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A snowmobile, also known as a Ski-Doo, snowmachine, sled, motor sled, motor sledge, skimobile, or snow scooter, is a motorized vehicle designed for winter travel and recreation on snow. It is designed to be operated on snow and ice and does not require a road or trail, but most are driven on open terrain or trails. Snowmobiling is a sport that many people have taken on as a serious hobby.
For problems small or big, the best source of information to help you with troubleshooting will be a repair manual for your model.
While your owner’s manual from the manufacturer covers your regular maintenance schedule and how to use the machine, a repair manual contains instructions for fixing mechanical problems of all kinds. These factory service manuals were created for dealership technicians and shop mechanics to repair specific models.
The manuals include part numbers and schematics for identifying the parts. They walk through small maintenance items and large repairs alike. If you plan to do more than just identify an issue, it’s a great resource to have on hand.
Easy Does It:
Anytime you plan to take your sled out for a spin, take the time for a quick inspection to ensure nothing obvious is wrong. A walk around the snowmobile will let you know right quick if you have an oil leak, cracked ski, loose cable, or worn belt.
But even if you see nothing wrong right away, there’s still the chance you’ll hit the switch, and nothing happens. Or worse, you sputter and get stranded far from home. Stay calm and work through potential issues from the easiest to the more complex.
Before you start tearing everything apart, it’s good to start with the small and potentially easy things that could be causing you trouble. These include the face-palm-worthy questions of whether you have gas or accidentally hit the emergency off switch. It’s the vehicle equivalent of trying to get an appliance running when you’ve forgotten to plug it in.
If you have gas but it’s been sitting there since last winter, it’s time for fresh gas. Check the fluid levels - coolant, oil - and the battery, as both can be impacted by long stays in storage, especially if the snowmobile wasn’t put away properly.
Once you’ve confirmed the easy things aren’t the problem, it’s time to get a closer look at the engine. Your engine needs three things to run: a spark, fuel/air mixture, and compression. Problems anywhere along the way can result in underperformance or cause the engine to stop running.
The first thing to check is whether you flooded the engine, which happens if you over-choke or over-prime it. You might smell gas or notice it coming out of the exhaust pipe. When the gas evaporates, you should be able to start the sled up, but this is not something you want to be waiting on far from home.
Learn how to clear the line in case this happens manually.
Flip the kill switch
Remove the spark plugs
Hold the throttle in the open position
Pull the starter cord to clear the fuel line - 15-20 times should do it
Wipe the plugs and put them back in
Testing your spark plugs is an easy check. Pull them, then ground them against a bolt and put them back in. When the engine is turned over, you should be able to see a spark.
If the spark seems weak or you don’t see it at all, it’s time to change the plugs. If the spark is there or the plugs are new, and the engine still refuses to start, the electrical system is the next place to look. Check the plug caps, the regulator, coils and wires, and the ignition box for issues.
Fuel Line and Carburetor
When your snowmobile hasn’t been used for a while, a dried out fuel line or carburetor can be the culprit. Sometimes, this can be fixed with carburetor cleaner or starter fluid. If that doesn’t clear it up, you might need to have the carburetor cleaned or rebuilt.
If it’s not a fuel or spark issue, low compression might be keeping the engine from turning over or make it run weakly. Perform a compression test on each engine cylinder. Optimal levels would be 120 psi, with anything below 110 indicating an issue.
Low compression could indicate scored pistons or cylinders, worn piston rings, damaged crank seal, or a defective head gasket.
Your engine could be running fine, but other issues can make your sled less fun - and safe - to ride. We’re looking at the clutch and drive belt here as well as the steering, suspension, and skis.
You can’t miss an issue with the drive belt as you will hear it or feel it. Belt failure will make the sled inoperable until replaced. Check it for cracks, rubbing, or other issues anytime before you head out to ensure it will get you there and back.
The clutch relies on belt traction and tension. A good maintenance checklist will include removing glaze from the clutch and scuffing them. Keep the belt set to the tension listed in your manual to ensure it can get into the right gear ratio.
A misaligned front end can take all the fun out of driving. Please take a look at the track and adjust it and the skis to properly align the front end. After the track is aligned, run through checks to adjust the handlebar position as well.
Basic Preventative Maintenance:
As for easy tasks that can serve as preventative, take a wrench to the entire sled. Loose bolts and fasteners aren’t as common on newer machines, but it never hurts to double-check them all. You’d had to cut a weekend trip short because you lost a bolt in the chassis hardware.
Tighten bolts and nuts in the rear suspension, paying close attention to torque arm hardware and shock mount bolts. Check the hardware on the rods, spindles, and trailing arms as well. And don’t forget to look at the steering hardware under the hood.
Oil and grease are your friends. Change out the oil at the appropriate intervals or the start of a new season. You’ll also want to change the chaincase lube to keep things working smoothly and cool.
If your chaincase has less oil than it should, remove the cover and check the chain and sprockets for any damage. There could be a leak due to a bad seal causing the low level, which in turn can hurt the internal workings. Once you’ve added back oil, adjust the chain and check its deflection.
While we’re getting greasy, you’ll want to get to the skid frame and the rest of the chassis to make sure the many shafts, bushings, arms, and wheels are properly lubed. As you’re pumping grease into the fittings, keep an eye on the slides and torque arm tube for any grease squeezing out where it shouldn’t.
Last comes a couple of inspection projects. Your two-stroke engine likely uses case-reed induction. The reed petals wear out, so check them by unbolting the carburetors and removing the engine’s case assembly. While you have it out, inspect the reed cage as well.
Your Next Snowmobile Troubleshooting Step:
When it comes to taking care of your snowmobile, there are many tasks you can handle on the checklist yourself. Checking parts for wear and keeping up with regular maintenance goes a long way toward ensuring it’ll be ready to go when you are. When there are issues, learning how to do some basic snowmobile troubleshooting can save you money and keep you from being stranded in the backcountry.
If you need parts for your repairs or help with the more challenging issues, our professional service team stands ready to lend you a hand. Contact us to schedule a service or order a part to keep your machine in great running order, or come by to see the new models of snowmobiles for sale.