Snowmobile Overheating – What to do?

snowmobile overheating

Snowmobile Overheating

In this article, we’re going to focus mainly on snowmobiles: how they work, what are the most common issues, and what to do in case you encounter one. Particularly, we will look at how to solve engine and snowmobile overheating problems.

Winter is a dream season for many people all around the globe. For some, it’s because of Christmas magic, which means more time with your family, the prospect of snow, and receiving nice gifts. For others, it means winter sports. You can do a lot of activities that involve snow, like skiing, snowboarding, and going with a snowmobile. And there are also some for whom winter is a season that never ends, and they use snowmobiles for everyday travel.

How do snowmobiles work?

Snowmobiles aren’t very common in warm climates as they are, evidently, only used on snow, so if you happen to leave in a southern region, your chance of encountering one is very slim. However, if you go up north, you will see that people use them for more than entertainment, and you will find out that the people use them as often as motorcycles in the southern area.

Built similarly to motorcycles, snowmobiles (often called motor sleds or snow machines) have a heavy engine in the center of the vehicle, with the rider balanced on top of it and with two wheels with rubber tires in front and behind. The snowmobiles have a belt-drive and clutch system that transfers the power from the engine, this way making the tracks rotate.

The engine sends power to the machine through a driveshaft, which makes the axle rotate directly and move the wheels of the sled. The wheels are large gears with teeth placed evenly so they are able to pierce the snow as they slide over it.

Used for fun or ordinary winter travel, snowmobiles are highly entertaining when they are working properly. Then again, as higher-powered modern snowmobiles can reach speeds of 150 mph, they are also dangerous if there is an issue with the vehicle.

Common problems among snowmobiles can come from the snowmobile stator, and they are a failure of the regulator-rectifier; shortened, corroded, or damaged wiring harness or connectors; and overheating.

Is overheating dangerous?

Taking into account that in a normal year, around two million people enjoy snowboarding in just North America alone, the statistics show us that snowmobiles are not as dangerous as they might be perceived. According to a study, about two hundred people die in accidents, and there are over 14,000 injuries per year due to snow machines. (source: Snowmobile injuries in North America by J J Pierz, Clin. Orthop. Relat. Res. 2003 Apr (p. 409): paragraphs 29-36.].

Nevertheless, just like any other machine, if it’s not working properly, it can become dangerous. Although, here you have to take into account all the other variables that might lead to overheating of the snowmobile.

Still, while having the engine overheat is never a pleasant or normal behavior, it can become unsafe if you find yourself far from a specialized service that can take a look at it. You have to double check if the engine has enough oil, anti-freeze, and if there is a possibility there might be a leak causing the disruption of the engine.

But can it affect the engine?

If you happen to notice your snowmobile is overheating, you should try and test it more to see if the same problem resurfaces. An overheating of the vehicle once shouldn’t hurt it because it normally goes to the point where it shuts off so it can protect the engine.

However, you have to pay attention and not let it do this too many times, as it can cause different technical issues like losing the rings, pistons, or other important components.

For example, if the snowmobile happens to overheat right before you start riding it, the machine should shut down before it overheats and not after. The inside computer should shut down the machine after around three minutes of idling in case the temperature rises over the safe, normal temperature.

In that case, usually the sleds get warmed up around 100-150° F, so any temperature that passes that is considered overheating, and the computer should instantly shut down to protect the engine.

Overheating at idle

Normally if it overheats during idling, it shouldn’t get hot enough to damage the engine, as temperatures rise way more than warm-up level during a normal ride (reaching temperatures of over 190° F).

Compared to cars, which can overheat during long drives, care always will continue to run after overheating (although it is advised to check them periodically so you make sure everything is running smoothly). The piston in cars shrink back to the normal size after cooling down, and snowmobiles can follow the same path and continue functioning while overheated.  The pistons going back to normal size after cool down.

What are the possible causes of snowmobile overheating?

When used excessively, the motor is normally warmed up and runs normally, so it shouldn’t reach the point where it completely shuts down. Just like the engine of a car, the snowmobile stator is similar to an alternator, and it’s what generates electrical power for the vehicle. The common failure for the snowmobile stators is overheating.

The Stator

The stator is a part mounted inside of the motor (some snowmobile models might have it surrounded by a bath of engine oil, while for some it’s dry). Normally, things can get heated inside the motor.

