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Oil Leak, Kaw, 19hp -- what next?

Discussion in 'Mechanic and Repair' started by Roger, Jun 16, 2013.

  1. Roger

    Roger LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,926

    Some followed my earlier story on the regional section, but will repeat, and extend it here.

    Getting to the bottom line: What to do next, after two attempts at fixing an oil leak have failed?

    I have a John Deere, 717A ZTR, 48" deck, with 19hp Kaw. It now has about 1900 service hours on the meter. In Fall 2012, I noticed a drop of oil on the trailer bed, coming from the rear of the engine deck. I watched it closely. One drop was followed by two, then three, and then more. The first observation was about six weeks before the end of the season. I chose to keep tabs, hoping I could reach the end of the season, and have a repair done in the off-season. The problem was not significant enough to be a bother -- perhaps a cup of topping off oil level every 10 hours of work.

    I made many calls in early February. My assessment was probably a top or bottom oil seal, or maybe both. But, I have no experience, so my assessment really wasn't worth much. Everybody's story was pretty much the same, "Two weeks turn around, just bring it in ...." I opted for one shop, let's call it SC for reference purposes. I dropped it off, and a couple of days later received a call, "Pick it up, ... minor problem." I was told the valve covers were not as tight as they should be, so they were tightened, and it should be ready to go.

    I brought it home, ran it outside for 30 minutes here and there, took it to the road for some WOT travel, and believed the problem was fixed.

    The mowing season started in early April. The oil problem appeared to have been fixed, but after a week or so, a single drop, ... same as before. Then two drops, then three, then more and more leaking. The rear of thee engine, that is the wall behind the carb was fully covered with oil. However, with high air flow on a running engine, who knows where the oil could be leaking and finding a settling spot.

    The problem continued to get worse, with the leaking reaching about 2 cups per 10 hours of work. When the engine was shut down after being run hard, small wisps of smoke, and an oil-burning odor were coming from the top of the engine.

    By this time (middle of May), my season was well under way, and having the machine 100 available was very necessary. One of the problems of being a small-time operator, no back up. I've worked this way for 18 years, and this is the first time something significant arose. Yes, small hand-helds have failed, but a quick trip to buy new was an easy fix. I do all my own maintenance work, but getting inside the engine was beyond what I felt comfortable doing.

    I talked to the folks at SC, and they suggested new valve cover gaskets. I really didn't think these gaskets were the source of the problem. I ordered new gaskets, and made the replacements. The outcome was no change. The leak persisted, at the same rate as before.

    I started making calls, "... anybody with a ZTR for rent to cover while my machine is getting fixed ...?" I did find one, but at some distance away. Again, the answer was always the same, "... bring it in, we will take a look, ... turnaround is 2-3 weeks for repairs...." Ouch!! I cannot be without a ZTR for 2-3 weeks! Nobody takes appointments. The timer only starts when the machine is in their lot.

    I made further calls to SC repair shop, believing they had some skin in this game. They had "made the repair" and sent it home as being fixed. They did have an understanding of my situation, and offered me a loaner ZTR. Good! I hated to give up my ZTR, but at least I had a loaner. I was not as efficient with the loaner, but still was able to keep schedule with longer work hours.

    After 14 days, "... come back to pick it up, ... replaced lower oil seal ..." I returned the loaner on Friday morning, and picked up my JD. I was pleased the total bill was only for a couple of hours of labor, 2 qt oil, and a seal. I was expecting more.

    By early afternoon, I came to understand that the problem remains. No, the oil leak is not as significant as before, but still several drops on the trailer bed within 10 minutes of parking it. And, after running hard, small wisps of smoke and burning-oil odor coming from the engine.

    I ran it a couple hours on Friday, and several more hours yesterday (Saturday). And, I now know that the leak remains, and that I am in trouble!

    I will certainly inform SC about the lack of success. But, do I return it again for another 14 days, with a third attempt at repair? Or, do I find another place to make a repair, hoping I can find somebody else with a loaner? I was unsuccessful at the loaner request earlier. Or, do I decide this is not repairable, attempt to make a private sale of this machine, and buy new? I am hoping this will be my last season, to buy new with an expected six months of use is painful thought. But, I need a 48" ZTR to finish out my season. I could probably use a stand-on as well.

    In my discussions a few weeks ago, I asked the repair shops if a short-block idea had merit. Nobody wanted to even consider a short-block. I knew a short-block was expensive, but the task to make the replacement is a well-defined task, complete with gaskets. The outcome should be certain. I will ask the brain-trust here -- good idea, not a good idea?

    One more thought ... The loaner ZTR had really tight hydro controls, very responsive. After running it for two weeks, and then returning to my own JD ZTR, I realize that my hydro controls are very "loose." Remember, it has about 1,900 hours on the meter. One source of slop in the controls is the post coming from the transmission. Yes, there is some play in the linkages from the sticks, but I was surprised to feel/see some movement on the post coming from the transmission. I raise this point to wonder out-loud about the merits of putting lots of money (e.g. short-block) in to the engine, with a transmission that may have limited life. Any thoughts about this?

