What Is a Snowmobile Heat Exchanger?


Not so long ago on this blog, we discussed how your snowmobile keeps internal components like the engine cool via coolant. Another important part of both heating and cooling your sled is known as the heat exchanger. What is the heat exchanger and what does it do?

A snowmobile heat exchanger system transmits a series of fluids and, depending on the type of exchanger, those fluids will flow in a certain direction to create heat. If a heat exchanger runs cool air during the transmission of a liquid, then that liquid becomes cool and the heat exchanger can thus be used for cooling, especially the engine. 

By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll know all there is about your snowmobile heat exchanger. From more about what it is, how it works, where to find your heat exchanger, and which problems might make it fail, you’re not going to want to miss this. 

Understanding Your Snowmobile’s Heat Exchanger

What Is a Snowmobile Heat Exchanger?

First, let’s begin by elaborating more on what heat exchangers are. A heat exchanger is a type of cooling and heating system found within your snowmobile. As you can imagine, sleds are far from the only type of vehicle that uses heat exchangers. 

These heating/cooling systems are also commonly found in sewage treatment plants, natural gas processing sites, petroleum refineries, petrochemical plants, power stations, and anywhere that needs air conditioning, refrigeration, and/or space heating.

What a heat exchanger looks like varies muchly based on the heating/cooling needs of the exchanger. For instance, to warm and cool a chemical plant, the exchanger must be incredibly sizable. In a vehicle like a snowmobile, your heat exchanger may be the much smaller straight-tube style. This has a radiator-like design with a series of tubes for processing the fluid and letting out steam. 

A tubular heat exchanger is a slim, tube-like apparatus where all the fluid transfer is completely internal, unlike the straight-tube style. This is another small option that’s suitable for vehicles like snowmobiles. 

How a Heat Exchanger Works

Okay, so how exactly does a heat exchanger work anyway? Allow us to explain. 

Heat exchangers require the pass-through of several fluids. At the least, this will be two fluids, but it can also be more depending on how much space the heat exchanger must warm or cool. In some cases, the fluids poured into the heat exchanger system will intersect with one another, while in other instances, a wall prevents them from meeting.

The first fluid in the heat exchanger is warmed up considerably, then it begins traveling through the system. There, it may meet another fluid, which becomes warm from being near the first hot fluid. Even if there’s a wall separating the two fluids, if the heat of the first fluid is high enough, the second fluid can warm up as well.

The fluids keep traveling throughout the system, warming the heat exchanger as the fluids make their way across. Depending on how many fluids are in the heat exchanger, heating can be in smaller or greater quantities. 

What about cooling? Although you wouldn’t think so from the name, a heat exchanger also cools. The process is much the same, except now, coolant or another air-cooled liquid will flow through the internal heat exchanger system, passing on that coldness to another fluid and possibly another few after that.

Where to Find Your Heat Exchanger in Your Snowmobile 

If you’ve never accessed your snowmobile’s heat exchanger before, then you may wonder where to find this component. That depends on the model of your sled. Some snowmobilers report their heat exchanger is contained in the front of their vehicle while others say theirs is in the rear. We’d recommend checking both areas of your sled to locate your heat exchanger. 

What Can Go Wrong with a Snowmobile’s Heat Exchanger? (Plus Fixes to Try)

Like any part of your snowmobile, the heat exchanger is not invincible. If you fail to care for it or if it gets worn down with time and use, you may have heat exchanger failure. Since the exchanger can provide cooling to the engine, it’s not necessarily advisable for you to ignore problems with this part.

Here are a few common issues fellow sledders report with their heat exchangers. We’ll also share some repairs for these problems. That said, if you’re more comfortable bringing your snowmobile to a repairperson for heat exchanger malfunctions or a breakdown, you’re more than welcome to. 

Lack of Coolant/Heating Fluid

The fluids that course through your snowmobile’s heat exchanger are crucial to this system working correctly, yet fluids don’t last forever. They can evaporate or otherwise deplete. Then, the inadequate amount of fluid left in the heat exchanger will prevent the system from efficiently heating or cooling. 

In some snowmobile models, you might see a coolant light come in and blink at you. This is your indication that it’s time to check the fluid levels in your snowmobile heat exchanger, as they’re more than likely low.

