleanliness is key. The cost of servicing injectors is probably around 50 bucks each and that is also very close to the cost of new injectors. I believe I paid around $250 for brand new injectors. If you remove the injectors, I would just replace them. Glow plugs are about $7 each.

Once the injectors are removed I would do a compression test on each cylinder and that will give you more information on the condition of the engine. Low compression could be caused by a couple of different things. If you do not have a compression tester, you could buy one or have a local diesel tech help you do the test.

Hope this helps,

Blake
 

bgary

Advanced Beginner
Blogs Author
Joining the thread to monitor updates.

I run the motor at least once every couple of weeks in the off-season, and when it hasn't been run for a bit - especially when the weather is cold - I get a bit of white smoke on startup. Goes away within ~10 seconds, no signs of other issues, I've been "told" it's just because the system is cold, but would love to know if it is an indicator of.... something.

No trend of coolant loss or oil loss, primary and secondary fuel filters are good, motor runs strong, comes up to temp and stays there, so I don't "think" I have a problem but open to input.

Bruce
 

Frank Langer

1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
Bruce,

I do all my own oil/filter, tranny fluid, electrical and other "simple" maintenance, but it had been a while since I had had a "real" diesel mechanic check the engine, and about 800 engine hours since last valve adjustment and injector service, and I thought maybe the engine was sounding a bit noisier than in the past. This mechanic has a very good reputation in town, so I hired him to "listen, and maybe do a valve adjustment".

He came with tools in hand, watched me start the engine, listened for 5 minutes, took the oil filler cap off while the engine was running (yikes! oil likely to spray around my engine compartment??) but no oil sprayed up, which he said was a simple indicator of pretty good compression; poor compression would allow some oil to bypass the rings and spray out of that opening, he said. He checked a few more things and said the engine sounded "better than any I've heard in many years" and advised against a valve adjustment (though offered to do it if I wanted it done) as he said everything looked and sounded perfect, but to call him if something changed or I had any concerns. He didn't charge me anything for that half hour visit, though I gave him equivalent "beer money". (It's good to treat good mechanics well so they'll come back!!;)

My conclusion from this (and other similar experiences) is that some of us owners are pretty finicky, worrying at the first sign of any possible issue. I think that's not a bad thing, as it helps keep our boats in generally great shape, keeps us safer and makes our sailing experience more enjoyable and problem-free. But if I had a nickle for every time I worried about something that didn't turn out to be a real problem, well...…

I've learned over time about our engines, that if it has normal power, isn't burning oil or losing coolant, not smoking blue, white or black smoke while underway, not leaking anything and not vibrating excessively, it's probably doing fine, but will appreciate regular oil, filters, coolant, tranny fluid changes, belt adjustment, impeller replacement, etc.

Just my thoughts as a finicky boat owner. ;)

Frank
 

MCD

Junior Member
Hi Frank, Bruce and all,

The engine has 2868 hours on the meter. I don't know what was the maintenance before we got the boat (I'll try to dig up some info from previous invoices) but I'd bet on not much at least on the year before.
I am attaching the report of our engine survey upon purchase although I'm not sure it is super informative, nor that I trusted the mechanic much (he didn't even look at the smoke while we started the engine, the regular surveyor had to).

We recently changed the oil and the fuel filters. We still need to bleed our system to assess if the latter changed anything. Will keep you posted!

Also noticed that our engine takes a while to start, usually 30 seconds of glow plug, which would go with a low heat issue. How long does it take for you to start your engine usually?

He came with tools in hand, watched me start the engine, listened for 5 minutes, took the oil filler cap off while the engine was running (yikes! oil likely to spray around my engine compartment??) but no oil sprayed up, which he said was a simple indicator of pretty good compression; poor compression would allow some oil to bypass the rings and spray out of that opening, he said.
I think I will try this to test the compression and definitely rule that out (and I will keep this thread updated!).

Last year I replaced all 4 injectors, glow plugs and also replaced the exhaust hose and muffler. This did not completely fix the issue, but it did help. Removing and replacing the injectors is not a very tough job but you just need to take your time and pay attention. Cleanliness is key. The cost of servicing injectors is probably around 50 bucks each and that is also very close to the cost of new injectors. I believe I paid around $250 for brand new injectors. If you remove the injectors, I would just replace them. Glow plugs are about $7 each.
@Blake:
Knowing you had the same issue is very insightful.
Did you have as much smoke as we do?
Did you change everything at the same time or did you see anything in particular was particularly helpful to solve the problem?
When you say the problem is still there, does that mean you still get white smoke? How does it look like?
I see you changed the muffler. The boat had a leak on the muffler when we got it, we could see mainly. We fixed it with fiberglass as advised by our surveyor. Don't know if that's relevant here but mentioning it just in case.