    So, ... back to the "bottom line" question raised at the beginning, "What to do next?" The present 717A fits my needs very well. It has been a very solid machine, fits on my trailer, cuts beautifully. If it failed in some/all of these points, the decision is easy. I wish to keep it, but I need a 100% available machine to finish the 2013 season.

    Anybody with any thoughts or ideas? Thanks.

    P.S. No apologies for the length of the post. I wanted to be complete, eliminating any back/forth questions.
  2. sjessen

    sjessen LawnSite Gold Member
    Male, from Knoxville, Tn
    Messages: 3,653

    The most common oil leak on Kawasaki engines is the breather gasket. Have a 17hp kawi leaking similar to what you described and that was the culprit. Have you removed the engine cover to look at the cooling fins, etc.

    If this is, indeed, your problem the repair requires removal of the flywheel or so my dealer states.
  3. sjessen

    sjessen LawnSite Gold Member
    Male, from Knoxville, Tn
    Messages: 3,653

    To answer some of your other questions: you might consider purchasing a used piece of equipment if one can be found at a good price to use as a backup for the remainder of the season. In a way, your are paying for one anyone through the cost of rental.

    Keep us posted.
  4. Patriot Services

    Patriot Services LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,516

    It sounds like a classic Kawasaki breather leak. Its not a hard repair, especially for a shop. Another few hours labor, cheap part and oil. I would certainly take this approach before throwing a new shortblock, motor or replacing the entire machine. A bad upper seal would probably leak a lot more oil than your describing. The breather bolts are known for loosening on these engines. I do my own repairs and it was 2 cup of coffee job (1.5 hours). I question a shop that can't tell a lower seal leak from something obviously coming from the top of the engine.:usflag:
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2013
    ericg likes this.
  5. Roger

    Roger LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,926

    Thanks for those replies. I've gone to the parts diagrams. Attached is a cut picture of the top of the engine. When both of you refer of the breather cover, are you talking about part #3 (cover) and part #2 (gasket)?

    I can understand needing a flywheel removal to get access to the four bolts holding down the cover. Are these bolts (Part #4) the ones that tend to loosen. If this is the problem, then a new gasket would be required, the cover removed, gasket replaced, and the bolts reseated. Am I right? Sorry -- despite doing all my own repair work, I've never been into the engine this deep.

    The gasket replacement looks feasible for me to do with my previous experiences. The shroud comes off, flywheel screens, and then the flywheel. Oh yes, ... how difficult is a flywheel removal if it has never been off? What special tools are needed. Is it on a tapered, keyed shaft? I have a gear puller, but doubt it would be useful (not wide enough span). Or, is the removal done with a force upward with a pry underneath, and sharp blow to the top of the shaft?

    Seeing the layout, and seeing the way the oil has run down the sides of the engine, the breather cover leak thought makes good sense. I never bought into the lower seal idea very much, with all the oil up higher on the engine. Obviously, oil is reaching very hot surfaces to make the wisps of smoke on shutdown. With the engine side clean yesterday, I saw oil pool forming on the engine deck, right below the filter. Again, this would make sense if it is coming from the cover, running down across the filter attachment area, then down to the area of the oil plug.

    Anybody else to suggest something else? Thanks much for the two thoughts offered so far.

  6. larryinalabama

    larryinalabama LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 18,016

    Glad I read this thred I have a 16hp that appears to be seeping oil, Ill wait till winter to fix it unless it gets real bad.
  7. Patriot Services

    Patriot Services LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,516

    Getting the flywheel off isn't too hard. Remove the bolt and reinstall part way back in. Soak shaft with wd 40. Using a prybar wedged under the flywheel, exert MILD pressure and rap the bolt with a hammer. 99% of the time the flywheel will pop off. If not rent a puller. The breather is self explanatory.
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    ericg likes this.
  8. Restrorob

    Restrorob LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 11,028

    Hey Roger,

    Yes on all counts with the breather cover-gasket and screws, Once you get the flywheel cover off put a couple pry bars on each side of the flywheel and try rocking it side to side. If it rocks the upper crank bearing/bushing has worn (common on kawi's) and wore the seal out, Replace the upper seal while your in there regardless. Even with a worn upper bearing/bushing and installing a new seal may get you by for a while......

    Clean the crank and the inside flywheel crank surface with carb & choke cleaner to remove any penetrating oil you may use, The flywheel must be installed dry to reduce key sheering.....
  9. larryinalabama

    larryinalabama LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 18,016

    I cant fin a part # for the bearing, is it part of the case?
  10. Restrorob

    Restrorob LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 11,028

    No Larry, It could be replaced but Kawi only offers replacements for a couple engine models therefore a new case would be needed.....

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