Car Parts, Boat Parts and ATVs – more in common than you realize

Boat engineIf I met him, I don’t think I’d like Murphy simply because I really dislike his law. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and more often than not on my day off when I have something planned that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

This isn’t a recent phenomenon for me either. But the good news is that as my mechanical knowledge grew, I figured out quickly how to circumvent his law and salvage my day – most of the time – when it comes to the motorized vehicles causing me problems and standing in the way of my fun.

The solution I learned about when I was younger, albeit the hard way, is that some automotive parts can serve double duty as replacement parts for recreational vehicles. I say I learned it the hard way because it only came after several outings were ruined by an ATV that wouldn’t start because it needed a specialty part, my grandfather’s old Ford tractor that wouldn’t crank thanks to a temperamental starter, and a dirt bike that quit when the motorcycle battery failed.

I suspect a lot of people were like me when I was first getting my hands dirty taking things apart to figure out how they work, and needing more than a little help from dad putting them back together. I just didn’t realize that some parts were interchangeable. The thought never crossed my mind until one weekend when a bunch of my high school buddies and I were at my grandfather’s cabin for the weekend, fishing and riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes. I was about half a mile from the cabin when the dirt bike I was riding refused to restart thanks to a bad motorcycle battery. Knowing there weren’t any ATV or specialty power sports parts suppliers nearby, I figured my bike would have to be parked for the weekend. Only after I pushed it home on the gravel road that was, thankfully, mostly downhill, did my grandfather tell me that I could get the battery I needed at just about any place that sold auto parts.

The same goes for a lot of other power sports machines and their parts. Here are some of the more common parts and problems that might get in the way of your fun, and how to solve them.

1. Batteries – most auto parts stores carry a wide range of batteries that fit boats, ATVs, dirt bikes, jet skis, snowmobiles and even golf carts. Make sure you bring in the old marine battery or whatever type it is and get it tested first to confirm that’s the problem, to get the right replacement size, and to avoid the core charge.

2. Spark plugs and wires – this is another category that you don’t have to rely on a specialty parts supplier for. Even if you think that glow plugs for a Kubota B20 diesel tractor or plugs for a Yamaha Tt-R225 dirt bike are uncommon and only available through a dealer, think again and try your local auto parts supplier first.

3. Boats – similarities exist between inboard motors and some car engines. For example, the 4.3 liter GM V-6 that’s in your 2000 Glastron boat may be able to use some of the same 4.3 V6 GM motor parts that are available at an auto parts store.* Marine batteries can also often be obtained at an auto parts store, saving additional hassle when a marine parts specialty supplier isn’t nearby.

Of course, a little preventive maintenance before you hit the trail or water can help you avoid many of these problems in the first place. But if they do crop up, you now know that many of these parts are readily available somewhere other than just a specialty power sports provider.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries the powersport batteries you need, including ones for motorcycles, boats, ATV’s, tractors, golf carts and snowmobiles.  Buy online, pick up in store.


*Always consult your owner’s manual first. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.




  1. Bill Schwieder says:

    Be careful when you need to replace electrical items – alternators, etc. Marine grade parts are more expensive, but they are designed to survive a harsh marine envoirnment and resist creating sparks that can result in an explosion when gas vapors are present. The United States Power Squadrons (100 years old in 2014) specifically advises caution in their training manuals when considering substituting automotive grade parts for marine grade parts. USCGAUX also issues similar cautions. Bilge blower motors, distributors, alternators/generators need to be resistant to sparking to be safely used in confined spaces where gasoline vapor may accumulate.

    • Thanks for the comment Bill – Safety first, for sure!

    • Bull crap Bill , I’ve been a mechanic for over 20 years and I’m ASE master certified I started in the automotive industry then , went to heavy equitment then to marine and I can tell you that they tell you the marine is different maybe it was back in the 60’s but since the 90’s it is all the same on inboards and they tell you not to get electrical parts that aren’t marine and I can tell you I have rebuilt a many starters and alternators and there isn’t not one dam difference ! Motors use to have brass freeze plugs but now all engines run brass freeze plugs I worked at a Chevy dealership for over 10 years and have been in a many motors ! Also on the spark plugs the only difference in the marine plugs is there stainless steel and want rust but automotive plug will do the same thing ! People just want you to pay that extra couple thousand for a motor that has a mercruiser stamp on it or Volvo stamp but it is a Chevy motor ! No special cam or crank same truck motor !

  2. Totally agree and at about one-half the cost of marine, or tractor brand parts.. Like about 10 years ago I installed a honda automobile alternator onto an old Kubota tractor, imported from the rice patties afar, and it is still working great. (Alternator was purchased used from a automotive salvage yard)

  3. Some automotive parts may be interchangeable with marine engines, but it’s not always recommended.
    Marine parts are usually explosion proof or at least resistant due to the engine being in a closed area that’s not well vented unless you run the blower. I had a IAC fail on my mercruiser and replaced it with one from a local automotive store. It is a completely sealed device, so I feel confident I won’t have any spark issues from it.
    My suggestion is to check the automotive products before you purchase them and make sure they won’t cause an unwanted accident. The money you might save by using a non-marine part is definitely not worth yours or someone else’s life.

  4. This is about the worst advice I have ever seen in print and I will explain why. Gas vapors are heavier than air. Gas fumes therefore settle in the lowest compartment of your boat, namely, the engine compartment and bilge. Marine grade parts are specially designed to prevent SPARKING. That’s because, one spark in your engine compartment can cause your boat to explode. Don’t believe me? Google boat fire, marina fire, etc. It happens every year during boating season. Some jackass puts a car starter in their boat, turns the key and blows up often causing the whol marina to burn down. DO yourself a favor and pull this article down before you get yourself sued.

  5. I’ve had my share of Mercruiser Big Block powered boats with Bravo drives. Keep ’em. Car motors belong in cars… LOL… Yamaha Powered Boats Rule! And yeah they are expensine too. Boat stands for Break Out Another Thousand!!!

  6. Better think twice before instaling “automotive” parts in that marine application. We now live in an era of Lawyers go out of their way to find a neglegent party and penalize them to the fullest extemt of their pocketbook and Insurance companies that will find a way to rejecting a claim. Both of these entities have an enormous amount of resources at their disposal. Just watch the TV and you see ads all day for a law firm who will “fight for your rights”, we want to get you compensation all all costs, i.e. we want to capitalize on your misfortune…

  7. The Advance Team says:

    Thanks for your comments. We’d like to take this opportunity to weigh in on the conversation.

    With summer activities in full swing, we wanted to talk about options available for parts when in a pinch, much like our Mechanic Next Door describes at the start. His point around boat parts is that there are some similarities and different parts possibilities available, and that you do not necessarily have to go to a specialty shop for everything.

    Of course, anyone attempting repairs or maintenance should always consult their owner’s manual before undertaking any work, to ensure safety and that warranties aren’t voided.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and visiting our blog.

    The Advance Team

  8. I had dropped a 350 small block in my boat but i didn’t do my math and heated up the engine to extreme temps. What i needed to do was change the transmission to make a better ratio. was a big help in this department. The right tools and the right knowledge could of saved me a lot of trouble.

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