How to Start a Snowmobile Without a Key [Video Guide]

You can start a snowmobile without a key if you unplug the cable from the ignition switch. With this little trick, you can start the majority of older snowmobiles! But if you have a newer sled, be prepared for more work. This is especially true if you have Ski-Doo with a DESS key since you will have to take your sled to the dealership if you need a new key!

If you want to know how you can start your sled without the key, or how you can get a replacement key, this post is for you!

Lost Snowmobile Key: What Can You Do?

You’ve just realized that your snowmobile key is lost? Don’t worry as this has happened to many other owners as well.

For many people, the first step is to call a dealership. And what do they usually suggest? “Bring the sled in and we’ll see what we can do.” This is usually super helpful advice in a situation like this.

As your sled won’t move, how are you going to get it to the trailer or the sled deck? In a worst case scenario, you are in the middle of nowhere and can’t even get back to your truck!

So, you need a solution, now.

For your convenience, we’ve gathered some really useful tips on what you can do if you lose the keys of your sled:

  • First, try to find the spare key (sleds usually come with 2 keys)
  • Bypass the ignition switch (works on older sleds)
  • Borrow a key from a friend (works on older sleds)
  • Order a replacement key based on the key code
  • Remove the ignition switch and take it to a locksmith
  • Remove the ignition switch and take it to a dealer
  • Replace the entire ignition switch
  • Take your entire sled to a dealer

As you can assume, the solutions get more expensive and difficult as you move down the list. Also, keep in mind that your options strongly depend on your sled’s make and year. What works on one doesn’t work on the other!

To make it simpler, we will discuss these solutions and the different brands of sleds separately in this post.

If you want to learn more, keep reading!

Can You Start a Snowmobile Without a Key?

Whether you can start a snowmobile without a key or not always depends on its make and type. As a rule of thumb, older carbureted snowmobiles can be started without a key. But if a sled features an EFI (electronic fuel injection) or an integrated computer it typically needs the key to start and run properly. Newer Ski-Doos also can’t be started without the tether cord, as their DESS keys are programmed exclusively for each sled. They are not interchangeable, nor can they be bypassed.

How do You Start a Snowmobile Without a Key?

You can start many snowmobiles without a key by simply unplugging the ignition switch. It sounds weird but it really works in many cases! However, keep in mind that you can only use this trick on older carbureted sleds, which have regular keys and don’t feature a computer or electric fuel injection.

Are you wondering how to start a snowmobile without a key? You can see the process in this tutorial:

How do you bypass a snowmobile key?

To bypass a snowmobile key, open the hood and unplug the ignition switch. It’s very important that you not try connecting the removed cables together! Just unplug the wires and try to pull-start your sled.

As we’ve discussed, this trick won’t work on all sleds, only older ones. If you can start yours in this manner you are lucky! If not, your other options are to borrow a key or take your sled to a dealer.

Surprisingly, many sledders bypass their ignition switch permanently. As they say, if it offers almost no security, why bother with the key?

It may make sense, but keep in mind that bypassing the ignition switch is not a good idea in the long run if your sled has a fuel octane selector. This is because you should be able to set the switch based on the type of fuel you use.

If your sled won’t start by bypassing the switch you may want to know how to get a replacement key.

How do You Replace a Snowmobile Key?

You have many options to get a replacement key for a snowmobile. First, since certain manufacturers make only a few different sets of keys for their models, you can borrow a key from one of your riding buddies, order a key from a dealer or even get one on eBay. (Yes, literally.) Another solution would be to replace the entire ignition switch or take your sled to a dealership.

As your options strongly depend on your sled’s type and make, in the following chapters we will discuss the four main brands separately!

Polaris Snowmobile Key Replacement

A key replacement is probably the easiest solution if you have a Polaris snowmobile. Let’s see how it’s done!

Are all Polaris snowmobile keys the same?

No, all Polaris snowmobile keys are not the same. This manufacturer makes a couple of sets of keys for their snowmobiles. Older Polaris sleds use a key code dot system, while the keys of newer sleds have numeric codes. So, this means that you can start a Polaris snowmobile with many other keys as well.

The keys of older Polaris snowmobiles are square shaped and have 1-5 small dots on them. If your sled had a key with two dots, this means any other key with two dots will start it. It’s the same with three dots, four dots, and so on.

Polaris Snowmobile Key Codes

If you don’t know what the code of the lost key was, don’t worry, as the code can be found on the lower side of the ignition switch body. Check it carefully and look for letters like A, B, C, D, E. Why?  This is because although old Polaris snowmobile keys are identified by the dots, they correspond to a letter code as follows:

A – 1 dot
B – 2 dot
C – 3 dot
D – 4 dot
E – 5 dot

How do I get a new Polaris key?

You can get a new Polaris snowmobile key from dealerships, online shops, or even on eBay. Just identify the letter on the switch body and you can order a new key online. It’s as simple as that! If you need a replacement key quickly, try borrowing a couple of keys from your friends. If you are lucky, one of them will work!

If you have a newer Polaris, its key is labeled with a numeric code instead of dots.

These keys are also replaceable. Just send your sled’s info and the key code to your dealer and they can probably send you a new key.

Arctic Cat Snowmobile Key Replacement

How do you start an Arctic Cat snowmobile without a key?

