Why is My Snowmobile Overheating? [Troubleshooting Guide]


Snowmobiles can overheat for many different reasons. The leading cause is ineffective cooling when you ride your sled in shallow or hard snow conditions. This is because a lack of snow on the heat exchanger can lead to overheating the coolant. Beyond this common issue, many malfunctions can also cause a snowmobile to overheat!

If you want to learn how to keep your sled from overheating or how to cool down an overheated engine, this post is for you.

No fluff or useless affiliate links, just the solid info you need!

Why Do Snowmobiles Overheat?

To understand why snowmobiles are prone to overheating, we have to first take a look at the sled’s cooling systems.

Unlike cars or motorbikes, liquid-cooled snowmobiles use heat exchangers to cool down their engines. Simply put, this heat exchanger is installed above the track, and the track is continuously throwing snow onto it while it’s rotating. The liquid coolant circulates in the system, which is cooled down by this snow. That’s why the cooling efficiency of liquid-cooled snowmobiles does not depend on the temperature of the air outside.

But if there is not enough snow to keep this exchanger cool the snowmobile will start to overheat. This problem usually happens at the beginning of the season, on hard-packed trails, and especially on ice.

Can fan-cooled snowmobiles overheat?

Unlike liquid-cooled models, fan-cooled snowmobiles are cooled down by air. Therefore, they do a really good job when the temperature outside is low. But it’s good to know that fan-cooled snowmobiles can also overheat on warm days.

Beyond these typical issues, there are many reasons why a snowmobile overheats. Let’s take a look at these, one-by-one.

Reasons Why a Snowmobile Overheats

  • Low or hard snow conditions (on liquid-cooled sleds)
  • Low coolant level or flow (on liquid-cooled sleds)
  • High air temperature outside (on fan-cooled sleds)
  • Broken engine fan (on fan-cooled sleds)
  • Low engine oil level (on 4-strokes)
  • You’ve ridden the sled too hard
  • Hard terrain
  • Wrong fuel
  • Lack of lubrication
  • The heat range of the spark plugs is too hot
  • Heat exchanger is covered with debris
  • Ice build-up on the tunnel protector
  • Performance modifications
  • Removed or shortened snow flap
  • Incorrect carburetor adjustment
  • Incorrect ignition timing
  • Blocked exhaust system
  • Electric issues
  • Damaged thermostat/water pump
  • Other engine malfunctions

As you can see, there are many reasons why your snowmobile can overheat. If you want to know what to do if this happens, keep reading!

Why Do Snowmobiles Overheat on Ice?

Snowmobiles overheat on ice due to the lack of snow on their heat exchanger. As liquid-cooled sleds have to run on snow to keep their engines cool, if you ride them on ice, their engines are prone to overheating. If you want to ride regularly on ice, it’s recommended that you invest in a 4-stroke snowmobile. They do a really good job on ice and you won’t have to be afraid of it overheating.

If you stick to 2-stroke engines, it’s good to know that fan-cooled sleds work better on ice. This is because their cooling system is don’t require fresh snow to stay cool. Another trick is to equip your sled with an ice scratcher:

What Happens When a Snowmobile Overheats?

There are many signs when a snowmobile overheats. First, on most models, a warning light (over-temperature indicator) illuminates when the engine temperature is too high. The newest models stop their engines automatically or switch it to limp mode to avoid further damage. You may also notice poor engine performance, bog downs, or other malfunctions. In the worst cases, overheating may result in serious engine damage!

That’s why you should stop the engine immediately and take a break if you experience one or more of the following symptoms:

Snowmobile Overheating Symptoms

  • Warning lights/messages appear
  • Switches to limp mode
  • Engine stops automatically
  • Lack of engine power
  • Engine bogs down
  • Engine seizure or other damage (worst-case scenario)

Aside from the engine, keep in mind that snowmobile tracks can also overheat on ice and hard-packed snow.

This is because the slide runners and the track are cooled and lubricated by water and snow. If you ride your sled hard on surfaces with minimal snow coverage, it can easily overheat the track on your snowmobile. As overheating can weaken the track internally, this can lead to failures or even damage.

How do I Stop My Snowmobile from Overheating?

To stop your snowmobile from overheating just follow these simple steps:

  • Avoid riding hard on hard-packed snow or ice
  • Take a break immediately if you notice your sled starting to overheat
  • Check the cooling system
  • Try to keep as much snow in the tunnel as possible
  • Soften the rear suspension
  • Avoid modifications for higher performance
  • Remove the tunnel protector (and studs)
  • Install a secondary heat exchanger or a radiator with a fan
  • Ensure proper maintenance

Let’s take a closer look at these factors one-by-one!

Where You Ride is Important

As you already know, snow conditions are important, especially if you have a liquid-cooled 2-stroke machine. These snowmobiles overheat much easier if you ride them on hard-packed snow, ice, or when there isn’t enough snow to sufficiently cool their heat exchangers.

Take a Break and Check the Cooling System

To save your engine from damage, stop it immediately if you notice your sled starting to overheat. Never wait until the computer stops the engine or switches it into limp mode!

You should allow the engine to cool down before you continue your ride. Before you restart the engine, it’s highly recommended that you inspect the cooling system.

First, check the coolant level in the reservoir, it should be filled at the proper level. If not, refill it immediately. It’s very important to not open the reservoir’s cap while the coolant is still hot!

If you frequently have to refill the coolant, this is a clue that there is a leak in the cooling system. Inspect the hoses and the connections carefully for potential damage.

If your track is studded, double-check the heat exchanger as a loose stud can easily damage it.

If you have a 4-stroke sled, you may want to check the engine oil as well. Lack of oil can also lead to the sled overheating.

Also, make sure that the heat exchanger is clean and not covered with debris.

