Features May 15, 2004 Issue

Portable Oil Changers

Two Jabsco changers are tops among the electric units. Tempo and West Marine manual pumps are favored.

We don't know of many people who change their own car engine oil these days. With Jiffy Lubes on every corner, and the hassle of properly disposing of used oil, it's no wonder everyone hands off this messy job. 

Our test group included five electrically powered pumps and four manuals. From left to right: The Airpower Topsider, the Jabsco Porta-Quick, ShurFlo Flex Vane, the Jabsco 17800-200, the Tempo Oil Boy, the West Marine Oil Vac, and the Airpower Marina Pro (foreground). Not pictured is the X-Change-R.

But such convenient and inexpensive maintenance service is not so available to boatowners. Changing the oil on a typical diesel or gas-powered auxiliary engine is a royal pain in the neck, and if you have to hire someone else to come and do it, it's a pain in the wallet. Everything is more expensive when it comes to boats—we all know this. That's why gadgets like the portable oil changer can be so valuable, not only for larger auxiliary engines and gensets, but for the new crop of four-stroke outboards.

What We Tested
There are two types of portable oil changers—manually and electrically powered. We collected five electricals and four manuals. Our most recent test (March 1, 1999) was limited to electrical pumps, but included both permanent and portable units. (The Jabsco Porta Quick was the top portable because it was easy to use, efficient, and reasonably priced. Among the permanent models, the Oil X-Change-R excelled.)

Choosing between a portable and a permanent oil changer seems, to us, a matter of personal choice. Most of the portable systems available provide closed containers for collecting and transporting of used oil, which is convenient and also lessens the likelihood of a spill. The portable units also can be used to service your car and even your friends' boats (once they know you have one). The permanent systems can sometimes be a bear to install and you may not even have the room, but once you've accomplished that task—changing the oil is only a matter of flicking a switch.

How We Tested
The tester used each product to extract five quarts of oil from a Ford F150 pickup truck. Product instructions said to run the engine for five minutes to warm the oil before extraction, which we did. The tester inserted a 1/4"-diameter extraction tube into the engine's dipstick tube to extract the oil and pump it into a container, if provided. Two units—the Reverso and the X-Change-R—did not come with a container. Nor did those two come with an extraction tube.

We also evaluated ease of assembly, clarity of instructions, and ease of use—which included the stability of the container—and ease of clean up. Overall, we were looking for a pump that did the job quickly and cleanly from start to finish.

Electric Changers

Jabsco Porta-Quick. Walk into a marine engine shop just about anywhere and you'll likely find this combination pump and bucket device standing by, ready for duty.

The Porta-Quick comes with an 8-foot-long power cord with alligator clips, 4 feet of neoprene hose, and a female garden hose connector for threaded dipstick tubes. The 7-amp pump is mounted to the bucket's lid. The nitrile impeller is oil-resistant and self-priming. The bucket also has a carrying handle.

The Porta-Quick lived up to its name, siphoning the oil in 4 minutes, which was the fastest of any pump tested. The unit also scored well in all other areas. The only nit we would pick is that the motor's top-mounted position makes it top-heavy when the container is empty.

Bottom Line: The top-rated electric pump. Highly recommended.

Jabsco 17850-0012. This is a more economically built version of the Porta-Quick. The pump is less powerful and made of plastic instead of bronze; it has shorter battery leads; it's not reversible, and does not come with extras like a garden-hose connection for dipstick tube extraction. But it is about $39 cheaper than the Porta-Quick. Like the Porta-Quick, it primes itself.

With its smaller pump, this Jabsco was not as quick as its big brother, needing 7 minutes to suck out the 5 quarts of oil. Instructions were clear and clean-up went well.

Bottom Line: A solid performer but we'd spend the extra money for the Porta-Quick.

ShurFlo Flex Vane. With a top-mounted pump and 3.5-gallon bucket, the ShurFlo looks like the Jabsco units. Unlike the Jabsco instructions, ShurFlo's instructions strongly suggest that you prime the pump by removing the oil probe tube from the pump and pouring about 2 oz. of oil in the 3/8" tube. ShurFlo's Ryan Sessler says it's not so much to prime the pump as to lubriate the vanes, which should not be run dry.

The ShurFlo comes with 8-foot battery leads with alligator clips and a three-piece 6-foot extraction tube. The instructions were good, with a large blown-up diagram of the product with descriptions of the various parts and their functions.

It took 15 minutes for the ShurFlo to remove the oil from the engine. Only the X-Chang-R was as slow, also taking 15 minutes. The power/flow direction switch is not protected.

Bottom Line: This was an expensive electrically powered pump, but not fast at its job. We have learned from Ryan Sessler at ShurFlo that this unit will no longer be produced after April, and an upgraded pump, "far superior to any oil change pump on the market," will be in production.

Reverso OP-700. Reverso is known for its permanently installed oil-changing systems, and the OP-700 is really a professional-level pump. It came with two hoses: the longer 5/8" diameter suction hose is supplied with female garden hose fittings on each end. One end attaches to the pump and the other screws onto the dip tube collar. Many users are not aware of this collar on the tube, so they normally use a smaller diameter extraction tube, said Reverso president John Napurano. "It's like sucking a milk shake with a smaller straw when a larger one is available." Reverso wants you to use the collar, so it doesn't supply a dipstick tube as standard equipment. As optional equipment, Reverso sells a kit—the OP-610-3—that includes a 1/4" nylon tube, a 5/16" nylon tube, and a 7/16" hose for insertion over the dip tube with an external clamp. If you don't have a collar on the mouth of the dipstick tube, Reverso wants you to insert the 7/16" hose, which Napurano calls a "stubby"—over the top, and then hook the Reverso hose up to the pump.