You can start an Arctic Cat snowmobile without a key by unplugging the wire from the ignition switch. This trick works on many older Arctic Cat models. If that doesn’t help, you will have to get a replacement key or in the worst case, you will have to replace the ignition switch.

Are all Arctic Cat keys the same?

Just like in the case of Polaris, many Arctic Cat keys are the same, even if not all of them. Regarding vintage sleds, Arctic Cat released these sleds with a few sets of keys. This means that if you need a replacement key for your Arctic Cat, you can likely borrow one from a friend or even purchase one from a dealership.

If you have a newer sled, dealerships can also cut a new key for you as long as you have at least one spare key for them to copy. If not, you will probably have to take your ignition switch or the entire sled to the dealership.

Arctic Cat Snowmobile Key Code Chart

Are you wondering where you can find the key code on an Arctic Cat snowmobile? The good news is that the code is not only found on the key but on the side of the ignition switch as well.

For your convenience, we’ve also compiled the key codes of Arctic Cat snowmobile into one chart:

P/NKey CodeYearStartEngine
0609-412A2006Electric2T, 4T
0609-467B2006Electric2T, 4T
0609-468C2006Electric2T, 4T
0609-469D2006Electric2T, 4T
0609-470E2006Electric2T, 4T
Just for informational purposes!

Yamaha Snowmobile Key Replacement

How do you start a Yamaha snowmobile without a key?

Just like other brands of sleds, many older 2-stroke Yamaha snowmobiles can be started without a key if you bypass their ignition switch. Just unplug the cable and try starting the sled. If you are lucky, you can start it without any issues.

How can you get a new Yamaha snowmobile key?

New ignition keys for Yamaha snowmobiles can be cut it you know the code of your original key. You can usually find the key code on the helmet lock, the body of the ignition switch, or in your sled’s documentation. Your other option is to remove the ignition switch and take it to a locksmith or a dealership.

Ski-Doo Key Replacement

How do you start a Ski-Doo without a key?

You can start vintage Ski-Doo models without a key if you unplug the wires from the ignition switch. On the other hand, newer Ski-Doos with DESS have to be taken to a dealership for a new key.

How do you replace a lost Ski-Doo key?

You can easily replace a lost Ski-Doo key if you have a vintage sled. All you need is the key code, which can be found on the spare key, the ignition switch, and sometimes in the sled’s documentation. If your sled features a tether cord with a DESS instead of a regular key, the replacement is always a big hassle. This is because there is no other way than taking your sled to a Ski-Doo dealership, since they are the only ones who can program a new key for your sled.

What does DESS mean on a Ski-Doo?

DESS on a Ski-Doo stands for “Digitally Encoded Security System.” Simply put, it’s a computer chip with a unique code integrated into the safety chord. Every DESS key is unique and should be programmed to the sled’s computer by an authorized dealer. This process is known as “Ski-Doo DESS key programming.”

How does a Ski-Doo DESS key work?

Ski-Doo DESS keys work in a vastly different way than regular keys. Every new Ski-Doo features a computer, which recognizes the DESS key and allows the engine to start with it. So, contrary to popular belief, if you need a replacement key for a Ski-Doo, its computer should be programmed, not the key!

DESS keys only contain chips that are not programmable. The dealer hooks up a laptop to the Ski-Doo and connects the key to the computer with the software.

That’s why Ski-Doo key programming can only be done by authorized dealerships. This system provides high security but can also be a big hassle if you lose the key to your Ski-Doo.

Because of this concern, it’s highly recommended that you get at least one spare DESS key for your sled.

The other advantage of DESS keys is that a key can be used for more sleds as long as it was matched to all the sleds’ computers. This means if you own more Ski-Doos, their keys can be made interchangeable.

It’s always a big advantage if you can use any key with any of your sleds! However, having a spare key doesn’t hurt!

Don’t forget that programming a spare DESS Ski-Doo key takes just a couple of minutes, but taking your immobile sled to the dealer is a big headache!


Do snowmobiles have keys? Yes, just like cars, motorcycles, or ATVs, snowmobiles have keys. While Polaris, Arctic Cat, and Yamaha snowmobiles feature “regular” keys, Ski-Doos come with a special key known as a “DESS Key.” In fact, this is more like a unique computer chip integrated into the lanyard.

And just like any other keys, a lost snowmobile key can be a hassle.

It’s better if you have an old sled, as their keys are usually interchangeable. This means if you need a replacement key for those snowmobiles, you can easily purchase one if you know the key code.

Where can the key code be found?

Key codes are usually indicated on the body of the ignition switch, on the helmet lock, on the spare key, and even in the documentation of the sled. Dealerships can order or cut a new key for you based on this key code.

How can I hotwire a snowmobile? Surprisingly, old snowmobiles can easily be hotwired by simply removing the wires from the ignition switch. This simple trick works on the majority of vintage sleds!

But if you’ve removed the cables and your sled still doesn’t work, don’t try gambling with the cables. Best practice is to try getting a new key, or to replace the switch.

For newer sleds, it’s usually harder to get a new ignition key, as more and more models come with unique keys.

Key replacement is arguably most difficult on newer Ski-Doos since they need to be taken to the dealerships in every case.

As getting a new ignition key for a snowmobile can be difficult, it’s wise to order one (or even two) spare keys for the sled upfront. As they say, prevention is better than the cure!

Best practice is to hook up one spare key with the truck key and store the other one at home.

Having spare keys for your sled is like having cheap insurance!


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