2014 Engine Swap Volvo for Yanmar

When we made the decision to buy Enki in July 2011, I (Alex) was not aware of the implications of having a Volvo Penta D3 110 hp engine in a cruising yacht. I didn't understand the lopsided trade-off between having a smooth, powerful, quiet and fuel-efficient engine and the brutally incapacitating vulnerability of a common rail engine (like the D3) to any hint of dirty or contaminated fuel and to diesel bug. Nor did I understand how totally reliant the engine's functioning is on computer-controlled complex electronics and on Volvo's proprietary service model. Our two seasons in the Med convinced Diana and me that a Volvo Penta D3 110hp engine is not the choice we would have made had we been Enki's first owners. So we've taken the plunge and got rid of it, at considerable cost. Here, in brief, is some of the thinking that led us to swap a sophisticated, functioning Volvo diesel engine for  a Yanmar. 

Enki's 2005 D3 engine was the first of the Volvo Penta D3 EVC iterations......EVC-A. That acronym stands for Electronic Vehicle Control. Volvo is now now up to D - or is E? in its EVC line, each model evidently an "improvement" on the one before. We did consider upgrading to the latest VP D3 engine on the basis that bugs in the early model would have been fixed. But when we considered carefully what our problems with the D3 had been, we couldn't avoid the fact that all D3 engines have a computer-controlled common rail system. Common rail systems are now pretty standard in diesel trucks and motor cars, but they change their fuel very regularly (we'll come back to this) and are usually not that far from help if something lights up on the dash and/or the engine stops dead in its tracks. All engines play up occasionally, but it's the kind of help you need with a sick common rail engine which is the real sticking point for a cruising yacht. It's very specialised, and not as widely available as you are led to believe.

Put simply, your above-average, competent diesel mechanic cannot do a thing with a D3 unless he is a Volvo Penta agent in possession of a Vodia diagnostic computer. He's locked out by technology. The hand-held Vodia allows him to determine what is wrong with the engine, and then tells him which part or electronic sensor needs to be replaced in order to make the thing go again (it may be that there is actually nothing wrong with the engine, but that the sensor is faulty). This clever little gizmo is not available to punters like us, and nor do all Volvo Penta agents choose to buy one, because they are expensive. We could name several of the latter in the northern Greek islands. We could also name several authorised Volvo agents in Italy whose Vodia was "broken." The mechanic also needs to be willing to come to you if you are truly stuck, and it goes without saying that this isn't always possible. 

Volvo Penta do have a 24 hour hotline called "Action Service" and admittedly you get to talk to a real person in your chosen language who then organises for the nearest, or a nearby, Volvo agent to phone you. So far so good....in fact, pretty damn good. The sucker punch comes when you've moved past the opening pleasantries.

I've explained to the Volvo mechanic on the end of the line that a "serious fault" alarm is showing and the engine won't rev above 800 or 900 rpm. "It's got clean fuel, water, oil pressure and air are all fine, so what could be the problem?" I ask.
 Volvo guy replies, "It's a D3 EVC-A, is it?"
"Yes, 2005". Long pause.
Volvo guy again: "Well, they can be a wee bit sensitive, and we really need to get the diagnostics on it." Then he delivers the uppercut to your jaw...."we'll have to get you to XYZ port so that we can use a Vodia to determine what's wrong." By that he means, you'll have to get to the port by whatever means are available. The mechanics are not coming to you.

Volvo Action DO follow up....in July 2012, when the engine stopped completely in the Aeolian islands, off the north coast of Sicily, they organised a tow for us. We had planned to sail off the anchor to the nearest port, Lipari, where a Volvo mechanic was on stand-by with his Vodia machine.  But there was no wind. Nothing. Nada. Two days passed. We got tired of waiting, and thus was spent a wicked number of euros moving Enki and her delinquent engine three miles - the distance between our point of breakdown and Volvo's "global dealership".

Sicilian tow at 8.2 knots

The pastime of sailing into marinas and harbours without an engine, in some instances with the meltemi screaming around our ears, had lost its novelty for us this past year or two. "It's a sailing boat," the doubters say.......blah, blah. We're too old and too soft for that kind of nonsense. If we have a marine diesel in our boat, we expect to be able to use it at our pleasure.

The Bosch fuel injection pump and five injectors we had to replace in Italy in 2012 because of "rust"??? (that was the explanation the authorised Volvo workshop in Gaeta gave us) at a cool 2500 euros could not be overhauled. The Italian agents just did the Latin shrug. When I spoke to the helpful and very knowledgeable Turkish agent in Mugla (I had kept the old pump), he apologised and said that Bosch had not produced any service kits for this pump, nor for those on the the EVC B or C models either. He didn't think they had made enough engines or pumps to warrant it. Great. We had tea and remembered the good old days when you could FIX something and keep it going for years and years. Oh well. Progress.

