Posted by Gunner on 2021 Mar 8th
Knock Off Motors? What's the deal?
If you've ever been looking up fishing or boating stuff online it's almost a certainty that you've at some point come across an ad for a strange brand of outboard motor from overseas. Be it on E-bay, Amazon, or other sites. Typically falling under different sounding brand names like Hangkai, Parsun, Seatan, Calon Gloria, Hidea, Speeda and others.
First thing you're generally notice is the price of these engines, typically much less than a brand new Mercury or Yamaha. But what's the overall deal? Are they junk? Will they blow up or fail immediately? Well I decided last year to bite the bullet and import one to try out. I didn't go to one of the third party sites, I ordered direct from the factory in China. I won't name the brand due to issues we had with the sales team there and paperwork. ( I immediately peeled off the the logos from the cowl and replaced them with custom "Yamaclone" decals lol)It was shipped by sea freight from Ningbo, China and ended up in a warehouse near the Airport in Toronto. Clearing it through customs was an easy process, just had to take our paperwork to the Customs office at Pearson, pay the HST on the cost of the unit, and then pick it up from the warehouse. Total cost including HST and shipping was about $900 CAD. There can be a lot of hidden costs you don't expect (Destination fees, processing fees, etc) but still works out to a decent price. Compare that to just under $2000 for a Major brand (Yamaha, Mercury etc) outboard.
The engine we acquired was an almost direct copy of a Yamaha 6hp two stroke from the early 90's. In fact on the parts list everything had an OEM yamaha equivalent so if I wanted I could order the parts direct from Yamaha or a Yamaha authorized dealer. Inside the box was the engine, well packaged with ample Styrofoam, a bag containing a user manual, emergency pull cord, spare spark plug, tool kit and impeller, a 3 gallon fuel tank and hose. The manual gave me a bit of a laugh as it was almost word for word reproduction of a Yamaha outboard manual, but anywhere the word Yamaha would have been the phrase "Our Company" replaced it. Not even the name of the company, just "Our Company".
After taking the engine out and getting it on the stand I took a look at it. It seemed well built. Nothing felt overly cheap on it. Under the cowl it was clean and virtually indistinguishable from an authentic Yamaha. The controls worked easily, with the minor exception of the shift handle stuck slightly. The prop was solid and smooth. There was a tensioner screw on the leg to increase or decrease the ability to turn, as well as one on the throttle The only possible complaints on the appearance I could have would be the transom bracket screws seem a little bit light duty. The fuel tank on the other hand is definitely cheaped out on. It feels lighter and flimsier than other brands, and the hose if not as good as well. But it does the job.
Now for the big test. The motor arrived in winter so I had to wait a while before it was nice enough to test out. I could have tried inside but don't really feel like testing out the Carbon Monoxide detectors again (Another story there). when it was finally warm enough I filled the tank with fuel, mixed in the oil at the 25:1 ratio the manual said to do for the break in period, and put the engine in the bucket. I took the cowl off and hooked up the fuel line. Pumped the bulb a few times and watched the fuel filter go from empty to full of blue liquid explody stuff. Once the primer was firmed up it was time. I turned the choke knob to on, held my breath and pulled the cord.
To my delight ( I was kinda expecting the engine to blow up) it roared to life on the first pull. It ran for a second and then I turned the choke off. It kept spinning and spinning. I let it sit for a bit and watched for a few minutes then turned it off to put the cowl back on. Pulled the cord again and started again on the first pull. Honestly I can't really see much difference between this and a brand name engine. Noise wise it's about the same. No significant increase in vibrations. When I played with the throttle it was very responsive. I could throttle it down as low as possible and it did not quit. No issues shifting or running in forward or reverse. I was pleased to say the least.
Next test was to throw it on the boat and take it for a spin. Did that the next day, kinda regretted it, the water was still only slightly above zero and a tinner gets cold on the feet! But once again the motor worked amazingly. No issues starting, and pushed the boat as well as any non-Chinese brand did. In fact the rest of the summer it spent sitting in the kicker motor position of the Scrapyard Special getting plenty of use. On the 16' 1200lb boat it managed to get it up to 5mph, so could be viable for trolling or as an emergency back up option.
Come fall, when it was time to winterize the engine there were a couple small issues. The spark plug seemed to have fouled but I attribute that mainly to the extra oil for the break in period. I changed the impeller with little issue but getting the leg back into place and the shift linkages was annoying as heck! And the screws for the gear oil were in way way too tight, but I persevered and get the job done.
All in all I have to say It performed a lot better than expected. I would not say the quality is on near par with the major brands, but for the casual user who is short on cash the Chinese made outboards could be a viable option. But there are downsides. The only way to get them is either directly from the factory or from a third party site. As a result there is basically no warranty support or options for getting them serviced. It's a complete crap-shoot as to if any marinas or service centers would touch them. Also, with changing environmental regulations they could be blocked in the future from entering the country as well
But ultimately, the motor works, I have no major complaints, and hope to keep using it over the years.
I might do another piece on a second motor I obtained, an electric outboard that is supposedly equivalent to a 4HP gas motor. But that will be for another day.