The engine on your mower is smelling hot. It’s not a good idea to keep running the mower when this happens. You must stop and fix the problem to prevent causing extensive engine damage.
A Cub Cadet mower engine may overheat when using the wrong engine oil, the engine oil level is low, the cooling fins are plugged, the air filter is clogged, or the engine guard is out of place.
The engine may also overheat when the engine is overworked due to a plugged mower deck, dull mower blades, and running the mower at too fast of a ground speed for long, thick, or wet grass.
Follow the safety precautions listed in your operator’s manual. Stop the mower, remove the ignition key, wait for the engine to cool, and remove the spark plug wires prior to troubleshooting and performing repairs.
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Follow all safety instructions provided in your equipment operator’s manual before diagnosing, repairing, or operating. Consult a professional if you don’t have the skills, or knowledge or are not in the condition to perform the repair safely.
Why Does Your Cub Cadet Lawn Mower Overheat?
Using the Wrong Engine Oil
The engine oil helps keep the engine cool. All engine oils are not the same. The air-cooled engine used on a lawn mower requires oil that differs from the oil used in a liquid-cooled engine.
Small engines use air-cooled engine oil with a high concentration of zinc. Zinc is an additive used as a cooling agent.
Regular motor oil, like that used in a car, does not include much zinc because it uses water in a liquid to cool the engine.
The chart below that shows the type of oil that works best in different outdoor temperatures. Use this chart and consult with your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation for oil as these recommendations may vary.
Most small engine manufacturers will recommend using SAE30 or 10W-30 engine oil in your Cub Cadet lawn mower engine. However, you may need to change your oil viscosity to 20W-50 when operating in higher ambient temperatures.
SOLUTION: Drain the wrong engine oil and add the correct air-cooled engine oil.
2. Low Engine Oil Level
The engine requires proper lubrication so the internal engine parts can move freely. When the engine oil level is low, friction builds that creates heat in the engine.
The oil will become thicker when you continue to run an engine with a low oil level. This can cause significant engine damage.
It’s important to check the engine oil prior to using the mower. Add a little oil if you find it is low.
If the engine is consistently low on oil, look for the following:
- Oil Leak – Look over the engine area to find signs of an engine oil leak. Once you find the cause of the leak, replace the gaskets from which the oil is coming. You will also want to inspect your filter if your mower uses one. Make sure your oil filter is sealing properly.
- Burning Oil – Check for a plugged air filter. A plugged air filter will cause oil to burn from the engine making the engine work harder. You can clean the air filter or replace it is very dirty and unable to be cleaned.
- Using Oil – An engine can be using oil due to overheating while in use. It can also be an indication of a valve or ring problem. You need to take your mower to a repair center for an engine diagnosis.
SOLUTION: Check the engine oil level and correct it if it’s a little low. If it is the cause of your engine smelling hot, complete a full oil change to ensure you are running good clean oil. A heated oil may have thickened.
If you continue to experience problems after completing an oil change, running the mower low on engine oil may have caused extensive damage.
Take your lawn mower to a Cub Cadet servicing dealer or the engine dealer for repair. The technician will need to run additional tests to determine the extent of the damage.
3. Engine Cooling Fins are Damaged or Clogged
The engine cooling fins are responsible for pushing air to the exterior of the cylinder head and engine block to keep it cool.
- The top of the engine has a fan on it. It pulls fresh cool air in and then blows it down toward the bottom of the engine.
- The air passes through all of the hot parts of the engine and then blows the hot air out of the bottom.
The cooling fins can plug with dirt or the fins can get damaged resulting in a failure to dissipate heat from the engine. This can cause the engine to overheat.
SOLUTION: Remove the engine cover and clean out the cooling fins. If you find any damaged fins, you must replace them. Remove dirt from the engine cover and around the engine.
Going forward, make this part of your annual maintenance.
Washing the engine can further add to the problem by pushing dirt and water into the engine area. When washing your mower do not spray water into the engine to avoid compounding the problem.
4. Engine Guard is Not in Place
The engine shield must be in place to help cool air to circulate around the engine to keep it cool and prevent overheating. When the guard isn’t in place, the cool air will exit out of the area.
