Catastrophic Caterpillar Engines Owner Beware!!

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Location: Fairline 41 Sedan

Catastrophic Caterpillar Engines Owner Beware!!

Post by albertc » Mon Mar 15, 2004 9:53 pm

We have a Fairline 41 Sedan with twin Caterpillar 3208 engines. These engines have been meticulously serviced every year by Finning UK.

Last July whilst on route from Brixham to Guernsey we had a catastrophic failure of the Port engine. We limped back into Brixham some 6 hours later having had to travel the whole time on the remaining starboard engine (not easy to steer in a straight line nor to turn to starboard).

Brixham Marine Services (a Caterpillar approved engineer) checked out the engine, and confirmed our worst fears.

A few days later the boat was lifted out and the engine removed for a more detailed investigation. Their investigations revealed that we had a cracked bottom block, the crankshaft had sheared in two, the camshaft was damaged etc, etc. To cut a long story short, after more investigation, discussions and meetings with Caterpillar and Finnings UK. Caterpillar confirmed that all this damage was a result of a Conrod "LOCK NUT" coming loose.

This ment there was excessive strain on the remaining conrod bolt which in turn sheared, resulting in a piston which was no longer connected to the Crankshaft. This piston and it's disconnected conrod caused parts of the engine to jam, whilst others were still moving at 2400 rpm. Something has to give namely all the above components and more.

After admitting that a "LOCK NUT" which is installed during manufacture and never needs checking had come loose. Caterpillar proceeded to point out that the engine which had done less than 700hours was out of warranty and that they held no responsibilty or liabilty for it's failure.

As this particular engine is no longer manufactured by Caterpillar we could not buy a new one and had to have a new bottom block and all new parts where necessary fitted. Original parts which were still in good condition were reused. Total cost ?24,000 plus.
Two new engines (different type would have cost ?64k).

As the repaired engine was not a new one Caterpillar would only give a parts warranty, 6 months. The work was completed in October, the warranty will expire just in time for the new season.

Whats even better is that Caterpillar have also confirmed that the same could happen to the repaired engine and the good remaining original engine. They are not even willing to check either engine to ensure that the "LOCK NUTS" are fitted correctly.

Basically, it's out of warranty "TOUGH LUCK".

I have written to Finnings UK, Caterpillars European Manager and their Chief Executive asking for an explanation of how a "LOCK NUT" can come loose unless it was faulty or incorrectly installed. To date they have failed to respond.

This is not Customer Service.

Anyone any ideas as to what I can do next. If a fuel pump or something similar had broken down I'd have accepted that. But this was major.

If you have this or any other CAT engine Beware. Check the terminology. "LOCK NUT" does not mean it is locked and won't come loose! :cry:

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Post by admin » Wed Mar 17, 2004 8:31 pm


I'd be crying too. Even if the company has no legal obligation I would expect to see a little good will on their part. I'm sure someone has made a nice little profit out of the ?24k that you were charged. Surely they could have sold you the parts at cost or provided some free labour.

I hope you're luckier this year.


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Cat 3208

Post by mikef » Mon Mar 22, 2004 9:31 am

Albert, I dont know which model of 3208 you are referring to, 375hp or 425/442hp? I've had a previous boat (Princess 470) with the 425hp engines installed and they ran faultlessly for 3 seasons. As a result and after hearing good reports from other owners, I became a fan of these engines
However, I recently got quite close to buying a Ferretti fitted with these same engines (also about 700hrs) but an oil sample showed abnormally high levels of iron and copper in both engines leading the surveyor to conclude that both engines needed new 'long block' overhauls at about ?13k each plus costs of removal and refitting. The surveyor told me he had surveyed a number of these engines at around the 10yr old mark and a high proportion were exhibiting clear signs of needing overhauls
I think you should get an oil analysis done on BOTH engines, firstly to satisfy yourself that the unrepaired engine is in good order or not and secondly to repeat the sampling on an annual basis to check for any deterioration in either engine. Just bear in mind that it is pointless sampling oil just after an oil change as the oil will be uncontaminated and it is best done at the end of every season before the oil change but at the very least at the same number of operating hours each year
If the oil sample shows a significant wear problem with the unrepaired engine, then I think you have a stronger case to go back to Caterpillar and ask for some compensation. I also think that your repair cost of ?24k sounds very high. By the way, the reason Cat are not allowed to sell complete recon or new 3208 engines is that they dont comply with current emission regs
I think that Cat do have an endemic problem with this engine particularly the higher powered version and I think its worthwile hammering away at them for compensation
I used a chap called David Shaw ( 02380 634070) of Ebbtide Marine Engineering for my mechanical survey and oil analysis. David is very knowledgeable and may be able to comment on the size of your bill and whether Cat have given compensation in other cases
For more general info on this engine its worthwile logging onto
Good luck
Mike Finch

