How to Fix an Outboard Stuck Tilt Tube or Frozen Steering Rod

The Boston Whaler 13 I purchased came with a 1988 Johnson 40hp outboard. We had to return to pick it up in the bed of my truck. Once we got the engine home my son and I removed it from the truck. We mounted it on the wooden stand I had built. That’s when we found out that the engine would not drop from the up position. There was a stuck tilt tube, To aggravate matter even more, the steering was completely froze up so that the engine could not be moved from side to side. So we had a stuck tilt tube on this outboard as well as a frozen steering rod.

I wanted to try to start the engine to get an assessment of how it ran (If it ran). Running it in the up position was not something I wanted to do. So I wanted to clear up the stuck tilt tube and frozen steering rod as quickly as possible.  I also wanted some way of controlling the engine position when running it. The motor was stuck to the far port side. Preferably, I wanted it dead center when test running it. I did some research on this and found a wealth of information on resolving these issues. Incidentally, many of these did not work.

The Frozen Steering Rod

The first order of business was to get the frozen steering rod unstuck. I did a classic mistake and got out the 4 pound hand sledge. First I disconnected the steer rod linkage.  I pounded on the end of the teleflex rod that was stuck in the steering tube. A word of advice, DON’T DO THAT!

Steering Rod with Vice Grip and Flattened End

The end will malform and you’ll never get out through the steering tube. Another problem this will cause is flattening the end and crushing the hole that the Steer rod linkage connects too. In any event, Pounding on the end of the steering did not budge it.

I bought a few cans of, Free All. This stuff is amazing and beats all of the other penetrating oils on the market by a long shot, Aerokroil coming in not too far behind. First, remove the Nut from where the teleflex cable attaches to the motor (Starboard side). This way, you can get penetrating oil into the steering tube from that end as well. I started a program of spray, wait, beat and repeat for a few days. This did not work.

 Vice Grip Treatment

The next step was to use a vice grip on the frozen steering rod. Get a good grip on it and twist it up and down. Shoot some more free all into all the crevices you can get to, try again. Again I met with failure. As expected, Four days into the spray beat and repeat process, there was no progress.

Heating Tilt Tube with Mapp Gas
Using a Pipe Wrench to Break Frozen Steering Tube
Using a Vice Grip to Twist Steering Rod

At this point I added another step to the program. I used mapp gas to heat the tube and the points at the end. Hopefully, giving the penetrating oil a chance to better penetrate into the rusted mess inside.

Upgrading to a Pipe Wrench Treatment

Consequently, I to give up on the vice grips. Instead, I resorted to a pipe wrench. I gave this a few more days of the same treatment. On about day 6, I heard a loud click when pulling down on the plumbers wrench! The frozen steering rod moved! Flush with the joys of imminent success, I sprayed, heated and tried again. Reversing the pipe wrench and pulling upwards yielded a fraction of an inch of movement!

Finally, the frozen steering rod could be rotated within the tilt tube! Unfortunately, I could not get it to move in or out. Faced with that dilemma, I decided to cut the Teleflex cable. I had already made the decision to replace the entire Teleflex steering system. I don’t think I could trust it after seeing what years of neglect had done to it. So I cut it, exposing 3 or 4 inches of the solid steel steering rod. This allowed me to hammer it from the starboard side of the engine. I used the vice grip on the port side to twist the rod up and down while simultaneously beating it with my trusty Thor hammer on the starboard side and eventually got the rod out.

The Stuck Tilt Tube

Now, to the stuck tilt tube. Having that stuck tilt tube with the engine in the up position is frustrating. So I tackled that with a bit of a vengeance. I continued to apply Free All to the pivot points on a daily basis. Using the hammer on this was out of the question as was using a wrench or vice grip. There aren’t any good points to latch on to and get leverage. I did periodically grab the skeg and use brute force to lift up and push down, which of course did nothing at all.

Removing the zerk fittings allowed me to get Free All into the grease cavity there. I went as far as injecting Free All into those joints by loading an empty grease gun with Free All and pumping it in through the zerks. The other thing I did was heat both ends of the tilt tube, the tilt tube itself and the joints with a Mapp gas torch. I continued this for a few days and still could not get the stuck tilt tube unfrozen.

Using a Cheater Bar and Sockets to Rlease the Stuck Tilt Tube

My son came up with a brilliant and original idea. I say original because nowhere on all the posts or web sites I had been on had anyone recommended this. What we did was to use the retaining nuts on the ends of the tilt tubes to force the tilt tube to move. We would loosen the nut on one side of the tilt tube and then tighten the other side. I mean really tighten it! We used a 2 foot cheater bar with an impact socket to do this. We would then loosen the side we had just cranked down on and tighten the other side. Again using the cheater bar to get as much force on there as possible. Alternating back and forth from side to side and heating the tilt tube as well as applying Free All eventually delivered a satisfyingly loud click.

Releasing the Tilt Tube with a Cheater Bar and Socket - Starboard Side
Releasing the Tilt Tube with a Cheater Bar and Socket - Port Side

How to Do this with The Steering Still attached.

If the steering cable and rod are still attached to the motor, you can still get tilt tube unstuck. You’ll have to use different tools though. You’ll need a wrench of the right size to start. You wont be able to use a 1/2″ socket cheater bar. What you’ll need to do is get a section of PVC pipe that will fit over the wrench. Cut it to about two feet and that should give you enough leverage too work both sides of the tilt tube nuts.

The tilt tube released, the engine had settled down and was no longer stuck! I tested the engine by moving it up and down and found that it did so easily. At this point I re-installed the zerks and gave it a hefty shot of grease. The next step will be to start the engine and make an overall assessment of it. Should it prove to be a keeper, I’ll replace that tilt tube with a stainless steel one to help prevent future corrosion!

Here are a few items that can help you with your tilt tube project. I used the first three!

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