SOLUTION: Check that the engine guard is placed in the correct position. Tighten or replace mounting screws to ensure the guard is securely attached. Replace a missing or damaged guard.
5. Plugged Air Filter
The air filter is used to make sure the engine receives clean air to keep dirt from causing engine wear.
When the filter isn’t cleaned and kept in good condition, it can become so plugged with dirt and debris that the engine is starved of air.
This can cause the engine to run hot and overheat because it has to work harder to breathe.
SOLUTION: Remove the air filter to inspect its condition. Shine a flashlight through the paper element. If you see a good amount of light and the filter is in good condition, clean the dirt out of it and reinstall it.
However, if the light is dull or nonexistent; the air filter is damaged, or it appears very dirty and dark in color, it must be replaced with a new filter
Inner air filter & pre-filter: Some Cub Cadet mower engines will use a narrow filter placed inside a canister-style paper air filter called the inner air filter. Some will use a foam pre-cleaner that wraps around a paper air filter.
These filters add further protection to the engine by helping to trap dirt to keep it out of the air intake.
Replace and clean the air filter: I recommend replacing the air filter annually and then cleaning it several times throughout the mowing season to keep it in good condition.
You may have to replace or clean it more often if you are operating your Cub Cadet in dusty conditions or use the mower more than the average homeowner.
Don’t be cheap and try to make the air filter last as long as possible. I am a very cost-conscious person and I always spend money on maintenance items.
The money I spend on the air filter is far less expensive than an engine repair or replacement due to debris reaching the engine cavity.
6. Mower Deck Full of Debris
Your mower deck must be regularly scraped clean to remove any buildup of grass clippings, dirt, and other debris.
This buildup reduces the open area under the deck that is used to create air movement for a nice cut. It also causes the engine to have to work harder to rotate the blades through the debris.
SOLUTION: Scrape the mower deck with a deck scraper. A wire brush or putty knife works well too.
Frequently check the mower deck’s condition to keep it free of debris.
While there are products on the market to coat the underside of the mower deck that can help reduce buildup. However, they are not miracle products and you will still experience some buildup.
To reduce clumping and buildup under the deck, avoid cutting wet grass and always run your mower at full throttle.
7. Dull Blades
Dull mower blades will magnify the problem of a plugged mower deck.
Not only will the engine have to work harder to turn the blades through debris under the deck, but also having to turn dull blades through the debris can put a strain on the engine causing it to overheat.
SOLUTION: Mower blades must be checked regularly and sharpened. For the average homeowner, mower blades should be sharpened twice a season or about every 25 hours.
Refer to Change & Sharpen Your Cub Cadet Mower Blades for more information on sharpening and balancing the mower blades.
8. Overworking the Engine
It’s best to evaluate your mowing conditions so you can determine how to get the best performance from your Cub Cadet.
Cutting a lawn with long, thick, or wet grass can put the engine under load. This may cause it to overheat.
SOLUTION: When cutting long, thick, or wet grass, you must operate the mower at a slower ground speed. Follow these tips to reduce the load on the engine and obtain a nice cut:
- Avoid cutting wet grass.
- Double-cut or triple-cut long grass. This process includes setting the mower deck height at its highest setting. Make the first cut. Then lower the deck height a little and make a second cut.
- Run the mower at a fast engine speed at full throttle.
- Reduce how fast you move the mower when cutting long, thick, or wet grass.
Let Your Cub Cadet Engine Cool After Lawn Mowing
When operating a Cub Cadet lawn mower, it’s important to let the engine cool before placing it back into a storage unit or garage.
It is best to place a mower in an outdoor area. If you have a riding mower where the engine is under the hood, lift the hood so the engine is exposed.
Let the mower run under no load. The normal engine cooling process will begin to cool your engine down.
Learn more about engine cooling times and factors that affect engine cooling with our article, “Lawn Mower Engine Cooling Times Explained“.
Still Having Problems with Your Cub Cadet Mower?
If these tips haven’t solved your problem or if you are experiencing a different problem with your mower, check out my guide showing the most common issues and solutions: Common Cub Cadet Problems.
Here you’ll find the causes of issues like the mower not starting, a bad cut, a vibration, or a smoking problem. I include solutions along with links to more in-depth information.