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Tips for Buying a Used Jetski or Personal Watercraft

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Tips For Buying A Used Jet Ski / PWC Personal Watercraft

RUST AND CORROSION-When looking at the motor, look to see if the bolts or fittings have rust or corrosion on them. Corrosion is often caused by the watercraft being used in salt water and not being hosed off after riding it. It is also caused by the motor not drying out. You should remove the seat and let the engine compartment dry out after use, especially on humid days. Corrosion on the outside could indicate corrosion on the inside which could cause major engine damage.

MAKE SURE IT STARTS-If the seller tells you that the jet ski runs great but needs a battery, you have two choices: Either take a battery with you or walk away. You can start a jet ski and run it out of the water up to 1 minute max to at least make sure it starts. You can also connect a water hose to the cooling system (with a flush kit) and turn it on AFTER you started the jet ski so it doesn’t overheat. Also, turn the water off BEFORE you turn the engine off. This keeps the motor cool and doesn’t flood it with water which can ruin a jet ski motor. NEVER run the water without the jet ski motor running. If you have a compression gauge and know how to use one, now is a good time to use it. Compression that varies more than 10 degrees between the cylinders may be a concern.

LOOK FOR WATERS LEAKS-When the motor is running with the hose hooked up to the cooling system, look for water leaks inside the hull coming from the head, the exhaust or any hoses inside the hull. This could indicate prior damage, bad seals or gaskets, old or cracked hoses or loose fittings. This will tell you if the jet ski has been serviced regularly, hoses replaced periodically, and all the fittings tightened and lubed as part of their regular maintenance. Also, make sure there are no oil leaks in the motor. Its not uncommon for someone to spill oil when filling the tank resulting in some oil in the bottom of the ski hull or bilge, but you don’t want to see oil dripping or evidence that it has leaked from the motor or fittings. Oil also helps keep the motor cool and an overheated jet ski will usually just stop, stranding you in the middle of nowhere with no way to get back to shore without a tow. Also, look for exhaust smoke inside the hull. This is not where its supposed to be. This indicates the exhaust system is leaking into the hull, and when the hood or cover is on, the jet ski will only run for about 5 minutes, also causing you to get stranded in the middle of the lake or ocean.

LOOK FOR LOOSE WIRES- Loose wires can make the Jet Ski start and stop at very inopportune times. Make sure the terminals are secure on the battery and no bare wires are hanging out which can cause the electronics to short out. This can fry your starter and the ignition and/or electronics on the Jet Ski. Also, make sure the wires are taped up properly. Water can corrode the wiring and cause the Jet Ski to not run properly if at all.

The head should not look burnt. A motor that has been overheated often turns the color of the head a different color. If the motor is white and the head is tan or light brown, there’s a good chance the motor overheated and may have some major engine damage. Also check out the color of the exhaust, it should also not look like its been toasted. A good mechanic needs to evaluate the head, cylinder and exhaust system for rebuild or possible replacement of the motor.

PUMP & IMPELLER- This step requires you to crawl around the Jet Ski a little bit, but it can be very costly if you don’t do this step. Lean down and look into the pump from the back of the Jet Ski with a flashlight (this is what makes the Jet Ski go). You should be able to see in the pump and not see any rocks or debris, and the stationary vanes in the pump housing should be in good condition. If you look at the pump from the other side (you can get to it from the bottom of the watercraft through the intake grate with the flashlight, you will be able to see the impeller, there shouldn’t be anything wrapped around it like plastic bags, tow ropes or fishing line. Also, you should be able to see the impeller (that looks like an outboard blade but its tucked neatly inside the pump). All the blades should be whole with no chunks missing or chewed edges. Also, a clogged pump can make the motor overheat causing the head to warp and damaging the pistons in the motor. A bad impeller means the Jet Ski has been ridden onto the beach or allowed to suck up sand and rocks into the pump. A damaged impeller also causes the jet ski to not be very efficient and won’t go very fast. You can also use a flashlight into the nozzle from the back of the Jet Ski, looking into the pump to check the clearance around the impeller. If you see huge gaps, this is not good. The clearance should be nice and tight. A new pump and/or impeller is major repair and can be rather costly. A replacement pump and possibly impeller can cost anywhere from a few hundred to well over a thousand dollars. A damaged intake grate that is broken (this is what scoops up the water into the pump) may cause drag and should be replaced.

CHECK THE BODY-Walk around the entire watercraft. If you see big chunks of gel coat missing and can see the fiberglass coming through, this is a concern. If a hull has a big weak spot, it can crack and fail possibly while you’re riding it. Even though you’re in the water, the motor needs to stay dry while you’re riding it. Also, make sure you look at the entire bottom of the boat. Older skis will have some wear along the keel of the hull, but it shouldn’t have any holes, major cracks or big dents. A major crack is something that gives when you push it. Also, if the hull looks like its been repaired from some kind of damage, its important the repair was done correctly and with the right materials. Some Jet Ski's are made of fiberglass and gel coat, others polyester resin.

ENGINE HOURS ARE IMPORTANT-One final point to keep in mind when buying a used PWC is the number of hours the watercraft has run (Not all make and models have this feature.) This is a really good indicator of the condition and relative quality of a used Jet Ski. A low-hour usage, generally 50 hours or less, indicates a newer model that is less likely to have internal problems. Jet Skis with higher hour counts, generally 150 hours or more, need a more thorough inspection before purchase. Note that usage alone does not tell the whole story about the state of a Jet Ski. A poorly maintained Jet Ski that has been used for 30 hours can be in worse shape than a well-maintained Jet Ski that has seen 200 hours on the water. However, you can start to develop a picture of what to expect from a Jet Ski based on hours of usage. Plus, a beaten-up Jet Ski with a low number of usage hours can be a red flag that it hasn’t been well maintained.

If you are still not sure, bring it to Fly Tech Motorsports for an inspection.


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