If you have a Sea Doo with VTS (Variable Trim System), then you’re sitting on a ticking time bomb. Even a casual web search will fill your screen with horror stories of VTS gone bad. To make matters worse, there’s more than one reason that causes malfunction with the system. It could be the VTS switch, it could be the VTS relay unit, or it could be the VTS motor itself. This post will talk briefly about each of those potential issues, and then explain how to replace the VTS motor, which is most likely culprit of your problems.
Why Does the VTS Fail So Much?
The short answer is “water.” When water gets into the motor (the #1 suspect), or the relay (a popular suspect, especially on the older Sea Doos), or the black plastic VTS housing unit, it sits there and causes corrosion. So in addition to repairing whatever is causing your VTS failure, it’s also important to take steps to prevent it (or other water-related issues) from happening in the future.
How Do I Tell What’s Causing My VTS Problem?
Obviously, the first sign of trouble is that your VTS isn’t moving your nozzle up and down and/or the dash readout doesn’t move the VTS indicator when you press the VTS switch. The first thing to check is the 7.5A fuse in your Sea Doo’s fuse box (it’s the only 7.5A fuse in there).
YES – FUSE IS BLOWN: If the fuse is blown, then the switch isn’t your problem. You can almost guarantee that your problem is that the VTS motor is locked up (from corrosion) and is blowing the fuse. If testing this for sure is worth destroying another fuse (and fuses are cheap, so so ahead and try this), pop a new fuse in, remove the seat, put your ear down near the VTS housing (it’s near the back of your ‘Doo), and press the VTS button. If you hear a click, then you know your relay is fine (the click is the relay working). Your fuse will be blown again, but a dead fuse is a fair trade for knowing you have a good relay. The final diagnostic step is to connect the VTS motor directly to the battery to see if the motor turns. If it doesn’t, then you have verified that the problem is the motor.
NO – FUSE IS NOT BLOWN: If the 7.5A fuse isn’t blown, then your problem is “upstream” from the motor. The most likely culprit in this case is the relay (especially if you have a 2003 or older boat), but it could also be the switch. You can completely eliminate the motor as an issue by opening the VTS housing (explained below) and connecting the two leads directly to your battery. If the motor turns, then you’ve got a switch or relay problem. An in-depth discussion of switch and relay issues (as well as remedies) is available in a great article in the Sea-Doo.net Tech Articles section. It was written in 2000, but still applies to all the VTS systems.
Now that you’ve done a little bit of troubleshooting The rest of this blog post will focus on the most likely cause of your problems, a seized VTS motor.
Removing the VTS Housing Cover
Remove your seat, and locate the VTS housing near the rear of your boat. Depending on your model, you may have to remove some seat cowling or mounting hardware to get easy access. You’ll also have to push the clear plastic The lid of the housing is held in place with three plastic tabs — two on top and one on the bottom. These are VERY fragile, so take extreme care when removing them. Click the tabs down, then slowly wiggle the cover free. There’s a ribbed rubber gasket that sits between the cover and the housing base, so watch to make sure it doesn’t fall off while you’re removing the cover.
Here’s what a VTS motor looks like inside the housing, with the cover removed:
Once the cover is off, take a careful look at your VTS motor. If you see any corrosion, anywhere, then you know that water has been inside the housing. At first glance, mine looked OK… but there was rust on one of the motor’s screws, as well as a little bit of rust on the metal clip that holds the wiring boot down, so I was certain water had been in the VTS housing at some point. If your VTS housing looks like this, then you have a serious problem:
There are two likely causes of water getting into your VTS housing. It could be condensation; air has water in it, and temperature changes can cause droplets to form inside your housing, and if it sits there for a while, it will cause corrosion. The other source of water could be from outside the rear of the hull, along the VTS shaft itself, and into the motor. I’ll discuss how to check, prevent, and fix that below. For now, let’s focus on repairing or replacing the motor itself.
Removing the VTS Motor
First, disconnect the two wires that connect the motor to the VTS relay (they’re connected with waterproof bullet connectors). You may need to use pliers to help hold and twist the connectors out. If you’re planning to test the motor by connecting it to the battery, these are the two leads you’d use.
The VTS motor is held in place by four 10mm locknuts. The top nut (at about 12 o’clock) is slightly hard to access, because it’s hidden behind the wiring sheath. The side ones are right at 9 and 3 o’clock, and the bottom one is close to the 5 o’clock position. Remove all four with a 10mm socket, and put them aside (I store them in the removed VTS housing lid). The motor should then wiggle straight out.
Inspecting the VTS Motor Internals
To examine the internals of your motor, take a small flat-head screwdriver and carefully pry off the round cover plate. When I did this on mine, about a teaspoon of water spilled out. That’s a sure sign you’ve got a water problem. 🙂 Here’s what the inside looked like:
If yours is corroded this badly, then replacing it probably your only option. But if no water poured out, or if yours only looks slightly corroded, then you might be able to get away with simply cleaning it thoroughly (I keep an old Sonicare toothbrush in the garage for this type of stuff), lubing it (I recommend white lithium grease, since it prevents rust and is designed for metal to plastic applications), and putting it back together. Test it before going through the trouble of re-installing it in the VTS housing. You can test by wiring it direct to the battery, or you can re-connect the bullet connectors, make sure a fresh fuse is installed, and hit the VTS switch… but be prepared to blow another 7.5A fuse if cleaning it didn’t work.
