You can safely tow a disabled snowmobile if you follow these simple steps:
- Read your sled’s manual
- Choose the right tow snowmobile
- Remove the belt from the disabled snowmobile
- Take care to properly attach the disabled snowmobile to the tow sled
- Attach safety flags/ribbons or reflectors on each sled
- Place the rider safely
- Tow the disabled sled carefully and at very slow speeds
If you want to learn more about these steps, keep reading!
Can You Tow a Snowmobile?
Yes, the good news is that you can tow a snowmobile safely. If a snowmobile breaks down, in most cases towing is the only way to take the sled home! Other solutions are repairing it onsite or hiring a helicopter to extract the sled. As these latter solutions rarely work, you may want to know how to properly and safely tow a snowmobile.
Let’s see how it’s done!
How do You Tow a Disabled Snowmobile?
It’s safe to say that there are many different tactics and solutions for towing a disabled snowmobile. Which one is right for your situation depends on the following factors:
- Where the sled broke down (terrain, snow conditions, etc.)
- Whether the drivetrain of the disabled sled is locked-up or not (is the track spinning?)
- Potential for other types of damage to the disabled sled
- How many sleds are in the group
- The level and performance of the tow sled
- Which type of towing equipment is available
Read the Manual
Keeping safety in mind, don’t tow anything with a snowmobile before you read the manual.
Each snowmobile has its own tow weight limits, which depend on the sled’s type, weight, track size, and performance. For your safety, a snowmobile’s tow weight limits are typically marked on one of the warning stickers.
It’s highly recommended to not exceed these limits, as it can damage the tow snowmobile in many ways. A burnt belt is usually the best-case scenario, since towing too much load can even damage the other parts of the drivetrain, the track, or even the engine internals!
Besides the limits and warnings, manuals usually contain many model-specific instructions and recommendations on how to tow a broken-down snowmobile.
Choose the Right Tow Sled
As a rule of thumb, the larger and more powerful a sled, the greater tow capacity it has.
That’s why it’s recommended that you tow a disabled snowmobile with a utility sled if available.
But as utility snowmobiles are quite rare on trails and especially in the mountains, it’s other types of sleds that are typically used for this purpose.
If you ride in a group, tow the disabled sled with the biggest and most powerful machine available.
But again, read the sled’s manual before starting to tow!
Remove the Drive Belt
The most important step before towing a broken-down snowmobile is to remove its drive belt. If you leave the belt on, you risk damaging the drive train or even the engine.
This is because when you tow a snowmobile the track continuously rotates the entire drive train.
What’s more, leaving the belt on puts much more strain on the towing sled. Beyond the higher fuel consumption, it increases the chances of overheating or damaging the tow snowmobile.
The only possible remedy for this issue to remove the belt from the sled to be towed. Before you start to tow, also make sure the brakes work and the track rotates freely.
Properly Attaching the Two Sleds
You can tow a disabled snowmobile with a tow rope, chain, or a rigid tow bar. Let’s check the pros and cons of each.
The general rule is that the safest way to do this is with no one sitting on the towed snowmobile. This is because if the towed sled were to go out of control, the rider could be injured. Another concern is that the track of the tow snowmobile can throw ice and debris onto the person riding behind it.
Therefore, best practice is to tow the broken-down sled without any riders. But the main problem with this method is that there is no one to control and handle the brakes on the sled!
That’s why each manufacturer recommends that you tow a disabled snowmobile with a rigid tow bar. There are many advantages to using this equipment, which are as follows:
- Tow bars are specially designed to tow disabled machines
- The towed machine follows the same path as the towing sled (no “swinging” side-to-side)
- You can control the towed snowmobile without a rider on it
- Prevents the towed snowmobile from bumping into your sled in the event of sudden braking
As you can see, tow bars do a really good job, that’s why they are the best type of towing equipment for snowmobiles.
As you can assume, tow bars are quite rarely found on everyday sleds! They are heavy and hard to store, so riders typically look for other solutions.
Unlike the rigid tow bars, tow ropes are much more commonly used for towing snowmobiles.