For the high-quality snowmobiles, the stators are built with extremely effective insulation around the wire windings so they could be able to withstand the heat, and, on the other side, a cheaper material might damage the quality of the wire.

The most common cause of failure for a stator is the heat retained, which can cause the insulation to break, possibly leading to a short circuit in the coils. Usually, this happens when the snowmobile is used at high speeds, which gets the engine to run hotter and heats up the stator from increased power output.

2-stroke vs 4-stroke

However, there are also cases for some of the 2-stroke or 4-stroke engines in recent snowmobile models where the stators are often falling from low speed riding on hard snow or riding in high altitude conditions.

Most snowmobiles usually need easy movement on the snow in order to function properly, so you have to keep in mind that mild temperatures might not be a proper environment, so you need enough snow for the engine to start pulling the way it should. The more RMP’s you’re using, the water will spin faster and that leads the coolant to move faster through the system.

Also, the track would spin faster and throw more snow up on the heat exchangers during a faster ride. Another reason for overheating could be that the increased airflow functions better at higher speeds, sending more power to the front radiator.

What to check if you notice it

If you notice your snowmobile is overheating, you might not need to worry just yet. As we’ve established before, there are multiple reasons why the machine would behave that way, and that might have to do with the external environment. Nonetheless, there are also other explanations for overheating, and it might come in handy if you knew exactly what to check and not start tearing the sled apart for some minor issue that’s causing the overheating.

Before going into all the technical details, it might be good to do a checklist of all the things you might have missed like engine oil. You might have thought of that, and you might think it’s a bit silly for you to read this, but it’s never a bad idea to check the oil and make sure it’s in the right quantity and that there are no leaks.


If there is an insufficient amount of fuel running down the motor, this might be the cause of the overheating problem.  This can cause the motor to get increasingly hot; so hot that it could burn down the entire motor, melting the pistons’ aluminum composition and cause them to get stuck to the cylinder wall, getting the engine to seize.


Also, a high-quality fuel is crucial for the machine to work the way it should. The majority of snowmobiles use a 91-octane non-ethanol fuel to maintain the integrity of the motor. It always needs to be fresh fuel, not leftover from last winter. If you have put used fuel, it is recommended to drain it and replace it with a fresh one.


Having checked that, we can move on to some other possible explanations for the overheating. You have to make sure the sled has enough coolant, verify if there are some leaks, and/ or tighten the screws and bolts on the head gasket.

Verify all the wires are connected properly. This could make the difference between a normal ride out or a day inside a garage, figuring out what happened.

Check the engine

If you went through that checklist box and checked all of them and the snowmobile is still overheating, this is when you have to start digging a little deeper and check the snowmobile’s engine. For the snowmobile to run properly, there are three components that are crucial:

  1. Fuel/air mixture
  2. A spark
  3. Compression

Should any of them encounter problems when turning on your sled, it can cause the machine to overheat, underperform, or stop running.


In case there is mild overheating while riding, you can try and add an extra fan and radiator on the back side of the motor sled, and they would keep the temperature level in case you have to ride it for a long time. That is also a good remedy if you use it when the outside temperature is warmer than the usual.

Another solution to overheating is to buy scratchers. The scratchers are a vital element that helps keep your engine cooler. What they actually do is they scratch up the ice and snow into a tunnel, which is transferred into the heat exchanger, helping to lower the temperature of the coolant that runs through the heat exchanger of the sled. They are also very important on hard-pack trails, as they aid preserving the integrity of the engine as they prevent overheating.

Can you still ride your snowmobile if it overheats?

You can still ride your snowmobile if you happen to notice that the overheating happens when idling. This might stop once you get the snowmobile running on snow at a speed that manages to get the engine running properly and get the oil pumping correctly.

However, if you are using the snowmobile correctly in the right environment and found it to overheat during normal use, you should take your time and revisit all the points and not use it further because it can become dangerous both for the sled and for your own safety.

If it overheats during a long ride, you have to let it sit for thirty or forty minutes in order for it to have enough time to cool down and adjust to the correct temperature.

It normally should allow you to return to riding and get more kilometers, but if you happen to notice it heat again, you would have to stop and let it cool again.


Overheating the engine can be a normal behavior up to a point. Although, if you happen to notice that your vehicle overheats more than normal and you have checked all the steps above and found no leaks or damages, you should definitely contact a mechanic to take a look at it. Waiting passively for it to pass might do further damage to it, and you might end up losing more than a few hundred bucks for the issue.

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