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Post by albertc » Tue Mar 23, 2004 5:04 pm

Thank you for your replies, comments and suggestions.

As a note we had the engines surveyed (including oil tests etc) at the time of purchase. Everything was fine. no signs of stress, wear etc. They as stated had less than 700 hours, had full service history. What else can one do?

Everyone sings Caterpillars praises. Well everyone in the leisure market. We are berthed in Brixham. If you talk to the commercial skippers who have CAT's they will tell you that CAT's are no different to the rest.

It would appear (hind sight is great) that you need to take out mechanical breakdown insurance from when the boat / engine is new. That way you get some cover (not 100%). However, I personnally did'nt know you could get this for a boat nor any company that provides it.

I've since found out that you can but only if the engines are less than 5 years old.

I am still chasing Caterpillar. In the mean time I intend to set up a web site which will allow others to post their experiences and see if we the customer can put pressure on the suppliers to stand by their goods.

I believe that warranties should be based on hours run not time. i.e 1000+ hours not 12 month. Most owners would clock up no more than 50 hours per year. If the engine was in a commercial vessel or a truck imagine the hours run in 1 year.

Klaus Wiegmann
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Post by Klaus Wiegmann » Mon Nov 01, 2004 8:57 pm

Hi I am sorry to hear about your engines problems, This model cat engine was developed in the 70's for Ford who did not want it and Cat then used it in various guises, IE: tractor scrapers industrial applications etc. The original engines put out 210 hp at 2800 rpm and all Cat did was add turbochargers and intercoolers and a injector pump change over the years. This motor was also deened a throw away, I used to work for Cat in Africa and we had plenty of probs with these 3208 motors the very old ones went under the name of 1100 series. Good luck with your fight and I hope you have success.

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Mechanical failure

Post by stuartpconway » Sat Jan 28, 2006 4:36 pm

I have just been reading with dismay the sorry story of your Cat engines.

I have a similar tale of woe

I have a Squadron 55 with Volvo D12s 350 hours.

I was out in the Solent all day and just heading for Cowes for the night when the Port enging started to vibrate alarmingly I shut it down and berthed using the starboard enging only.

What had happened was that the gearbox oil cooler had failed allowing all the gearbox oil to dissapear out through the exhaust pipe. The gear box ran dry and seized.

Then, boat lifted, furniture and carpets removed, hatches up, gearbox removed and transported to goodnes knows where, new parts ordered, rebuild gearbox , refit gearbox, carpets and furniture back, re- launch What an expensive mess.
?15000 later, THAT'S 15 THOUSAND POUNDS, the boat is once again back in the water and looking great.

None of this was my fault. All the levels are checked each morning before starting and entered in the log. They were ok.

Of course it was out of waranty. so no joy there. The insurance company said that as the oil cooler had a latent defect I could not claim. So there I was, stuffed and furious!

Now I am just a poor boat owner and not wishing to become even poorer I was dertimined not to suffer this kind of cost again. So I set about finding an insurance company that would cover mechanical break down such as this, or something like the disaster that happend to you.

It has taken me months, none of the companies woud do it. One one wonders why they are in the insurance business!

But, at last success! I found a company that will take on the risk. Now my new insurance would have covered all that happend to me along with the cost of lifting and removing and replacing the furniture, as well as all the usual cover.

And to top it all, amazingly the premium is less that I paid last year.

I bet I sound like a sales man? well I'm not. I have nothing to do with insurance business other than than that I pay a fortune for it, only to find when I need it its worthless.

If you want to get the same cover as me let me know.

Stuart Conway

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