8 Tips to Start a Snowmobile the Right Way [Video]


Starting a snowmobile seems like an easy task, as long as it starts on the first pull. But if you feel it’s hard to start your sled or it has been sitting for a while, this deserves a closer look.

We at PowerSportsGuide have compiled eight vital tips on how to start a snowmobile the right way!

1. How do You Start a Snowmobile with an Electric Start?

If your sled features an electric start, you can start it in eight simple steps:

  1. Make sure you’ve done the pre-ride checklist
  2. Attach the key and turn it to ON position
  3. Attach the tether cord
  4. Make sure the fuel line is ON
  5. Pull the choke lever out/operate the primer (if featured)
  6. Turn the key to START position/press the START button
  7. Warm up the engine and the track
  8. Release the choke (if featured)

Many sleds come with a handlebar-mounted START button, while on others you have to turn the ignition key to start the engine.

Unfortunately, on some models like the Yamaha SideWinder, the key switch is in an unfortunate place, so you have to take your glove off to turn the key.

As you might assume, this is not convenient, especially on cold days! Because of this, some SideWinder owners install a push-button on their handlebars for easier starts.

In contrast, Ski-Doos utilize a unique key known as DESS (Digital Encoded Security System), which is specifically programmed to the sled’s computer. Once this key is attached to the sled, you can start its engine with the press of a button.

2. How do you Pull Start a Snowmobile?

Unlike their electric-start counterparts, starting a pull-start snowmobile requires a little bodywork. The steps for properly starting a pull-start sled are as follows:

  1. Make sure you’ve done the pre-ride checklist
  2. Attach the key and turn it to ON position
  3. Attach the tether cord
  4. Make sure the fuel line is ON
  5. Pull the choke lever out/operate the primer (if featured)
  6. Pull out the handle of the recoil starter until you feel resistance
  7. Pull the cord firmly
  8. If the engine doesn’t start, repeat the pull a few times
  9. Warm up the engine and the track
  10. Release the choke (if featured)

How Many Pulls Should It Take to Start a Snowmobile?

As a rule of thumb, a snowmobile should start with 1 to 4 pulls. If the engine is warm, the majority of sleds start on the first pull. However, with a cold engine, you can expect it to take 2-4 pulls.

The exact number of pulls depends on various factors like the engine size and features, the condition of the sled, the strength of the pulls, and the temperature.

Why Does Your Sled Take So Many Pulls to Start?

There can be many reasons why a snowmobile only starts after many pulls, but the most common are as follows:

  • Cold weather
  • The design of the sled
  • Fuel line issues
  • Engine/starter issues
  • The sled has been sitting for a long time

It’s safe to say that the most common reason why it’s hard to pull-start a snowmobile is the low external temperature.

The cold weather causes the engine oil to thicken. And the thicker (colder) the oil is, the more difficult it is to turn the engine over. This is why it is so hard to pull-start a snowmobile in the cold, especially if it sat outside during the night!

Also, don’t forget that the engine’s design greatly affects how easily it can be started as well.  

Big bore snowmobiles are generally harder to start, especially the 3-cylinder models. The more cylinders you have to move, the harder it is to turn the crankshaft over.

But even within the same category, some snowmobiles are simply harder to pull-start due to their design and features. As an example, the size of the recoil puller can also affect the difficulty of starting. You might be surprised by the difference caused by a bigger pulley!

Besides its design, the condition of the sled is no less important. In a worst-case scenario, the engine has some serious problems or has even seized. Electric or fuel line issues can also cause starting issues, which results in a lot of pulling.

3. How do You Make a Pull Start Easier on a Snowmobile?

If you feel it’s hard to pull-start your sled, here are some tips to make it easier:

In many cases, the cord is bound up somewhere, or the pulley of the starter is misaligned. If the cord doesn’t come down off the pulley at the optimal angle it causes harder pulling than usual.

It’s also recommended that you check the clutch as well. If something touches the clutch, or the belt is too tight this can also result in harder starts.

Another common trick is to replace the pulley with a bigger one.

Also, make sure that you use the proper staring technique. Always try to use your entire upper body and not just your arms. The best practice is to put one of your feet on the footrest and grab the handle with both of your hands.

Pull out the cord slowly until you feel resistance, then pull it suddenly while leaning backward. Using your body weight during the pull can make the start significantly easier, especially for those with shorter arms/weaker muscles.

If you feel that pull-starting your sled every time is exhausting, you should consider an electric start instead!

4. How do You Start a 2-Stroke Snowmobile?

Starting a 2-stroke snowmobile is not really different from a 4-stroke as long as it features a fuel-injected (EFI) engine. But if it has carburetors, you will have to use the choke/primer to start the sled properly. Why?

This is because if a 2-stroke snowmobile engine is cold, it needs a richer mixture to start. To make the mixture richer, these sleds are equipped with a primer or a choke, depending on the model.

Let’s drill into the details and see what they are exactly and how to use them!

What Does a Primer do on a Snowmobile?

Simply put, the primer on snowmobiles is a valve that pumps fuel into the carburetors. The inlet of the primer is attached to the fuel line, while its outlet is connected to the ports of the carburetors. You can typically find the primer lever on the dashboard.

To start the sled correctly, you have to check the manual as to how many times you should operate the primer. Every time you pull the primer lever, the system pumps a little extra fuel into the carbs, which results in a richer mixture.

How do You Start a Snowmobile with a Choke?

