Do Snowmobiles Have Reverse? Everything You Need To Know

Imagine this scenario: you’re riding on your snowmobile when you get stuck in some deep snow. You want to back yourself up by reversing so you can maneuver away from the snowdrift. Is that something you can do on a snowmobile or do you have to create another plan to avoid and escape hazards?

Whether your snowmobile can go in reverse depends on the age of the vehicle. If yours is older, then it likely can’t reverse right out of the gate. However, you can modify the snowmobile to move backward. New snowmobiles have a reversing function built-in. 

In this article, we’ll talk more about what the age cutoff is for snowmobiles without reverse functionality. You’ll also learn more about today’s modern reverse features and how to retrofit your older snowmobile so it can go backward. You won’t want to miss it!

Why Can’t Old Snowmobiles Go in Reverse?

Okay, so what constitutes an old snowmobile that can’t go in reverse? If yours was produced before 1998, then it probably can’t backup automatically. The reason? The feature simply wasn’t common. 

Ski-Doo, one of the biggest names in snowmobiles for decades, was the first manufacturer to mass-produce a reversal system. Their reverse used electricity and is called Rotax Electronic Reverse or RER. The first vehicles to debut this feature were the Ski-Doo Tundra R and Touring SLE models. 

The way that Rotax Electronic Reverse works is as follows. The reversal system determines your snowmobile’s direction. Your engine’s direction then gets reversed so you can move backward. When this happens, the ignition of the engine severely slows until it becomes idle. You can do all this at the push of a button. 

RER was incredibly innovative at the time. Further, according to Ski-Doo’s Facebook page, their reversal system is maintenance-free and doesn’t add extra weight to what can already be a hefty snowmobile.

What did snowmobilers do before that if they needed to back up in any situation? They just wouldn’t. In an emergency, the snowmobiler might get out of the vehicle and manually turn the snowmobile in the right direction. Otherwise, they knew they couldn’t go backward, so they’d try not to get themselves in any situation that would warrant the maneuver.

How Do Today’s Snowmobiles Reverse?

After Ski-Doo introduced RER, the feature became a huge deal almost overnight. Some news sources treated it with skepticism, seeking ways to prove the RER feature didn’t work by abusing it. Given that it’s Ski-Doo we’re talking about here, they of course came up with a hardy reversal system. 

Once the media determined RER couldn’t easily be broken, Ski-Doo’s electronic snowmobile reversal became more respected. It also wasn’t long before other snowmobile manufacturers began producing their own versions of the RER. 

That’s brought us to today, where you can find a reverse feature on snowmobiles of almost any brand produced after 1998. So has the reverse feature been upgraded since that time?

Indeed, besides RER, other forms of electronic snowmobile reversals have become popular. Some vehicles also use mechanical reverse. Here’s an explanation of both.

Electronic Reverse

The Rotax Electronic Reverse from Ski-Doo may have pioneered electronic snowmobile reversals, but in the 2000s, Polaris introduced their own take on the RER. This is called Polaris Electronic Reverse Control or PERC. 

According to a Polaris owner’s manual, PERC requires the engine rotations per minute or RPM to be under 400. You also want your snowmobile fully stopped with an idle engine before you activate PERC. You’re supposed to look for obstacles and passersby behind your snowmobile and then press the button to start going backward when you’re ready. 

When you need to stop reversing, slow your snowmobile down until the engine is again idle. Push your PERC button, but only for a second before you let it go. You’ll hear the engine get even slower for a moment before it turns over forward. Your instrumental panel light, which should have indicated that you’re reversing, will also turn off. 

Mechanical Reverse

Other manufacturers outfit their snowmobiles with a mechanical reverse. This is an older technology that likely predates RER, so it’s a little less convenient. After all, mechanical reverse relies on your manual effort.

You pull a lever on your snowmobile to activate the mechanical reverse. When you do, the gears within the snowmobile switch from moving forward to backward instead. This makes your snowmobile track go in that same direction so you can effectively reverse the vehicle. 