This was in the tank...our Racor filters were spotless, no water either and the Westerbeke generator just kept going. But the Volvo just stopped. Injector pump and injectors throw away items.

Tank cleaning.......has become a more frequent affair

The maths were becoming daunting.

We had already spent more than half the cost of a new engine in repair bills and the associated marina costs in 15 months. We were still in the Med and Australia was a LONG way away. Keeping the Volvo and chancing it for the voyage home over the next few years would involve significant expenditure just in routine maintenance. At 3700 hours, the turbo and intercooler would need a clean, the timing belt would need replacing, the heat exchanger needed an inspection as did the exhaust elbow. We would need spare sensors for the electronics and some spare injectors. And it might still break down? Where next? Venezuela? The Marquesas? Samoa?

We cut the problem every which way, but finally accepted what was probably obvious to those of you who have followed our engine troubles since June 2012 - that what Enki needed was a direct injection diesel engine without the computers and electronic sensors. An absolute no-brainer with hindsight. And we needed to make the swap now, before we spent any more money on the Volvo.

She was, after all, a cruising yacht and we were going to be in some far away places. Any new engine would also come with a two-year warranty, so a future breakdown might be just as inconvenient and painful but far less costly.

A 75 HP Volvo D2 would probably do, especially if we could get through to Volvo and perhaps play the sympathy card, some concession forthcoming? But mere mortals can't get through to Volvo easily, if at all, and in any case the gearboxes and clutches on the D2 have not had stellar reports. And lots of recalls.

A Perkins without turbo? Great idea but too big and too heavy and too expensive.

It's got to be a Yanmar.

Our next season's cruising budget disguised as an engine

A 4JH4-HTE would fit the bill.  Turbo and intercooler. Same 110 horsepower. Torque curve not quite as good but close enough. Smaller. 80 Kg lighter. Four cylinders instead of five. Kanzaki KMH4A hydraulic gearbox. Lots of Hallberg Rassy 46 owners had chosen this engine option over the years. We had seen them during our 2011 boat search in Europe. Interestingly, there haven't been any 48s equipped with anything other than a Volvo Penta. This was the information I gleaned when I contacted the factory for some advice when contemplating the engine change. Why I can't say, nor could I find out without appearing to ruffle obscure feathers. I suspect that the factory is well aware of the problems some owners are having with this D3 engine and is sitting on the sidelines, preferring to see, and quarantine the issue as one between HR owners and Volvo Penta.

Our previous Hallberg Rassy 42E, Andiamo, vintage 1985, had a venerable Volvo Penta MD30. We sold her in 2009, and last I heard she cruised from Sydney to Malaysia and the engine was still firing happily in 2012. Our next boat was Kukka, a Malo 39. She came with a 55 HP Yanmar, seven years old when we bought her. Her previous owner, an articulate Japanese academic, insisted in 2001 that Malo install a Yanmar rather than the "Green Death" (sic) in his ideal boat. These were both engines without turbos, intercoolers and electronics. They each had their annoying idiosyncrasies. But it's now 2013, and the market, the product and the regulations have moved along.

We spent the winter of 2012/13 in Marmaris. If you want boat stuff done, there probably isn't a better place in the whole of Turkey. There is the Senayi, the name for the area in most Turkish towns where  tradesmen have their workshops. All sorts. For cars, boats, carpentry, electrical work, metal fabrication, upholstery, you name it. It's said that Senayi areas were set up at the behest of the Ottoman tax collectors, who decreed that these industrious types should all be put in ONE place so that activity could be more easily monitored and taxes collected. In addition Marmaris has tradesmen in shops in "Chandlery St" and at the marina. They speak English and German at a pinch, and stock a great selection of goodies and services without the bazaar feel of the Senayi.

MARLIN had done some work for us in 2012 and earlier this year. They impressed us with their totally professional approach, expertise, and care. They weren't the cheapest in town, but there was little to argue about in relation to the quality of their work. They also happened to be the local Yanmar agents. They were highly recommended by others who had major work done. Erden Eke listened to our tale of woes, patiently. He's a good listener. A competitive quote for the Yanmar itself came by email within a day or two, more expensive than UK or mainland Europe, but not seriously so.

Ishmail, their chief mechanic, came on board to measure up and to discuss and solve the myriad details that the project would involve. Ishmail has forgotten more about engines than I will ever learn in five lifetimes. An impressive guy. New engine beds would need to be fabricated. The second alternator, a 140 amp Presolite, a large beastie would be better NOT hanging off the engine, so a suitable modification was planned. We had been advised by others that the hardtop would have to be removed so that the engine could be lifted through the cockpit floor. "Not so" said Ismail after 30 minutes with a measure and steel rule. He wasn't keen to lift the hardtop......too much to go wrong and to refit he said. "We can do it by taking gearbox, turbo and heat exchanger off inside Enki and we will have JUST enough room to lift out. No problem."