Finding a Replacement VTS Motor
If you’re an OEM parts only kind of person, then the current OEM part number for a replacement VTS motor is 278001292 (previous part number was 278000616, but they’re both the same motor). Retail price from your BRP dealer is about $180.
But would it surprise you to know that the exact same motor was used as the driver’s (left) side window motor in a 1995 – 1998 Nissan 240SX, and the 1984-1989 Nissan 300ZX? Yep! So one might think you could save some money by calling your local Nissan dealer and just buying the part from them. And you’d be wrong. They want over $500 for the part. Yikes!
Luckily, there are a few cheaper options available to you:
- You can find the on Amazon for around $75.
- You can find rebuilt ones on eBay for about the same price as the ones on Amazon.
- You can stop by an auto junk yard and pull one out of a 240SX or 300ZX for $25-$30.
- Get one from your local auto parts store (They’ll have it under Cardone part #47-1326).
If you’re in a rush to replace the motor and ride today, there’s actually a good chance your local auto parts store might have one in stock. I didn’t want to wait for delivery, so I bought one from a nearby O’Reilly Auto Parts for $150 (plus they wanted my old one as a core exchange). Yes, that’s double the price of the eBay or Amazon route, and only $30 cheaper than the OEM part, but with one major benefit: O’Reilly gave me a lifetime warranty on this motor. So if water ever gets in again, they told me I could just take it back to any O’Reilly store and trade it for a new one!
Re-Install the New VTS Motor
Since you’ve already removed your old VTS motor, you know how to re-install it. Depending on where you got the motor, you may have to strip the wires and install some waterproof bullet connectors, like this:
You’ve got a 50/50 chance of wiring the male and female sides correctly, but if you get it wrong, you won’t break anything. Test your connections by laying the motor on a flat surface, gear side up, put on your key, then press the VTS button on your handle bars. If the gear wheel spins, you’ve got the connectors on the right wires. If not, swap them and re-test. Don’t heat-shrink the insulation on the waterproof connectors until you’ve confirmed the proper wiring.
Before re-installing the motor, I recommend using white lithium grease on the motor gear, and the matching receptacle on the VTS shaft. Be generous with it. Slide the motor back onto the four mounting bolts. The mounting holes on the motor I got from the auto parts store were slightly too small (too much silver paint in the holes), but a few minutes with a round file made the holes big enough to mount smoothly.
If you’re really lucky, the motor will press right into place with the motor’s drive gear matching up perfectly with the receptacle on the VTS shaft… but you probably won’t get that lucky. You’ll probably have to do what I did: put my key on the post, press in gently with my right hand, and pres the VTS button with my left for a split second to briefly turn the gear, and repeat until the motor pops into place. Then attach and tighten all the lock nuts, and test to make sure it’s all working properly.
Here’s what my replacement motor looked like installed:
Preventing Future Issues
Before re-installing your VTS housing cover and celebrating a job well done, you should consider a few options for preventing these same corrosion problems in the future.
First, check the VTS boot on the rear of your boat. It’s the black rubber tube that surrounds the shaft that connects from the VTS motor to your pump nozzle, in the top right corner of this photo:
If you’ve got an older style boat, you may have metal clamps on this boot. If that’s the case, you really should consider upgrading with one of OSD’s VTS Boot Upgrade Kits.
Every owner, as part of your annual maintenance, you should check both clamps for tightness (you just squeeze them together) and also check the VTS boot for wear. At less than $15 for a brand new boot and clamps, some owners replace them every season, since this is the #1 source of water entry that leads to inevitable VTS failure.
Another suggestion (which I’ve done to both of my boats) is to drill one or two holes in the bottom corner of your VTS housing. This allows any water that does enter your VTS housing (through a leaky VTS boot) to drain out of the housing and into the bilge, rather than sit inside and corrode your VTS motor. A drain hole will also provide ventilation to prevent condensation from forming inside a sealed VTS housing. If you decide to drill a hole (and I recommend you do), don’t drill it in the housing cover. Drill it in the rear corner of the housing at its lowest point, at a 45 degree downward angle. Be careful not to drill too far through — or you could nick one of the rubber hoses behind the VTS housing.
Some owners might not want to drill a drain hole, since the rubber gasket on the VTS housing implies that BRP designed the VTS housing to be “waterproof” against water outside the housing getting in.That might be true. But that design comes at the cost of not allowing water that does get inside the housing anyway (probably from a leaky VTS boot) to get out. My advice? Drill those drain holes without worry. They’d only let water in if the water level in your bilge rose high enough to reach the bottom of the VTS housing. And if that happens, you’ve got way bigger problems to worry about.
Finally, as part of your annual winterizing, I recommend removing the VTS cover and spraying the entire VTS motor and housing with WD-40 or some other electrically safe water displacing agent. I also store my boats for the winter with the VTS housing cover removed, to help prevent condensation.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you diagnose and repair your Sea Doo’s VTS quickly, easily, and a lot more cheaply than taking it to your dealer… who will gladly charge you full price for parts and labor, knowing you’ll probably be back next year to do it again.
As always, I welcome your comments, suggestions, and feedback below! And I invite you to check out my other Sea Doo posts while you’re here!