What is an Idler Wheel on a Snowmobile? [+ Repair Guide]


The idler wheels on a snowmobile are part of the suspension system. The main purpose of idler wheels is to keep the track in line and reduce the friction on the hyfax. If you have to align your track, you can do it by adjusting the rear idler wheels!

If you want to learn more about idler wheels, and how to repair or replace them, this post is for you.

We’ve compiled all the info you need under one roof, without any fluff or affiliate links!

What is an Idler Wheel on a Snowmobile?

In 1966, Arctic Cat invented the slide rail suspension, also commonly known as “hyfax side rails.” Simply put, the main advantage of this suspension is that the track runs on slides instead of wheels.

But to keep the track in line, and reduce the load on the hyfax, the slide rail suspension also features some wheels, which are known as idler wheels. You can find these wheels on the bottom, on the top, and at the end of the track.

On the top of the track you can find the slide-rail idler wheels. These wheels help to reduce the friction between the hyfax and the track.

The rear axle wheels are also known as rear most idler wheels. They are the track’s turning point. Additionally, you can set the alignment and tension of the track with these wheels.

The upper idler wheels also play a role in keeping the track in line.

Finally, all these little wheels help the track rotate smoothly and easily.

If you what to learn more about idler wheels and their maintenance, don’t miss this informative video. Tons of good info here!

Don’t Overlook the Maintenance of the Idles Wheels

The lifespan of idler wheels strongly depends on the snow conditions and your riding habits. Another important factor is the storage, as the right storage conditions can extend the life of the whole suspension.

When it comes to snowmobile maintenance, the idler wheels are often overlooked.

Although snowmobiles can go thousands of miles before their idler wheels start to wear out, it’s always wise to keep an eye on them.  You can’t go wrong if you inspect them at least once in a year, and every other time you need to fix or adjust the suspension or the track.

There are two key parts of idler wheels that can go wrong, the rubber on their outside and the bearing.

Best practice is to spin the wheels when doing a visual inspection. This is because bearings are prone to getting stuck, even if the wheels look perfect from the outside!

If they are tight and run quietly, it’s a clue that the bearings are in good condition. But if the wheels are noisy or even loose, you need to remove them for further inspection.

If necessary, remove the seals and clean the bearings. Apply the right grease, replace the seals, and finally reinstall the wheels. If you don’t want to spend your time on these repairs, you can consider replacing them.

Don’t forget that the idler wheels are exposed to snow, ice, water, dirt, sand and so on. Moreover, they are getting hot then getting cold continuously. Because of this repeated process, water and dirt can build up on the bearings. Finally, this can lead to corroded and dirty bearings, which cause the wheels to stop.

If you overlook idler wheel maintenance, the wheels can lock-up or even bounce around due to a broken bearing. All of these issues can lead to more serious types of damage such as:

  • Misaligned track
  • Track damage
  • Reduced power
  • Damaged skid frame parts
  • Damaged hyfax
  • Other types of damage on the suspension

As you can see, overlooked idler wheel bearing maintenance may end in very costly repairs! To grease or replace the bearings, you have to first remove the wheels. Let’s see how to do that!

How do you Change the Idler Wheels on a Snowmobile?

To change the idler wheels on your snowmobile, you have to first take off the caps (bearing covers) with a screwdriver. Then, remove the bolts with a socket and the wheels will easily come off. When removing the rear wheels, you will probably need to pull out the shaft as well. Finally, install the new wheels and tighten them with the socket. Don’t forget to replace the caps!

Changing the side idler wheels is usually an easier task but changing the rear and the upper idles can be a little trickier. You can learn how to change the rear idler wheels from this video:

To change the idler wheels on most sleds you just need just a socket set, wrenches, and a screwdriver.

On the other hand, some manufacturers may recommend using a “snowmobile idler wheel puller” to remove the wheels if they get stuck. If you regularly have a hard time getting your idler wheels off, you can consider making a DIY idler wheel puller from a C-Clamp.

