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How Much Outboard Motor Can You Afford?

Your dream boat is rated for a maximum of 130 horsepower. You have a choice of outboards starting at about 100 horsepower. Until a few years ago, deciding the optimal motor size was easy; you either wanted to go fast or not so fast. You were loyal to a black motor or a white motor. That's all changed with the introduction of four-strokes and direct-injected (DI) two-strokes.

Four-stroke outboards cost more initially, but they offset their higher purchase price through substantially better fuel economy, and by the fact that they don't burn lubricant like conventional two-strokes. Fuel savings of up to 30 percent are not uncommon. Along with lower fuel costs comes extended range, which probably means you'll spend as much money per month on fuel, but you'll go farther. An added benefit is that four-strokes run whisper-quiet and are smokeless.

Our beloved conventional two-strokes are noisy and smoky by comparison. But, the new DI two-strokes are quiet, smokeless and boast enviable fuel economy--even more miserly than four-strokes. On the downside, DI motors weigh more, although the difference in some engines is just a few pounds--which is the weight of only a gallon or two of fuel. For low monthly payments, buy a conventional two-stroke. For razor-sharp acceleration, reliablity, fuel economy, and range, a DI or four-stroke motor rated at from 75 to 100 percent of a boat's maximum rating is the best choice.

Deciding which motor best fits your budget means constructing a balance sheet. In this far-from-complete table are some useful comparisons from 50 to 150 horsepower.

Dealers rarely sell at full list price, but engine prices do not usually include rigging. Some models and brands come with controls and gauges; others do not.