It’s safe to say that a tow rope is one of the most basic types of equipment that every rider should carry.
If you want to tow with a snowmobile, the tow rope should be attached to its rear bumper or hitch if available. But where should you attach the tow rope on the disabled snowmobile?
This is a big argument among snowmobile enthusiasts. There are many different practices, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s see what the best practices are!
Many riders say that best practice is to attach the tow strap to the ski loops. You can purchase a special three-point snowmobile tow rope for this purpose. The main advantage of this method is that it makes the disabled sled easy to control.
On the other hand, towing a sled by its ski loops can bend its ski saddles, carbides, or other steering components. What’s more, you risk breaking the ski loops themselves as on the newest sleds they are made of plastic.
These situations often occur when you are towing the sled up a huge hill or in the mountains.
To reduce the risks of these types of damage, many riders use a bar between the two skis. This helps keep the skis aligned while eliminating the stress on the carbides. (You can use a tree limb as a bar.)
Another trick is to tie both ski loops tightly to the rear bumper of the towing sled. If you tie tightly enough the front of the skis on the disabled sled lift up slightly off the ground.
You can see this method in this video:
Other riders prefer just tying the left ski loop tightly against the hitch or the right side of the rear bumper. The advantage of this solution is that it keeps the disabled sled away from oncoming traffic on trails.
On the other hand, the towed sled works like a hitched trailer and won’t crash into the tow sled if it suddenly brakes. Finally, this means that no rider is needed on the towed sled!
Keep in mind that if you tow a sled with a longer rope, you must have a rider on the disabled sled to control it.
Other riders prefer to tie the rope to the front bumper on the disabled sled. At first glance, it makes sense, as it helps avoid damaging the steering system and the skis.
On the other hand, the front bumper will often break if you try to tow the sled by it! Unfortunately, many of these are simply not designed to handle this load.
That’s why most owners prefer using spindles over bumpers and ski loops.
Industry experts and manufacturers also recommend attaching a three-point snowmobile tow rope to the ski spindles (if a rigid tow bar is not available). This is the best way to avoid damage to the steering system!
Just attach the other end of the tow strap to the rear bumper of the towing snowmobile. Best practice is to loop the strap through the bumper.
If you use this method, don’t forget that you will need a rider to steer the disabled sled.
Safety Flags and Reflectors
Keeping safety in mind attach flags and/or reflectors to the sides of both snowmobiles to warn other riders.
Place the Rider Safely
Are you wondering where you should place the rider of the disabled sled? There are three different options, depending on the circumstances:
- On a third sled (best practice)
- On the tow snowmobile
- On the towed snowmobile (only if it’s inevitable)
If you ride in a group, best practice is to place the rider of the disabled sled on a third snowmobile. Why?
This is because it’s not only the safest way to take the rider back but it also decreases the load of the tow sled.
If there are only two of you, both of you should sit on the tow snowmobile. However, it is only possible if the two sleds are attached tightly so that the braking force can be transmitted.
If you can only use a long tow rope, you will need a rider on the disabled machine to control the brakes and steer. He also has to sit on the saddle and keep his feet on the running boards.
Tow the Disabled Sled at Very Slow Speeds
It’s also very important to tow the sled at very low speeds and to also apply the brakes carefully.
If the sled is being towed with a regular tow rope, the rider has to sit on the sled in any case, since someone has to steer and operate the brakes. Thus, having someone ride on the disabled sled is often unavoidable.
The other important rule is if you are towing your buddy behind you, don’t forget to look back often. Even if you are towing the sled at slow speed, anything can happen.
There are stories about riders who fall off the towed snowmobiles without the driver of the tow sled noticing. It’s never fun when you realize your riding buddy is lost! Therefore, keep your eye on him at all times.
If you need to cross a road, best practice is for your buddy to get off the saddle, and walk across the road.
If the Drivetrain Locks
A drivetrain lock-up is always a big hassle on any sled. A locked drivetrain means that the track can’t spin due to a seized bearing or a broken chain in the chain case. It makes the sled difficult to move!
This is when a cardboard/flexible toboggan comes in handy. Just place them under the track to reduce the strain on the tow snowmobile.
