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John Deere Mower Engine OVERHEATS (8 Causes & Fixes)

Your engine begins to smell a little hot. You should stop running the mower and troubleshoot the problem so the issue doesn’t become worse and potentially damage the engine.

A John Deere lawn mower engine may overheat with a low engine oil level, the wrong type of engine oil, a clogged air filter, plugged cooling fins, or a missing engine guard.

Overworking the engine by running the John Deere with a plugged mower deck, dull mower blades, or at a ground speed that is too fast for long, thick, or wet grass may also cause the engine to overheat.

Follow the safety precautions listed in your John Deere operator’s manual. Stop the mower, remove the ignition key, wait for the engine to cool, and remove the spark plug boots before performing repairs.

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Follow all safety instructions provided in your equipment operator’s manual prior to 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 John Deere Lawn Mower Overheat?

1. Using the Wrong Engine Oil in a Gas-Powered John Deere Mower

The engine oil not only keeps the engine lubricated so parts can move freely, it is also used to help keep the engine cool on a gas-powered John Deere mower.

The engine used in an air-cooled small engine requires oil that differs from the oil used in a liquid-cooled engine.

Gas-powered small engines (including Kohler, Briggs & Stratton, and Kawasaki) on a John Deere riding mower, lawn tractor, and zero-turn mower 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 your operator’s manual for oil recommendations.

Most manufacturers of small engines used on John Deere mowers will recommend using SAE30 or 10W-30 engine oil in your lawn mower engine.

However, you may need to change your oil viscosity to 20W-50 when operating in higher ambient temperatures and 5W-30 when operating in cold temperatures.

SOLUTION: Drain the wrong engine oil and add the correct air-cooled engine oil.

2. Low Engine Oil Level in a John Deere Mower

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 John Deere mower 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 the engine is 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 your John Deere with low engine oil may have caused extensive damage.

Take your lawn mower to a John Deere servicing dealer or the small 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 on a John Deere Mower

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 move sufficient air around 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 on your John Deere 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 on a John Deere Mower

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 on a John Deere Mower

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 John Deere 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, knock the dirt out of it by tapping it against a solid surface and reinstalling 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 John Deere 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 John Deere 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 very cost-conscious and 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 on a John Deere Mower

Grass clippings, dirt, and debris will collect under the mower deck. Because of this, the John Deere deck must be regularly scraped to keep it clean.

The area under the deck is used to create air movement for a nice cut. The mower deck, baffles, and blades have been designed for optimal airflow and suction to lift the grass and give it a precise even cut.

The buildup of debris not only affects your cut quality but also causes the engine to work harder to rotate blades through a packed mower deck.

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.

If you are looking for a good mower deck spray, check out this spray from DuPont.

To reduce clumping and buildup under the deck, avoid cutting wet grass and always run your mower at full throttle.

7. Dull Blades on a John Deere Mower

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 John Deere Mower Blades for more information on sharpening and balancing the mower blades.

8. Overworking the John Deere Engine

It’s best to evaluate your mowing conditions so you can determine how to get the best performance from your John Deere.

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 John Deere Engine Cool After Lawn Mowing

When operating a John Deere 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 John Deere mower in an outdoor area. If you have a John Deere 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 John Deere Lawn Mower?

As a John Deere mower owner, you will encounter a variety of problems over the life of the mower. These can include problems with starting, dying while mowing, vibrating, cutting unevenly, and not moving.

To help you identify the reasons your mower is having problems, I put together a handy guide to help you troubleshoot your John Deere. Check out Common John Deere Lawn Mower Problems and Solutions.