The choke on a snowmobile does the same job as the primer, but it works differently. In a nutshell, to make the mixture richer, the choke restricts the airflow into the carburetor.

If your sled utilizes a choke, its lever must be pulled out before you start the engine. You typically have to use the choke only if your engine is cold. Once the engine has warmed up, you can release the choke.

Just like the primer lever, the choke lever usually can be found on the dashboard.

If you can’t find the choke lever on your sled, you should carefully check your carbs. You can see some cables coming out from it that go to the dashboard. Some of them have to be connected to the choke lever!

5. How do You Start a Snowmobile with an Empty Battery?

If you want to start a sled with an empty battery, the best practice is to “emergency start” it by wrapping a rope around its clutch. Another well-known trick is to jump-start the sled with a car or another sled. While jump-starting works well on vintage snowmobiles, it’s typically not recommended on newer models.

Let’s face it, modern sleds are stuffed with electronics, and most of them feature a main computer to control these systems. If you jump-start these snowmobiles, you risk permanently damaging this computer, which can be very expensive to replace.

What’s more, jump-starting a snowmobile has many other risks, which are always clearly stated in the operator’s manual. Because of this, snowmobile manufacturers typically don’t recommend jump-starting. Instead, sleds should be started with an “emergency rope.”

Are you wondering how to do this? Keep reading!

6. How do You Start a Snowmobile Without a Pull Cord?

If the starter fails or the pull cord breaks on your sled, don’t worry, as you can still start it with a simple trick. All you need to do is wrap a small rope around the primary and simply use it as a pull cord. Manufacturers typically include this emergency starter rope in the tool kit.

If your tool kit doesn’t feature this addition, you can still use a piece of thin mountain climbing rope or a ratchet strap for this purpose.

When you start your sled with this emergency rope, be careful as you have to put the side panel back while the engine is running.

Here’s a great tutorial on how to start a snowmobile without a pull cord:

7. How to Start a Flooded Snowmobile

A flooded snowmobile engine is always a headache. If you’ve also flooded your sled, just engage the parking brake, hold the throttle wide open and pull the cord until the engine starts. If this trick doesn’t help, you can still try to start a flooded snowmobile by following these simple steps:

  • Pull the plugs out and dry them off (ONLY do this step if the engine and the plugs have cooled down!)
  • Turn off the shut-off switch (and make sure you have no sparks)
  • Hold the throttle wide open
  • Pull the sled over at least 15-20 times – you will notice some gas spray coming out of the cylinders if you’ve removed the plugs
  • Replace the spark plugs
  • Engage the parking brake
  • Hold the throttle wide open and start the engine

Again, be sure to only remove the spark plugs when the engine is cooled down.

Here’s a great video on how to start a flooded snowmobile:

8. How do You Start Snowmobile After it’s Been Sitting?

If your snowmobile has been sitting for an extended period, you may want to take the following steps before the first start:

  1. Take the plugs out and check the cylinders visually
  2. Do a compression test on each cylinder
  3. Put a little premix into the cylinders and turn the primary slowly by hand – the crank and the pistons have to move smoothly (Anything scraping, grinding, or catching is a bad sign!)
  4. Inspect and clean/adjust the clutch if needed
  5. Replace all filters and fuel hoses (inside the tank as well!)
  6. Drain the old fuel/oil and replace them with fresh ones
  7. Pull out the carburetors and clean or even rebuild them if needed
  8. Clean and inspect the entire machine carefully
  9. Watch for signs of mice and critters (exhaust, airbox, under the side panels, etc.)

Takeaways – Related Questions

Can You Start a Snowmobile Without a Clutch?

The general rule is that running a snowmobile without a clutch is definitely not recommended. The primary clutch on the crankshaft acts like a harmonic balancer that can smooth out the motion of the shaft. The engine can easily vibrate or over-rev without the clutch, even just by adding a little throttle. Eventually, it can lead to permanent clutch or engine damages.

In the worst-case scenario, the engine will over-rev and wouldn’t slow down even if you release the throttle. In such cases, you can only shut down the engine by pulling off the fuel line.

Can You Start a Snowmobile Without a Belt?

Because of the reasons mentioned above, it’s not recommended that you start a snowmobile without a belt. Without the drag of the belt and the secondary, the engine can easily over-rev, which may end in permanent damage. What’s more, the clutch sheaves can slam together and break, throwing pieces of metal everywhere.

Instead of removing the belt, the best practice is to jack up the rear of the sled. In this way, you can start the sled and rev up the engine with its belt.

Can You Jump Start a Snowmobile?

While vintage snowmobiles can be jump-started relatively risk-free, this is not recommended on newer machines. Doing it wrong can damage the computer. This is why manufacturers don’t recommend jump-starting snowmobiles unless it’s unavoidable.

Instead, the best practice is to use the “emergency rope” to pull-start it using the primary clutch.

How do You Start a Snowmobile When the Recoil Breaks?

If the recoil brakes on a snowmobile, you can still start it with the primary clutch. Just wrap the emergency rope around the primary and pull the cord.

In most cases, this emergency rope is included in the repair kit, but you can also use a thinner mountain climbing rope or a racket strap.

Can you use a drill to start a snowmobile?

No, using a drill to start a snowmobile is definitely not recommended. “Drill starting” may work on small engines but not on snowmobiles.

These high-performance vehicles utilize powerful engines, which are only started by their own electric or pull start systems.

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