You can find special “flexible toboggans” on the market which do a really good job. They are also known as “ski carpets.”
If you are looking for something more professional, you should take a look at the Buddy Tow Pro.
This unique product is designed to tow a snowmobile with a disabled drivetrain. You just have to attach it to the bottom of the track. As it looks like a carpet, you can roll it up for easy storage.
Buddy Tow Pro is not only more durable than roll up toboggans, it’s also easier to use as it can be mounted to the track with hooks.
If you do not have any special equipment on hand, you can still make rails under the track from tree limbs. It can be a little time consuming to make these rails, but it doesn’t matter if it’s your only chance!
Just make sure not to cut down living trees, as it may end in hefty fines. Instead, you should use broken branches.
Also, try to reach the nearest road, so you can drive there with your trailer.
And finally, don’t forget that if you tow your sled on a plastic sheet, it means there are no brakes on the sled at all!
Thus, using a tow bar or tying the disabled sled’s ski tightly to the tow sled is a must!
Towing a Snowmobile in the Mountains
Towing a disabled snowmobile in the backcountry is not an easy task. What’s more, the deep snow and terrain make it impossible in many cases!
Even if you can tow it, keep in mind that the greater drag force of the powder can damage both snowmobiles in many ways.
If your sled breaks down in the backcountry and there is no way to tow it back to the trailer, then you actually have other two options to take it home.
The cheaper method is to repair the sled on location. Just remove the broken parts, fix them, and ride back to the sled as soon as possible. After fixing the sled you can safely ride back.
Unfortunately, this solution works well only on smaller repairs.
Let’s face it, bigger repairs that require pulling the engine out are very hard to manage. Transporting the engine back and forth in deep snow is a risky adventure!
So, if the sled requires a major repair that cannot be fixed onsite, your last chance is hiring a helicopter. Towing a snowmobile with a helicopter may seem like a strange idea, but in some situations there is no other solution. This is an easy and quick way to extract a broken snowmobile from the mountains.
Unfortunately, this service is quite expensive and not available everywhere.
To prepare for these issues, there are groups of mountain riders who set up a fund for helicopter tows in each season. When a group member breaks down, they just call the helicopter company for help.
Towing a disabled snowmobile requires extra caution and preparation. Keep in mind that doing it wrong may end in damage or even injuries!
How do you properly tow a disabled snowmobile? We’ve compiled the most important precautions under one roof:
- As the first step, read the owner’s manual.
- Choose the right snowmobile for towing.
- Remove the drive belt from the broken-down sled.
- Attach the disabled snowmobile properly. Best practice is to use a rigid tow bar.
- If tow bar is not available, tie the skis (or the left ski) tight against the tow sled’s rear bumper.
- Attach safety flags and reflectors on each sled
- Tow the disabled sled without a rider if possible.
- Tow carefully and at very slow speeds.
Additionally, here are some frequently asked questions and answers on towing disabled sleds:
What should you remove from a disabled snowmobile before attempting to tow it?
The drive belt.
What is the best way to secure the front end of a disabled snowmobile being towed?
Using a rigid tow bar. If it’s not available tie the left ski tightly to the rear bumper of the tow sled.
Why is it important to avoid rope or rubber tie downs when towing a disabled snowmobile?
Unlike tow bars,they cannot transmit braking force.
Why would you place a rider on a snowmobile being towed? If you use a long rope or chain to tow a snowmobile, you have to place a rider on it to steer and operate the brakes.
Towing a disabled snowmobile is always a big hassle. It can ruin the day for the entire riding group!
That’s why it is recommended that you try to prevent these situations by all possible means. Here are some basic tips on how to prevent your sled from breaking down:
- Pay attention to the maintenance of the sled.
- Store a spare drive belt and a basic tool kit on your sled.
- If you have a 2-stroke sled, make sure you have extra oil on you.
- Top off your tank before each ride, and carry extra gas on the longer trips.
- Additionally, always store a tow rope on your sled, and a roll-up toboggan or “Buddy Tow” won’t hurt either!