Hole in the Heat Exchanger

It’s definitely possible for your heat exchanger to have holes in it, as this Snowmobile Forum poster unfortunately found out. The studs that hold the heat exchanger parts together can come undone from consistently heavy riding or from years of use. Without the studs, the heat exchanger is more exposed, which could lead to the aforementioned severe damage such as holes.

Having a hole in your heat exchanger is very problematic for a few reasons. First, there’s no way the exchanger can provide the necessary level of heating or cooling to your sled, not when there’s a gaping hole in the system. Also, that hole gives the fluid an unintended place to travel.

If you suspect your snowmobile’s heat exchanger is worn down to the point where it has a hole, look for fluid leaks. These leaks are probably coming from the heat exchanger. You may also notice your sled’s temperature light comes on. That light combined with fluid leaks is a surefire sign your heat exchanger needs immediate repair.

So what do you do if your heat exchanger has a hole? Is the whole system a goner? Surprisingly, not always. A heavy patch job with epoxy may be able to fix the hole within the exchanger. Then, you need to order replacement studs, either from your favorite snowmobile supply store or online on a site like Amazon or eBay.

If this repair job eclipses what you’re comfortable with, that’s absolutely fine. This issue isn’t exactly an easy fix, and there’s always a chance the epoxy won’t hold anyway, renewing the hole in the heat exchanger. In both cases, there’s nothing wrong with seeing a repairperson. 

Backed-up Heat Exchanger

Another issue we want to discuss is not one you’ll encounter all that often, but it’s in the realm of possibility, so it’s worth a mention. That is, your heat exchanger could get gunked up, as this poster, also on Snowmobile Forum, wrote about. 

With a backed-up heat exchanger, the system is lacking the flow of fluid necessary to cool or heat your snowmobile. All sorts of issues can cause the exchanger to get backed up like this, such as excess air in the system or misplaced hoses. Make sure you’re checking the temperature of your sled that has a backed-up heat exchanger, as the vehicle is more likely to overheat. 

Once you can pinpoint what the problem is, you can typically clear out the exchanger so it’s no longer obstructed in any way. 

Maintenance Tips to Take Your Heat Exchanger Further

We talk about the importance of sled maintenance a lot on this blog, but that’s only because taking care of your snowmobile can really prolong its life. Now that you’ve become well-acquainted with your snowmobile’s heat exchanger, it’s time to add this crucial component to your regular maintenance routine.

Here’s what you need to do. 

Inspect the System

Any time you perform maintenance on your sled, it doesn’t hurt to take a look at your heat exchanger. You might save the more thorough, inside-and-out inspections for once or twice a year, but regular checks are good too. 

What are you looking for? Anything that might seem amiss, from low fluid levels to holes or damage to the exchanger parts. You might even do an inspection before cleaning and then after to see what’s changed. 

Check Fluid Levels Regularly

About once a month, make sure your heat exchanger has enough fluid, be that coolant or another liquid. Remember, the whole premise of a heat exchanger is passing that fluid throughout the system so it cools or heats. Without fluid, your heat exchanger is pretty much useless. 

Clean the Tubes and Components

To keep your heat exchanger free of the obstructions that can make it work poorly, clean the exchanger tubes and any related components. If these parts use lubricant and the tubes feel dry, then recoat them. 

Run Temperature Checks 

You also want to include temperature checks as part of your snowmobile heat exchanger maintenance routine. When the heat exchanger is running hot, is the fluid reaching the appropriate hot temperature? How about when the heat exchanger system switches to coolant instead? Is the fluid cold enough? You won’t know without temperature checks. 

Final Thoughts 

Your snowmobile’s heat exchanger handles heating and cooling within the sled. The exchanger relies on fluid that travels across the system to make this happen. Now that you know more about your heat exchanger, such as where to find it and how to fix it, you can keep your exchanger in the best possible shape. Good luck! 

More About Snowmobiles

Your sled feels warm because of that large hill you descended or the cool trick you just pulled off. When the problem only worsens as your day goes on, you realize you need to do something. Why do snowmobiles overheat and how do you fix the problem? Read the causes and corrections of snowmobile overheating so next time such a thing happens to you when riding your sled, you’ll know just what to do. 

You just bought your first snowmobile fresh from the dealer. It’s a brand-new vehicle, so right now, you’re not thinking much about the future, only the present. Someday though, your snowmobile’s life will run out and it will stop working. What is the life expectancy of your snowmobile?

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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