Keep as much snow in the tunnel as possible

If you want to make your snowmobile run cooler, best practice is to keep as much snow in the tunnel as possible.

First, if you ride on a hard-packed trail, best practice is to occasionally ride your sled out of the trail into the loose snow. Spin the track and let it cover the heat exchanger with fresh snow.

Another way to get more snow into the tunnel is by installing a set of ice scratchers. They do a really good job not just on ice but on the trails as well.

If you sled doesn’t feature a snowflap, it’s recommended that you install one. It catches the snow that the track throws up and keeps it in the tunnel. Its additional benefit is that your sled won’t cover other riders behind you on the trails with snow. Unless you ride in powder all the time, a snowflap is a must-have item!

Some owners cut the bottom end of their snowflap, as it can easily get stuck when unloading the sled from the trailer. Surprisingly, such a small modification can also affect the snowmobile’s cooling efficiency and can lead to overheating problems. Thus, it’s not recommended!

If your sled overheats regularly, you can consider installing a longer snowflap, or just make it longer with an extension.

Soften the rear suspension

You can also consider setting the rear suspension to soft, especially if you are a smaller person. This is because if the load is not sufficient, the rear suspension won’t move at all.  A softer rear skid has many benefits from easier steering to more comfort.

Avoid modifications for higher performance

More power always means more fun on the trails, but it leads to more engine heat as well. If you want to avoid overheating issues, it’s best if you stay away from modifications.

Also, increased performance often leads to more risk of failures and a shorter engine life.

Remove tunnel protector

It’s a lesser-known fact that tunnel protectors can also reduce the cooling capacity of your sled.

This is because if the weather is cold and you ride on a smooth trail, ice build-up can develop inside the tunnel. (If your ride is bumpy, this probably won’t be an issue.)

As this build-up grows bigger and bigger, it can finally create a “bridge” between the two sides of the tunnel protector. If this happens, this ice build-up can completely block the heat exchanger from the fresh snow, which means the sled will overheat in a very short time.

This is a very annoying issue, as you have to periodically stop and remove the ice by hand. Another solution is removing the tunnel protector, but in this case, you unfortunately also have to remove the studs from your track.

Installing a secondary heat exchanger

If your snowmobile overheats all the time and you can’t solve the issue, consider installing a secondary heat exchanger or a radiator with a fan.

Some newer liquid-cooled sleds already come with a smaller radiator and fan to make their cooling more efficient. Thus, it seems to make sense to install a radiator even in a liquid-cooled snowmobile. This is why many drag racers use radiators to cool their high-performance sleds.

Another solution is to add a secondary heat exchanger or replace the current one for a bigger one. Both are a great way to add cooling capacity in low snow conditions.

Ensure proper maintenance

If you want to keep your sled in good shape year-round and want to avoid overheating issues, regular maintenance is a must.

Always follow your manufacturer’s recommendations and only use good quality (OEM) liquids, parts, and accessories.

Do 4-Stroke Snowmobiles Overheat?

Yes, 4-stroke snowmobiles can also overheat, although it’s much less likely than with 2-strokes. That’s why these sleds are recommended for trail riding and ice fishing. If your 4-stroke sled overheats, you may want to check the coolant. It should be at the proper level and you shouldn’t see any bubbles in it. You also have to check the engine oil, as a lack of oil can also cause overheating issues.

What Temperature Should My Snowmobile Run at?

Snowmobiles should run at around 120°-130° F in soft snow, and 130°-150° F on hard-packed trails. These are just approximate numbers, since the ideal temperature for each sled slightly varies from one model to the next. If you want to know the exact temperature your snowmobile should run at, you can check the manual, or ask your dealer for advice.

How Hot is Too Hot for a Snowmobile?

As a rule of thumb, 160° F is already too hot for a snowmobile. If you see that your sled runs close to this temperature, you should consider taking a break. Best practice is to try to keep the temp under 150° F if it’s possible. At 180°-200° F the over-temperature indicator lamp starts flashing to warn you about the overheating issue. Newer sleds turn off their engines above a certain temperature level.

Again, to avoid engine damage don’t wait for these signs. If you feel you can’t keep the temperature below the 150° F mark, it’s better to take a break.

If your snowmobile overheats often, try to solve the issue with one of the above-described practices.

How Hot Does the Exhaust on a Snowmobile Get?

Snowmobile exhaust can get as hot as 1100°-1200°. This can be important if you want to paint your sled’s muffler and want to know what paint to buy. Many owners use Header paint or even BBQ paint, which are usually rated for 1300°-1800°. 3 coats of either of these paints can do magic with any snowmobile exhaust!

Conclusion

An overheated snowmobile engine is always a headache, as you have to stop and take a break again and again.

The main reasons why snowmobiles overheat is hard or shallow snow conditions. If your track can’t throw enough snow onto the heat exchanger, it can lead to insufficient cooling.

Another common issue is a lack of coolant in the cooling system, or it simply won’t flow properly.

If you notice your snowmobile is overheating, it’s essential to shut the engine off and wait until the engine cools down.

Overheating is not a joke, as it may end in a variety of engine damage. The worst case scenario is arguably an engine seizure, in which the pistons, rings, and cylinders can all be damaged.

Because of the high risks, always keep your eyes on the temp gauge, and pay attention to the snow conditions as well.

If your sled frequently overheats, follow the above-described steps, or take it to a professional!

(Disclaimer: Always read your sled’s manual carefully before you start to service your sled!)

References:

https://sleddermag.com/chris-brown-cool-your-sled-tip/

https://snoriderswest.com/article/sled-tech/how_to_prevent_snowmobile_engine_failure

https://www.snowmobilerepairmanual.com/1999-2000-arctic-cat-snowmobile-engine-overheats/

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