Unlike RER and other electronic reverse systems, a mechanical reverse system weighs a lot more. Your snowmobile may have less maneuverability then because it’s heavier.

Retrofitting an Old Snowmobile: How to Add a Reverse Feature

Okay, let’s say your snowmobile has neither a mechanical nor an electronic reverse. It’s still in great running shape, but you’d like it to work even better by reversing when necessary. As we mentioned in the intro, it’s possible to take an older snowmobile and retrofit it with a reverse system.

How you’ll go about doing this will likely vary from one model of snowmobile to another. In our example, we’re using a Polaris 2003 ProX. Although the RER electronic reversal system had existed for several years by 2003, it still wasn’t common of all snowmobiles to have electronic reverse by default yet. 

With some snowmobiles, you could add an option kit for electronic reverse if you paid extra. The Polaris 2003 ProX was one of them. By doing a bit of Googling on your particular model of old snowmobile, you can quickly determine if such an option kit exists for your model.

If it does, then scoop it up online! You might even be able to look for an option kit for a snowmobile the year after yours was produced, provided too much didn’t change with the snowmobiles from one year to another. 

Once you get your hands an option kit with all the electronic reverse parts, you want to look for the stock CDI on your Polaris 2003 ProX and take this off. This part should be attached by mounting bolts, two of them, so have a screwdriver set ready. 

This will free the stock CDI from your snowmobile’s airbox, giving you room to add the new CDI. When you’re done with that, you need to next work on the CDI’s wiring. A wiring harness will attach the motor to the CDI. This wiring should begin underneath your motor. 

Then you only have to attach your electronic reverse button, which in the case of Polaris is the PERC button. You connect this to the CDI from the ground wire. 

It’s not a complicated process, as you don’t have to work with many wires. To reiterate, the steps only apply to the Polaris 2003 ProX. If you have another snowmobile, your retrofitting steps may look a little different. 

Snowmobile Reversing Safety Tips

To wrap up, make sure you follow these safety tips when reversing on your snowmobile. It doesn’t matter if your vehicle uses mechanical or electronic reverse, there’s still room for danger if you’re not cautious.

Don’t Throttle Out of Nowhere

Any kind of sudden maneuvers is strongly frowned upon when reversing, especially throttling. The quick bursts of speed when you can’t see behind you can put you on a path to disaster. That’s not to say you can’t throttle at all, but you must take it slowly.

Turn Slowly

Another area to reduce speed is when turning. Sharp, fast turns can be risky, as you may accidentally fall off the snowmobile. When you turn, take your time doing so. 

Always Have Clearance

Your head will have to be on a swivel when reversing on your snowmobile, or it should be. You must look to either side of you and especially behind you to ensure you have clearance to move your snowmobile where you want it to go. 

Avoid obstacles like rocks, heavy snowdrifts, and especially your fellow snowmobilers and other passersby. 

Don’t Reverse When Moving

Remember, your engine must be idling before you try to reverse. If you’re driving at a regular speed and you shift into reverse then, you could ruin the transmission and the chaincase, putting enormous strain on your snowmobile.

What’s worse is your life is at risk as well. You won’t be able to control your snowmobile as easily, so you could be thrown for the vehicle or crash into something. This could cause severe injuries, possibly even fatal ones. 

Go Slow on Hills 

Today’s snowmobiles can easily handle reversing when on a hill. The reverse protocol does not differ from snowmobiling anywhere else though. You still have to stop and idle your engine before attempting to reverse. 

Final Thoughts

Being able to reverse on your snowmobile is still a relatively new feature. Ski-Doo introduced their Rotax Electronic Reverse or RER in 1998, and in the early 2000s, Polaris followed with the Polaris Electronic Reverse Control or PERC. Some snowmobiles use mechanical reversing as well.

If your snowmobile is older, you can always retrofit it with a reverse system. While reversing is convenient, you must make sure you always slow your snowmobile and wait until the engine idles before going backward. Pressing the reverse button any sooner could damage your snowmobile–not to mention yourself! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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