@Frank:
What's your experience with the additives? Would you say that's a way to go around draining the fuel and cleaning the tank or is that more a maintenance thing after you have done all that?

Thanks a lot for your help. It's great! :egrin:
As Frank was saying, it's hard to know when you are going after a real issue or being extra careful. But in our case, it looks it's a good thing to look into, right?

--
Marie

Screen Shot 2020-01-08 at 11.02.46.jpg
 

Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Moderator
Blogs Author
I've asked several mechanics about the white stuff that comes out when starting a diesel. They shrug.

Smoke or steam? Smoke you can see a while before it dissipates. Smoke is smoke. Steam is gone about five feet away, I reckon. Smoke carries on across the water.

What's more, steam and the spray from the exhaust water looks different according to humidity, lighting conditions, and the psychiatric issues that attend ownership of older diesels which are probably in better shape that we are.

I look at diesel health like dog health. A dog smells and craps on the rug. Solution: wash, clean rug.

When dogs and diesels actually get sick, its fairly obvious. I worry about it when it happens.

I feel that if a diesel starts, "smokes" only in a mysterious intermittent way, goes into gear easily, gets up to its expected rpms, and doesn;t overheat (much)--it's doing as well as I am. I don't invite it into the marriage bed like my wife does our dog.

When I worry that I am a bad diesel owner who only changes the oil every 50 hours and runs it every week or two and wipes it down and keeps a clean absobent pad underneath to instantly illustrate the most minor oil drip, I commend to myself the mental picture of my Kubota tractor engine in the tractor for which is was designed.

The image is of a thousand-acre soybean field in a dust storm, plowing furrows, then grinding back to the barn through muck as a thunderstorm lets lose, and a five minute hose if lucky. For which the farmer expects 20,000 hours of service with easy maintenance.

In comparision, my yacht engine wears a tutu.

When in doubt I call a mechanic. Diagnosis: your engine is old but it runs.

All the news I need at my age.
 

Frank Langer

1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
Christian, I agree! Mostly! :egrin:

Marie,
Those engine hours sound reasonable for that age engine and those engines should last a long time. The survey also looks ok, though it looks like he didn't do a compression check. I don't know if they routinely do. Have you replaced the corroding coolant cap, as mentioned in the survey, as that can cause issues.
Although the survey says the racor filter was quite clean, you could siphon some fuel from the bottom of the tank to check for signs of water in the fuel, though the racor doesn't seem to show that.
I always add Stanadyne Performance or Startron and a biocide like Biobar at every fuel fill, and keep the tank as full as possible, especially in winter, to avoid condensation. I also fill up where the commercial guys go, rather than a small marina, to avoid old, stale fuel. In 14 years, I've never had a bad fuel issue following these steps.
30 seconds of glow plug use is not excessive in my opinion on cold weather, though 15 - 20 seconds should be enough in summer.
I would still have the injectors serviced or replaced, because they should be done every 1000 hours or so, and may not have been done on your engine. That alone could eliminate the smoke and improve starting, in my lay opinion.
Keep us posted!
Frank
 
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Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Data Point-
My former Universal M25XP (3 cylinder) did get it's injectors checked about every thousand hours. "Just 'cause'.

Ran fine with no white smoke. It did, OTOH, have a long term problem with crankcase blow by, which we attributed to the aluminum sponge material I found and removed from the factory air cleaner - and that aluminum showed signs of breaking up and migrating into the engine. My mechanic guessed that bits had been ingested and scored the cylinder walls over the years.
https://www.ericsonyachts.org/infoexchange/showthread.php?11781-Universal-XP25-failure-caused-by-airfilter&referrerid=28
(and my own link to the air cleaner problem is in this thread, also.)

I replaced the engine complete, at about 2300 hours.
When I removed it, it was using a bit less than a quart of lube oil per season.

I used the glow plugs to start it, for about ten seconds, any time the ambient was over 50. At lower temps it would take about 15 seconds.

Good engine, RIP.
I gave it to a friend who is rebuilding it for re-powering her boat.
 
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Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Moderator
Blogs Author
I read your post that year and changed immediately to the KnN oil filter mentioned (also Maine Sail's recommendation).

