Most Common Problems with OMC Cobra Outdrive

OMC Cobra outdrives are one of the most versatile outdrives. It attaches to various engine settings in different boats easily.

Outboard Marine Corporation produced the outdrives in 1985. Presently Volvo has purchased the OMC outdrive division.

Despite being good engines, OMC outdrives have some common problems. These problems have led to a bad reputation of the outdrives.

In this article, I will discuss the most common problems with OMC Cobra outdrives.

Most Common Problems with OMC Cobra Outdrive

1. Design Problems with Transom Shift Cable:

Common shifting problems are seen in boats with an OMC Cobra. Usually, people do not face problems in forward or reverse shifting.

But then there occur difficulties when trying to put it back to neutral. Additionally, at higher RPMs, reverse shifting would be difficult. Similarly, owners reported having a bad forward shifting issue too.

In these cases, tapping noises could be heard while shifting. In these cases, more pressure needed to be applied to change the shifting state. Especially to change back to neutral. Or to forward or reverse from neutral.

A cable called lower shift cable goes through the transom. This cable attaches the gear-change box. The design of the cable is problematic.

Due to problems with the inner cable core, shifting problems occur. This inner core binds within the protective sleeve.

Again the shift interpreter switch may get misadjusted. This switch prevents shifting out. Damage with the switch causes shifting problems.

2. Too High Engine Idle:

The usual engine RPM while shifting should be around 650. Of course, this depends on the engine model. But owners reported the RPM being as high as 1000 at idle. The forward shifting RPM may go around 800-850. This is 20-50% higher than what the manufacturer specifies.

Other issues include fast idling at warm up. This seems to only increase.

This is likely to be the company’s fault. Many of the outdrive motors were set higher than usual by the factory or the owners. This is a fault in adjustment.

The high idle problem can be the cause of some other problems. For example, transmission gears’ hard shock engagement with U-joint when shifting gear box. It also creates problems in the propeller key and key-way shaft.

3. Frequent Failure of the Dog Clutch Gear:

Clutch dog failures can be related to transom problems. Owners have reported that shifting in the forward gear, the transom usually jumps terribly. It gives a presentation as if popping out of the gear.

This problem only gets exaggerated further. The gear keeps jumping and continues to do so.

A defective shift cable of the transom causes dog clutch failures. Sometimes, metal gets shaved off on the surface where engagement gears contact. This is between the forward, reverse and neutral gears. The shaving of metal happens due to a partially engaged shift cable. Which happens due to binding.

Due to clutch dog failure, the gear may wear out fast. This is because of the clutch dog gear being stuck while in the partial engagement of gears. And another common problem is gear shifting in high RPMs. In that state, this stuck gear may cause breakage of the gear tooth.

4. Faulty Routing of the Transom Cable:

Users have reported having kinks in transom cable. This also includes sharp bends in the cable.

Due to lack of lubrication, the core and sleeve wear out. This wearing is an accident and happens prematurely. The kink and bends cause disruption in the internal movement of the core. 

The rubber cable sleeves mounted on the starter fail terribly. They were supposed to be under the starter. This is where the routing design fails.

The failed design often automatically activates the electronic shift assist system as well. This is an uncontrolled activation and is not called for.

5. Cable Binding at Cable Guide:

In some OMC Cobra outdrives, the cable guide was mounted wrong. The issue was the screw adjustment. A screw holds the cable guide down.

This seems like a small issue because it can be solved easily. However, it is an issue that is reported a lot. Because some models came with this problem.

What Do The Customers Say?

“When I’m out of the water I can shift into forward and reverse no problem but, while in the water it goes into reverse ok but will not go into drive without clunking into gear at a higher rpm”

— Repi

“To tell you the truth, that Cobra drive was pretty good. It was a late 80’s unit and I ran it till 2006 without any major problems.

I always heard bad things about the Cobra drives, but that one served me well.

I think most of the bad press was carried over horror stories from the old OMC stringer drives, that had lots of problems..”

— Ken

“At least you don’t have to worry about flat tires, which is a constant problem with commercial mowing.”

— Mike

“I have had 7 OMC Cobra drives on four winns boats. The best boat I have ever owned is my 1989 freedom with a 2.3 ford It revs a little higher than most 4 cyl. I have it on a small lake and tube and ski with it . The best part about omc drives is you get a great boat at a lesser price.”

— Jacob

“In a lighter boat they seem fine, but they have been put into some heavier boats or boats that don’t have much hull efficiency. Seen a lot of burnt valves in these things.”

— Jane

OMC Cobra has been overall rated good. Especially after the overtaking of the outdrive section by Volvo.

Final Thoughts

OMC Cobra outdrives does have a bad reputation in the market. However, it is mainly due to the dog clutch and shift cable issues.

However, those need to be set up right by a knowledgeable professional. Afterward, people do not face many problems. Nothing the local mechanic cannot fix. Although, I believe there are better outdrives in the market other than the OMC Cobra. You may want to try the King Cobra instead. So I would biasedly suggest against purchasing an OMC Cobra outdrive.

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