A quote came through for the removal of the old engine and the installation of the Yanmar. The wording included that oft-abused phrase ...."as a turn-key operation.."

(In the end it was. Really!)

Hands were shaken, schedules discussed.

Onur always phoned ahead when anything was to happen, just to make sure.

Work began. The weather gods smiled. Not a scratch anywhere on the boat during any of this. Not a greasy handprint to be seen. Dropcloths everywhere. Diana quietly reading in the saloon. Mohammed and Mehmet are Ishmail's lieutenants and they do themselves and Marlin great credit. Their work was fastidious, thoughtful. They double-checked themselves. Ishmail then checked again. They didn't take easy options. I know. I watched. They welcomed suggestions and input from me. They enjoyed what they did. They cleaned up each night. As a matter of course.

This was the opportunity for me to get in the engine bay and have a thorough clean up. We had agreed on a week between removal of the old engine and the arrival of the new. This also gave me a chance to get at machinery in the engine room in some degree of comfort, and give the engine bilge several coats of bilge paint. I used International Danboline.

A sea trial took place on a perfectly clear, sunny winter's day. The Yanmar performed like a dream. Ishmail put her through her paces throughout the rev range. He spent a lot of time in the engine room, hands on hoses and bits of engine, torch shining into nooks and crannies, asking for more revs or less, looking, listening. The shaft alignment was perfect. No vibration on the engine bearer plates or the second alternator bracket. Even at idle. He came up smiling. We were smiling too. We had a quiet fag on the aft deck and headed back to the marina.

Ishmail and Mehmet measuring up for the 10mm stainless steel engine bearers.

Cockpit floor out, exhaust riser off.
Raw water pump off.
Alternator and mount off....ready to go to the workshop for modification.

 Up comes the gearbox, Mehmet below, Mohammed above.

 Removing heat exchanger and turbo

The main computer motherboard and the electronic controls for the diesel injectors. This is what makes the Volvo potentially such a frugal, efficient and clean engine. And like my son's violin teacher used to say to him ..."it's really GOOD, except for the bad bits.."

 Out of harm's way

Steel capped work boots anyone?

Part way through cleanup and repaint. Old Aquadrive left in place.

Boy, were these guys careful

Yanmar in and sitting on the stainless bearers

That muffler and waterlock will have to be led to the other side.
Familiarising myself
Sea trials....all according to the book
Heading back to Marmaris...we are all pleased


  1. Great stuff, Alex, I really enjoyed reading it. I must be more interested in boats than I realized!

    1. Thanks Mike! This job pales into insignificance alongside that scroll of pre Patagonia boat jobs you have on your plate.

  2. Very interesting and useful description! I never found a so detailed review on a so important issue. At the moment I'm dealing to buy a used HR48-2005 with a Volvo D3 1400 hours, because your wide experience do you have any specific suggestion about what double checking during the boat and mechanical inspection? Thanks so much indeed for the exciting narrative of your experiences. My best wishes for a nice and pleasant 2014. Cheers, Nilo

  3. Hi Nilo, glad you found it useful. A few points to start with: check the fuel tanks to see if there is any evidence of diesel bug. If there is, find out if the owner is using/has regularly used biocide. Be aware that the early D3 model EVC-A has more problems than the later EVC versions of the D3. You won't see these faults when you inspect the boat. We didn't. They are a function of the electronics and the common rail. If you want more discussion, please send your email address. cheers Alex

    1. Hi Alex many thanks indeed for your kind answer. My evaluation process is still running; I will eventually keep the freedom to disturb you again as soon as I'll get more info on the HR48 on sale. Anyway my email address is nilo.calvi@gmail.com. Kindest regards, Nilo

  4. Hello Alex

    I am Japanese and I bought used HR46 built in 2003 with Volvo TAMD31S 100hp. She cruised over 45000miles.She run one and half around the earth. Previous owner did circumnavigation.
    I am considering replace the engine. So I search internet and I found you blog.
    My boat is near Annapolis now and I will across the Atlantic on this June.

    I wonder should I choes D3-110 or 4JH4-HTE. D3 is very atractive for hight trouq on low RPM and less noisy I heard. But I did not see actual. Also there is anothor headach D3 is wider than cockpit floor width. how could you take it out?

    I really want to know feeling about 4JH4-HTE suche as RPM on 7-8knots and how noisy.

    Also do you change prop or not? I got a many info from you blog. Thank you so much. wakao@panacorp.co.jp

    Crows Nest7

  5. Hello Alex

    I was happily reading your blog and suddenly realized that you must be the first owner of our Hallberg Rassy 42E. Your name is still on the brass plaque above the the nav station.
    I bought her about 6 months ago from an Australian lady, and she currently lies in Langkawi. Her Volvo is still going, but I'm now thinking of repowering with a Yanmar.

    Thanks for your blog post, and fair winds :)


  6. Hi,
    Do you still have your old D3 engine? I would like to buy it if possible? Thasnks