How do You Replace Idler Wheel Bearings?

To replace idler wheel bearings, you have to first remove the wheels. Then, remove the snap rings from the bearings with a snap ring puller. You can easily remove the bearings from the idler wheels with a small jaw puller or hammer. Clean the wheel, install the new bearings and snap rings, and finally replace the wheels.

If you don’t have a jaw puller, don’t worry. Another solution to remove the bearings is laying the wheel on top of an opened vise or two wood blocks, and carefully push or tap the bearings out.

Before you install the new bearings, it’s recommended that you clean the wheels.

When installing the new bearing, place it on top of the wheel first. Then, place a pipe or a socket on it that has the same diameter as the bearing’s outer race. Finally, tap the bearing gently into its place.

Never use a smaller socket or pipe as hammering the bearing on its inner side can easily cause damage!

Once the bearing is on its place, replace the snap rings, and install the wheel in place.

As you can see, snowmobile idler wheel bearing replacement is not rocket science! However, it’s recommended that you read your sled’s manual before you start work. Generally, if one idler bearing needs to be replaced, you may want to replace the others as well. Don’t wait until they all go wrong one after another!

When it comes to purchasing replacement bearings, you should choose high quality bearings. Cheap bearings can cause a lot of headaches, as they can go wrong in a short time. 

What is a Big Wheel Kit for a Snowmobile?

Simply put, Big Wheel Kits for snowmobiles are bigger idler wheels than the stock ones. They can reduce the track’s rolling resistance, so it turns much easier. Another advantage of big wheel kits is that they give a custom look to any sled. It’s especially true if they come with shiny metal surfaces!

Big wheel kits first became popular among mountain sledders. In the past, sleds were manufactured with smaller idler wheels, so many off-trail riders installed Big Wheel Kits on their sleds.

Now stock mountain snowmobiles feature 8” idler wheels, so installing Big Wheel Kits no longer makes sense on these sleds.

What are Bogie Wheels on a Snowmobile?

Vintage sleds had “bogie wheel suspensions” and bogie wheels are parts of those systems. It’s a lesser-known fact that sleds manufactured before the ‘60s used similar tracks like tanks. All of these vehicles actually rode on wheels, which were mounted inside the track. These wheels were called bogie wheels on these old sleds.

Newer sleds already feature a “slide rail suspension,” which means they slide on the inside of their tracks instead of the wheels.

The main advantage of this newer suspension design is that it offers much smoother rides as their wheels don’t move up and down anymore. These systems still have many wheels, which are called idler wheels.

It’s good to know that sometimes sledders use the terms “bogie” and “idler” interchangeably.

Conclusion

Idler wheels are key parts of every snowmobile. Overlooked maintenance of these parts can damage the track, the hyfax, and many other parts of your sled! That’s why you should regularly inspect the idlers on your sled.

As a short takeaway, we’ve summarized the most important info you need to know about idler wheels in a nutshell:

What are idler wheels on a snowmobile? Idler wheels are parts of the suspension system. They keep the track in position and reduce the friction on the hyfax.

How do you change the idler wheels on a snowmobile? Remove the caps and the bolts with a wrench or a socket set. Then install the new wheels, tighten the bolts, and finally replace the caps.

How do you replace idler wheel bearings? Get the wheels off, then remove the bearings with a jaw puller or a hammer. Clean the wheels, then install the new bearings and the snap rings.

What is a Big Wheel Kit for a snowmobile? Big Wheel Kits are simply bigger idler wheels than the stock idlers. They usually have a custom look and many of them are made of metal.

What are bogie wheels on a snowmobile? Bogie wheels are the early name of idler wheels. Before the ‘60s, snowmobiles had a different suspension system. The wheels of these old suspensions were called bogie wheels.

However, the terms bogie wheels and idler wheels are often used interchangeably.

References:

Amsnow.com, Snowtech Magazine, Amsnow.com-2

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