Are Snowmobiles Reliable? Which Sled is the Most Reliable?


Unfortunately, snowmobiles are among the least reliable among powersport vehicles. There are many reasons for this but the most common ones are as follows:

If you want to learn more about snowmobile reliability, and find out which snowmobile is the most reliable, you are at the right place!

Are Snowmobiles Reliable?

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the main factors that affect the reliability of snowmobiles!

High Performance

When it comes to powersports, the general rule is: the more performance, the less reliability.

This is the reason why racing snowmobiles require repairs and engine rebuilds more often than any other type of unmodified sled.

But if we take a look at the average snowmobile horsepower numbers, we can see that even stock sleds come with very powerful engines. Many of them offer 100-200+ HP out of the box!

What’ more, some flagship sleds are boosted with a turbocharger.

These extreme performances can wear out parts of the driveline very fast and can cause various types of damage as well.

Just think about it: parts on youth snowmobiles last virtually forever. Why? Because they are super light and powered with tiny (4-5 HP) engines! Therefore, their performance doesn’t cause a lot of wear and tear.

If we compare snowmobiles with ATVs, it’s also clear that the latter generally have much less horsepower. Thus, their engines are more reliable and last much longer.

How it’s Used

Snowmobiles are not only very powerful machines, but they usually take a lot of abuse from their owners as well.

Trail riders have become more and more aggressive with an increase in engine performance. Racing among buddies on the tracks is commonplace!

Besides the trails, riding in powder is gaining in popularity. And riding off-trail always means much greater stress on the engine and other parts, especially in the mountains.

Just an example: walking on a flat surface is really easy, but going up a steep hillside can drain you very quickly. The same is true of snowmobiles, they are being roughly abused just going to the top of a hill!

These “racing style” rides and mountain climbing not only cause a lot of wear and tear on the sled, but these rides can also result in several types of damage.

These are typically overheating, broken or burnt drive belts, track damage, seized engine, and so on.

But even the lowest performance and carefully driven snowmobiles don’t last forever. Snow, ice, water, dirt, or even sand can get into their parts, causing several types of damage and malfunctions.

If you compare snowmobiles to street bikes, it’s easy to see that the latter run in a much cleaner environment, which results in better reliability and less maintenance.

What’s more, many snowmobiles are stored outside, which can also be the source of a lot of problems. (And not just because of the mice!)

Design and Maintenance

Let’s take a look at the design of snowmobiles as well.

Unlike other powersports vehicles, many new snowmobiles are still manufactured with 2-stroke engines.

And it’s a well-known fact that 2-stroke snowmobiles are less reliable compared to 4-strokes. Their engines are more easily damaged and require periodic rebuilds.

Just a small malfunction in the oil injection system or a simple overheating issue can lead to a seized engine on a 2-stroke sled! But it’s no easier with the carbureted sleds either, as they can occupy you with fouled spark plugs and endless “carb work.”

Thus, snowmobile engines are not considered among the most reliable power sources.

Beyond the potential engine malfunctions, their clutches also make snowmobiles unreliable. This is because of all their power (sometimes 200+ HP) is transmitted by a belt from the drive clutch to the driven clutch. This drive belt is prone to breaking, burning, or getting damaged in many other ways.

It’s not uncommon for the belt to blow up during your rides, even in the middle of nowhere. That’s why a spare belt is a must on every sled!

The clutch transmits the power towards the track, but other parts of the driveline still have a lot of room for error.

It’s safe to say that a snowmobile’s driveline is quite complex compared to other powersports vehicles. Thus, it’s less reliable as well.

Are you wondering how many main parts can be found in a snowmobile driveline? Just take a look at this simple illustration:

So,the direction of power is as follows:

Engine > Crankshaft > Drive clutch > Drive belt > Driven clutch > Jackshaft > Chain drive gear > Chain > Chain driven gear > Driveshaft > Drivers > Track

As you can see, between the engine and the track you can find 10 main components, not including the bearings and many smaller parts!

It’s good to know that snowmobiles feature three different shafts, which are:

  • crankshaft: the shaft that comes out of the engine
  • jackshaft: it connects the clutch and the chaincase
  • driveshaft: it transmits power from the chaincase to the track

These shafts as well as their bearings need periodic maintenance.

Besides the engine, the clutch, and the drivetrain, there are many other key parts of the sled that requires continuous attention and care. These are the track, the skid with the suspensions, the idler wheels and so on.

Even if the required maintenance on these parts is clearly stated in the manual, they are often overlooked. This makes snowmobiles less reliable, which ultimately leads to more serious types of damage.

Bells and Whistles

If we take a look at vintage sleds, we can see that these machines are super simple. They feature an engine with a pull cord, a track, and some analog gauges. The simplicity of the parts means less chance of failure and easier maintenance.

In contrast, newer sleds already have a lot of bells and whistles. These can be electric starts, heating systems, touch screens, many other types complex electronic stuff, and so on.

And as we know “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” So, finally all of these features make snowmobiles less reliable, as they can cause malfunctions sooner or later.

What’s more, these sleds are taken to the dealers more often, as maintain and fixing them at home is not an easy task anymore. It results in more hassle and higher maintenance costs.

Are you wondering which snowmobiles are the most reliable? Keep reading!

Which Snowmobile is the Most Reliable?

As a rule of thumb, the naturally-aspirated (non-turbocharged) 4-stroke snowmobiles are the most reliable models on the market. If you are looking for a really reliable model, you should take a look at models with lower performing engines, as they last longer and put less stress on other components.

More power means more fun, of course. But we’re talking here about reliability, which seems to be in exactly the opposite direction!

Regarding brands, Yamaha 4-stroke sleds are among the most reliable snowmobiles ever made. Their engines are not just bulletproof but they also last (almost) forever.

Drawbacks?

Mainly their weight, which is why Yamaha 4-strokes are primarily considered trail sleds.

Conclusion

Motorsport vehicles were never known for their reliability and durability, and snowmobiles are no exception.

Their driveline consists of many parts, all of which are prone to failure. The clutch with the drive belt is often a source of problems, but the track and the idler wheels also need constant attention.

When it comes to power sources, it’s a fact that 2-stroke snowmobile engines are less reliable compared to 4-strokes. They require regular rebuilds and can seize easily due to a lack of oil or overheating. Unfortunately, these issues happen a lot.

If you have doubts, just take a look at the online forums and search for threads about damage and malfunctions. As you will see, potential sources of failure are virtually endless.

Let’s face it, snowmobiles are designed to produce a lot of horsepower. And as we know, reliability and high performance never go hand-in-hand. The general rule is that the higher the performance of the sled, the less reliability and durability you can expect. That’s why the most reliable snowmobiles are 4-stroke, non-turbocharged sleds with moderate performance. Another simple rule is that the fewer features a snowmobile has, the less likely it is to fail.

Many people say that the most reliable snowmobiles on the market are 4-stroke Yamaha sleds. However, they should primarily be used on trails due to their greater weight.

So how reliable are snowmobiles actually?

It’s a fun fact that the Russian police want to swap their snowmobile fleet for reindeer! As they say, animals are not only more reliable than snowmobiles, but also faster under certain circumstances.

Should you buy a reindeer instead of a snowmobile? Of course not, but before you make your purchase you may want to beware of the required maintenance and their costs as well!

As they say: “Horsepower always comes at a price!”

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