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Skid Steer Overheating: Causes and Effects

Skid Steer Overheating: Causes and Effects

A skid steer with a tiller attachment driving on a desert road.

Skid Steer Overheating: Causes, Effects, and Solutions

Reading time: 5.5 min

One of the primary features of a skid steer’s design is its compact form factor. Its small footprint makes it an incredible machine for getting in and out of tight spaces.

Given its compact design, however, heat management is a critical concern. To avoid overheating, skid steers rely on a robust, intricate system of parts designed to control, transfer and dissipate heat from the machine’s engine.

When any one of these parts malfunctions, skid steers are liable to overheat, leading to engine failures and downtime. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand how to maintain the heat management components of your skid steer.

In this article, we’ll discuss the causes and effects of overheating in skid steers. Getting to know the common causes of overheating in your skid steer and how to address them will help you minimize unnecessary downtime and reduce repair costs.

Understanding Skid Steer Overheating

As in other types of heavy equipment, the most critical component in a skid steer is the engine. The engine generates significant heat during operation, which is managed by an integrated cooling system. This system typically includes a radiator, cooling fan and various channels to circulate coolant and dissipate heat.

Overheating occurs when the temperature of the engine and its associated components exceeds their designed operating range. For most skid steers, the normal temperature range should be around 190 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Overheating occurs when the temperature crosses this threshold, indicating a failure in the cooling system or other issues.

Early warning signs of an overheating skid steer include a rise in the engine temperature gauge, reduced engine performance and unusual noises such as knocking or pinging.

A machine in critical condition might display symptoms like a complete loss of power, an engine that refuses to start or visible engine component damage. Recognizing and addressing these early warning signs is crucial in preventing severe damage and ensuring the longevity of the skid steer.

Causes of Skid Steer Overheating

While overheating is a common problem, there are many contributing factors that may cause a skid steer to overheat. Here are the most common culprits for a skid steer that’s running too hot.

Coolant Issues

Coolant issues in skid steers typically involve low coolant levels, use of incorrect coolant type or contamination of the coolant. The coolant is essential for absorbing and dissipating heat from the engine.


Regularly check coolant levels and top up as needed. Always use the manufacturer-recommended coolant and ensure it is changed at prescribed intervals. Regular system flushes can prevent contamination.

Airflow Blockages

Airflow blockages occur when the radiator and air intakes are clogged with debris like dirt, leaves or mud, impeding the airflow that cools the engine.


Regular cleaning of the radiator and air intake areas is crucial. Inspect these areas frequently, especially in dusty or dirty work environments.

Mechanical Failures

Mechanical failures refer to issues with the cooling system components, like a malfunctioning thermostat, water pump failure or damaged radiator.


Regular inspections and timely replacement of worn-out parts are key. Pay attention to the cooling system during routine maintenance checks.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors include operating the skid steer in extremely hot conditions or in environments where there is a lot of dust or debris, which can reduce the efficiency of the radiator.


When possible, avoid operating during the hottest part of the day in extreme temperatures. Use air filters suitable for the working environment and change them regularly.

Operational Strain

Operational strain happens when the skid steer is used beyond its capacity, such as overloading or prolonged operation without breaks. It’s especially likely to occur in hot conditions or in environments where dust and debris are prevalent.


Adhere to the manufacturer's guidelines for load capacity and operational duration. Allow the machine regular breaks to cool down, especially during intensive tasks.

Neglecting Maintenance

Neglecting routine maintenance includes skipping scheduled service checks, failing to replace parts on time and ignoring minor issues.


Follow the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule. Address minor issues promptly to prevent them from escalating.

Diagnosing Overheating in Skid Steers

Monitoring the temperature of a skid steer primarily involves keeping a watch on the temperature gauge on the dashboard. The temperature gauge should stay in the middle of the gauge. 

Signs of a skid steer experiencing overheating include the temperature gauge spiking into the red zone, unusual engine noises like knocking or pinging, a reduction in engine performance and the smell of burning from the engine area.

What to do When Your Skid Steer Overheats

If you find that your skid steer is overheating, immediately turn off the engine to prevent further damage. Allow the machine to cool down, but do not try to rapidly cool it with water as this can cause additional harm. 

Once the engine cools down, assess for potential damage by inspecting key components like the radiator, hoses and belts for any visible signs of wear. Check the coolant level and quality, ensuring it's not contaminated. 

Also, check to see if the radiator is clean or if the fins have become full of dirt and debris. If any abnormalities are found or if the overheating issue persists, consult a professional technician for a thorough inspection and repair.

Long-Term Strategies to Prevent Overheating

While overheating isn’t always preventable, these long-term strategies can help minimize its occurrence.

Cooling System Maintenance

  • Regularly check and maintain the radiator
  • Ensure coolant levels are optimal
  • Conduct periodic maintenance every 500 hours of operation or as per the manufacturer's guidelines

Air Flow Management

  • Keep air filters clean to ensure proper airflow to the engine
  • Regularly check and replace air filters, especially in dusty environments

Operational Strategies

  • Adhere to the skid steer's recommended load capacities
  • Take regular breaks during prolonged or heavy use
  • Avoid continuous high-speed operation, especially in hot weather, to reduce the risk of overheating

Final Thoughts

Although skid steer overheating is a common issue, remaining proactive and addressing its root causes can help minimize its occurrence. By implementing a preventive maintenance program that properly addresses your machine’s cooling system and airflow components, you can improve your skid steer’s efficiency and boost its longevity.

The EquipmentShare Shop carries OEM and aftermarket service kits and replacement parts for skid steers and other types of heavy equipment. Our extensive online parts catalog makes it easy to maintain your machine’s cooling system. Having trouble locating the exact part your machine needs? Reach out to our dedicated parts experts and get personalized assistance.

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