The "factory" air filter appeared designed for a bulldozer in a gravel pit, and was full of bugs and rusty bits of itself.
 

supersailor

Sustaining Member
Is the white smoke only when the engine is running at cruise rpm or is it all the time? What is the temperature of the engine at cruise rpm? Does the temperature of the engine vary depending on throttle setting. Is the exhaust water stream strong or is the only some water spurting out the exhaust?
 

supersailor

Sustaining Member
Christian, I hadn't looked at the video. That is steam at idle. That points directly at a plugged cooling water vent at the exhaust elbow. It happened on my boat at 2400 approximate hours. The exhaust elbow needs replacement. I replaced mine with a Yanmar elbow. Also, the ends of the intercooler should be removed to check for buildup in the tubes. Mine needed several tubes cleaned. Every fall, I pull the cooling line off the elbow and check for buildup and I also remove the end caps on the intercooler at the same time. Another problem area is the thermostat. I've replaced two since two since 2013 Most boats have bad ones. Luckily, they seem to stick in the open position. That does mean the engine running too cool which induces carbon buildup.

A friend's 41 footer (not an Ericson) had overheating and steam in the exhaust that eventually was traced to excessive barnacles on the prop causing overloading of the engine at cruising speed. The barnacles were removed and the overheating stopped.
 

gabriel

Member III
You can get a decent idea of your compression by carefully pulling off the oil cap while the engine is running to check for blow-by.
 

debonAir

Member III
That looks like steam to me... and I dare say not even all that abnormal. Plenty of exhausts would be happy to look so good. Is it only when cold? Is there good sea water flow?

30 seconds of glow seems a bit on the long side, but it is what the engine's manual says to use

8.Activate “Glow Plug” switch for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on the outside air temperature. It may be necessary to hold the glow plugs on during the time the engine is cranked in very cold outside temperatures.

I used to need 20-25 seconds but now about about 15 since I replaced the missing governor starter spring.

 

gulfcoaster

Member III
White smoke or steam?

We noticed the same thing with our E32-3 many years ago. It turned out to be the steam created by the hot exhaust water being dumped into the cold water during the winter months. The temperature differential was 120 degrees. It never happened during the warmer months when the water temperature was higher.
 

Tin Kicker

Member III
Christian, I hadn't looked at the video. That is steam at idle. That points directly at a plugged cooling water vent at the exhaust elbow. It happened on my boat at 2400 approximate hours. The exhaust elbow needs replacement. I replaced mine with a Yanmar elbow. Also, the ends of the intercooler should be removed to check for buildup in the tubes. Mine needed several tubes cleaned. Every fall, I pull the cooling line off the elbow and check for buildup and I also remove the end caps on the intercooler at the same time. Another problem area is the thermostat. I've replaced two since two since 2013 Most boats have bad ones. Luckily, they seem to stick in the open position. That does mean the engine running too cool which induces carbon buildup.

A friend's 41 footer (not an Ericson) had overheating and steam in the exhaust that eventually was traced to excessive barnacles on the prop causing overloading of the engine at cruising speed. The barnacles were removed and the overheating stopped.
It does look like steam andI'll agree with Christian that it may simply be a day when the exhaust shows more.

With the number of hours described, it sure couldn't hurt to remove both the exhaust elbow and heat exchanger to check each for gunk build-up and the need for cleaning. Both can typically be cleaned out rather than replaced.

Neither is hard to do, just a bit messy.
 

MCD

Junior Member
Hi, and again thanks for all your answers!

We finally bled our fuel lines and were able to start our engine again.
The white steam/smoke is still here. Precision: it doesn't happen in idle or just when we start. It builds up when the engine is in gear at mid to full throttle. The video was taken tied at the dock, full throttle in gear and we have a 3 blade fix propeller (in case it matters). Important info as well, we noticed the rpm don't go past 1700-1800 on the meter, which is rather low, isn't it?

After digging in the old bills which came with the boat. Nothing really pointed towards injector serviced, in the past 10 years at least. But the heat exchanger was maintained around 2017 and the exhaust worked on, which sounds like they might have tried to tackle the same problem in the past.
While bleeding the injector, one of them (the highest) took a particularly long time to get fuel (several cycles of 10s of starter motor). Don't know if that's of any importance.

Still haven't had a chance to check the compression with the oil opening (but will tell you the outcome as promised) and definitely want to explore adding more coolant. Right now, we have this weird empty coolant reservoir and are unsure how it is connected to the engine and whether it should be full or not. Is it the original setup?IMG_20200120_230208717.jpg

Once again, thanks for your help :egrin:

--
Marie
S/V Tire Bouchon
 

racushman

Member II
Years ago, I had a boat with a 2 cylinder Yanmar that sheared off about a third of the surface of an exhaust valve. The engine was 18 years old and only had 196 hours on it -- the single prior owner had used it very little. Upon teardown it became clear that all of the valves had corroded badly purely from moisture in the exhaust hose and muffler - basically lack of use.

That engine would start and run on one cylinder, but it didn't make much power and probably only would rev to a similar 1700-1800 RPMs at full throttle and in forward gear.

And it emitted a lot of white smoke.

Suggest you have a mechanic do an inexpensive compression check, that may tell a lot.
 
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