Buying a Used Snowmobile: What to Look For

Buying a Used Snowmobile: What to Look For

Brand new snowmobiles are amazing.  The latest in engineering from all manufacturers make new sleds a marvel to behold.  But for many riders, the price of new snowmobiles is out of reach.  Fortunately, there’s a solid market of used snowmobiles to be had, whether from dealers or from individual sellers.  Buying pre-owned does require a keen eye, though.  You need to be sure that you are not buying a lemon and be left pouring more of your hard-earned cash into repairs.  Below, we’ll discuss everything you need to look for when buying a used snowmobile.

Do Research

Before any serious deal searching begins, you need to do a little research.  Look up what make and model fits your riding style.  Then find a year of that model that will fit into your price range.  In your research, be sure to rule out any years of snowmobiles that tended to have more mechanical problems than average.  Every brand has had their duds over the years and a little research can help you avoid those particular years and models.

Look for Cosmetic Damage

While you’re looking at pictures online, check for any obvious cosmetic damage.  If you can see it in the pictures you may want to pass for now.  When you look at a used snowmobile in person, you again want to check for any cosmetic damage.  Is the windshield cracked?  Do the side panels/hood line up as they should? Are they cracked?  Is the bumper straight?  If anything is out of the ordinary, the sled could have been crashed or rolled over.  It can also be a sign of how it was taken care of.  A meticulous owner would most likely get those things fixed.

Look for Damage on Bulkhead & Tunnel

Be sure to look for any additional damage to the bulkhead and tunnel.  A ripple in the tunnel is a good indication that the snowmobile has been rolled over.  If it wasn’t properly straightened out, excessive wear to the rear suspension and drive components can occur. 

A cracked bulkhead is a sign of a front-end collision.  With a cracked bulkhead, you often find bent a-arms, bent shock mounts and other suspension damage.  A snowmobile with a damaged bulkhead should not be ridden and will need to be fixed, which can be fairly expensive.  Most insurance companies will total the machine if the bulkhead is damaged. This is because the time and cost to repair the machine is worth more than the snowmobile.

Ask to Have Sled Be Cold Before Arriving

A cold snowmobile is always more difficult to start than one that has been warmed up.  To get a true feel for how well the sled starts, ask to have to the snowmobile be cold before you arrive to look at it.  A simple ask ahead of time could save you a headache down the road.

How Does It Start/Does It Idle

Even if the snowmobile has electric start, it’s not a bad idea to first pull it over by hand.  If the snowmobile pulls over easy, that could be a sign of low compression.

When it comes to actually firing the snowmobile up, take note of the process.  Does it fire up on the first or second pull?  Does the owner have some special process he goes through to get it started?  And once it does fire up, how does it idle?  If you need to constantly blip the throttle and play with the choke longer than a minute or so, you may have a fuel delivery issue.  Carbs can be cleaned with ease, but other issues may require more work.

How Does it Run Under Power

Ask the owner if you can take the snowmobile for a little ride if there is some snow.  If there isn’t, ask to elevate the track off the ground so that you can rev the engine.  Here, you are checking to see how the clutch engages when you give it throttle.  Also check to see how the engine runs under power.  Are there any hiccups?  Does it bog even when warmed up?

Check Engine & Clutch Cleanliness

When looking under the hood or side panels, check to see how clean the engine and clutches are.  If there are oil patches around, there may be a leak.  Take a look around where the jugs meat the top and bottom ends.  Leaks can leave residue in those areas.  Check the crank seal for signs of leakage as well.

The clutch sheaves should be nice and clean.  Make sure there is no residue built up on the sheaves.  You can also check the condition of the belt.

Check Spark Plugs & Caps

Bring a plug wrench with you so that you can pop the spark plugs out to examine their condition.  Good looking plugs will be light gray to tan in color.  A plug with black soot or is wet when pulled is a good indication of the sled running rich.  A lean condition will leave the spark plug white and ashy and the electrode may even be melted.  A lean running snowmobile could be on the verge of melting down.  You would need to address that before riding.

Check to make sure the plug caps snap on snugly.  There shouldn’t be much play when you lift up and down.  Fortunately, plug caps are an easy and inexpensive fix and it’s no big deal if caught before any damage is done.

Check Rear Suspension/Skid

The rear suspension and skid are composed of many moving parts. All of them need to be in working order.  When you step on the sled, take note of how far the suspension squats.  And when you step off, the suspension should spring right back up.  If it bottoms out or is slow to rise back up, there is a good chance the rear shock is bad.

Spin all the bogey/idler wheels to ensure the bearings are good.  Make sure there is no missing rubber on the wheels.  The slides/hyfax should still be above the wear line.  If the amount left is minimal, there could be damage to the rails above.  Look the skid over to ensure there are no cracks.

Check Front Suspension & Skis

Stand in front of the sled and check the alignment of the front a-arms and skis.  Look closely at the a-arms to check for any bends or kinks.  The skis should not have any missing chunks from them.  The condition of the carbides can be a good indicator of the upkeep of the sled.  If the carbide is gone or completely worn down, you can make the assumption that upkeep is not a primary concern for that owner.

These are the primary concerns for buying a used snowmobile. If you are mechanically inclined, you may not care about some of the flaws. The flaws may make a good case for a lowered price. Already purchased some used snowmobiles? Let us know in the comments of any tips that you may have.


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