The second hose also has a garden hose fitting that attaches to the pump and a 1/2" female fitting. This is designed to fit inside a waste container. The pump and the hose fittings are mounted to a square Starboard panel.

Because the Reverso is used primarily by marine mechanics who want to accomplish several oil changes in one call, Napurano does not supply a waste container with the OP-700. "They carry a bunch of buckets with them, fill one up, cover it and grab another one."

In our tests, the Reverso was the second-fastest performer, taking only 6:42. The product is very expensive compared to the others tested, but it's built to last, said Napurano. Instructions were not as detailed as the others and did not include drawings.

Bottom Line: Sturdily built and a good performer. No waste bucket and expensive.

X-Change-R. In our last test, we looked at the 946D model, a permanent installation. This time, we tested the portable, which did not come with alligator clips, a siphoning tube, or a waste container. The pump is solid brass with a stainless shaft and nitrile impeller. The self-priming X-Change-R did come with thorough instructions and a spare impeller.

The unit took 15 minutes to finish the pumping job. Ease of Use and Clean-Up was rated Fair because of the lack of accessories.

Bottom Line: The price is right, but it would be nice if the product came with hoses, a waste container, and alligator clips. Company owner Stacey Stucki said she may create a model that would include a storage container and other accessories.

Manual Changers

Airpower Marina Pro. The Marina Pro's hand pump is located on the top of the cylindrical plastic oil container (8 quarts). Minor assembly is required, but the instructions are clear and thorough. The unit comes with a suction tube.

The Marina Pro claims to pump 5 quarts in 8-10 minutes, and it lived up to that claim. You need two hands to use the product—one to pump and one to hold the unit in place.

Bottom Line: The Marina Pro was easy to use and easy to clean up. Along with the Tempo Oil Boy, it was the fastest pumping manual.

Airpower Topsider MVP. The Topsider is the only hand pump with a metal container. The 8-quart container is short and round, making it very stable and allowing for one-hand operation. The Topsider came with an extraction tube. It took us 18 minutes to pump out the oil. In addition, we found clean- up to be on the messy side.

Bottom Line: We like the stability of the container but pumping was slower than the others.

Tempo Oil Boy. The first Oil Boy we received (we bought it through West Marine) had a crack in the container housing. We bought another one and it was fine.

Unlike the Air Power pumps, this product is tall and thin, which makes it tippy and less stable. However, the base of the container has molded-in wings for you to stand on and hold it in place.

Pumping went well, with the Oil Boy doing the job in 10 minutes. Clean-up was messy—the oil gulps out of the opening when pouring. The unit's supplied siphoning tube fit perfectly into the truck's dipstick tube.

Bottom Line: It works easily and quickly. It does gulp during oil dumping, and the storage container holds only 5 quarts. This is enough for smaller engines, but not for bigger engines. (The lube oil capacity of the 31-hp. Westerbeke 35D three-cylinder engine, for example, is exactly 5 quarts.) Check your specs if you don't want to have to decant oil to a bigger container mid-change.

West Marine Oil Vac. This is the simplest—and least expensive—product tested. A carrying handle is molded into the side of the 5-quart oil container, with the pump mounted on the top.

During testing, the Oil Vac was fast out of the gate but its pumping slowed. It took just over 14 minutes. Clean-up and dumping was fine. The supplied extraction tube was bent (due to the way it was packed), which made it difficult to keep the end of it on the bottom of the engine's oil pan.

Bottom Line: It's not the fastest, but the Oil Vac does the job—and for considerably less money than the others.

If you run your engine a lot, then an electric oil changer makes sense. In this category, we like the Jabsco Porta-Quick. It has all the ingredients we were looking for. Runner-up is the smaller Jabsco (17850-0012).

Reverso makes good products, and the OP-700 is one of them. But at nearly $300, it's a bit too expensive for the boatowner who will change his oil only two or three times a year. It certainly would be worth sharing the cost—and the the pump—with a few fellow boat owners.

The hand pumps are better for the owner who might change the oil once or twice a year. For us, it's a toss-up between the Tempo Oil Boy and the West Marine Oil Vac. One's cheaper, one's faster, one's easier to use, one cleans up a bit better (see chart). In the end, we'd save a few dollars and buy the Oil Vac.

If you want a manual model with a larger storage capacity, the Airpower Marina Pro is the choice.


Also With This Article
"Value Guide: Oil Changers"

• Airpower America, 800/225-2224, www.airpoweramerica.com
• Jabsco, 949/609-5106, www.jabsco.com
• Reverso, 800/225-2224, www.reversopumps.com
• Shurflo, 800/854-3218, www.shurflo.com
• Tempo, 800/321-6301, www.tempoproducts.com
• West Marine, 800-BOATING, www.westmarine.com
• X-Change-R, 800/922-4804, www.x-change-r.com

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