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I had a similar problem with a 17 hp Kawasaki the first year I had it. I was not sure if it was caused by tilting the mower to remove the blades, faulty motor or what? Through trial and error and several oil changes, I found that I was over filling the oil. I had been checking the oil level as prescribed in the owners manual, with the dip stick resting on the filler tube. Not screwed in and bottomed out. Either way, I was over filling by no more than 2 tbs. or so.

I found that by servicing the oil to a level just shy of the "operational range" it prevented oil from soaking the air filter and pre-cleaner. Hundreds of hours on motor without presence of oil in filter housing, filter or pre-filter.
 
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