How Long Should I Let My Snowmobile Warm Up?


Picture this: you’re about to hit a new snowmobiling trail with your riding buddies, and they’re chomping at the bit to go. Your sled hasn’t even been on for two minutes and they’re already egging you on, asking you to get moving. Does your snowmobile need to warm up before you go riding, and if so, for how long?

It’s always advisable to let your snowmobile warm up for at least five minutes before using it. This preserves the components of your sled, especially your engine, so the vehicle lasts longer. 

In today’s article, we’ll discuss the importance of warming up your sled before you ride it as well as how to do it. If you’re the type of snowmobiler who always takes off the moment you’re settled on your sled, then you’re definitely not going to want to miss this article! 

How Long Does a Snowmobile Need to Warm Up?

Scenarios like the one from the intro are all too common, where the peer pressure from your friends can make you forego certain parts of your snowmobiling routine that you really shouldn’t skip. Perhaps you’re going out riding as part of a group, and everyone else seems ready to roll, so you don’t want to waste their time by letting your sled warm up for a few minutes. 

Maybe you’re even a solo rider, but you were late getting to the trails, and you don’t want to waste any more time as it is. 

Well, properly warming up your snowmobile is never a waste of time. We’ll talk more about the reasons why this must become a regular part of your routine in the next section, but know for now that it’s crucial you let the sled warm up each time you use it.  

Okay, so you’re going to let your sled idle for a few minutes before taking off, but how long exactly should you wait? While the time can vary depending on the age of your snowmobile and the model, we’d recommend giving the snowmobile at least five minutes to get internally warm before you go. Some sledders are even more cautious and wait for 10 minutes. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad idea. The internal parts of your engine, as well as related snowmobile components, have an assortment of materials they’re made of. Some will get warm quickly and others take a few minutes longer, so it’s always better to err on the side of caution. 

Why Is It Important to Let a Sled Warm Up Before Riding It?

To explain why you must give your snowmobile time to warm up, let’s ask a different question. On a cold winter’s day when you’re about to leave the house for work, school, or any other purpose, do you just hop in your car or truck and start driving?

Of course not, right? Instead, five or 10 minutes before you leave, you turn the car on, let it sit, and then go back inside to finish getting ready. 

You need to have the same consideration for your snowmobile. It may be a cold-weather vehicle, unlike your car or truck, but that doesn’t mean it’s ready to go immediately if it’s sitting outside in frigid temperatures. 

If you’re still not totally convinced, here’s the biggest reason to give your snowmobile time to warm up: preventing otherwise avoidable damage to your sled. 

Let’s use your aluminum pistons within the steel cylinder as an example. Remember how we said different materials can heat up at varying rates? Since aluminum gets warm first, the pistons will be hot ahead of their steel cylinders. Riding your sled at this point can lead to the pistons getting scratched up by the skirt, which impacts the sled’s compression. Enough scratching can even cause the engine’s lifespan to be significantly lessened.

That’s a best-case scenario, by the way. When the aluminum pistons warm up ahead of the steel cylinder and you’re already off and racing, the pistons will begin to grow in size. Now, within the cylinder, they have no room to move, which can lead to piston seizing. That will definitely affect how your engine functions. 

Cold drive belts could snap or wear down faster without being properly warmed. As you may remember from a recent blog post, when your snowmobile’s belts malfunction, you tend to hear a telltale squeaking or squealing noise. It’s not so expensive to get new belts, as these may cost you upwards of $200, but it’s still a pain.

As for a new engine, well, that’s not anywhere near as cheap. It’s not unheard of for some sledders to part with $5,000 for a new engine! We’re sure you don’t want to lose that much money unless absolutely necessary, which is why you need to start making a habit of letting your snowmobile engine warm up when you ride in the winter. 

How to Warm Up Your Snowmobile

Okay, you definitely know better than to use your snowmobile again without warming it up. That said, you’re not really sure how long you should wait or if you’ll know your snowmobile is adequately warm for operation.

Here are some steps you can begin following to get into the swing of things.

Step 1: Put the key in the ignition of your snowmobile while you’re seated. If your sled won’t turn on that way, then get off the vehicle, stand beside it, and then turn on the ignition when in that position. 

For those sled owners with an electric start, you want to put your key in, turn it, and then let the choke go as soon as you hear the engine kick on.

Step 2: Let go of your parking brake. Up your throttle, accelerating somewhat so the track, drive belt, and engine components can begin getting warm. 

In some instances, your sled might not want to move. This does happen from time to time. What you want to do is stop trying to accelerate, park your sled, get off, and look at your sled more closely. If your snowmobile isn’t moving during its warmup, then it’s likely because the brakes have seized or the track is frozen.

You can wait for the track to thaw out, but seized brakes will likely require the guidance of your trusted snowmobile repairperson to get the issue fixed. 

Help the track along by raising your sled at least 10 inches from the snow. If you can get it 12 inches up, that’s even better. Gently release your snowmobile so it bounces, but only the back of your sled. You may have to do this a few times if the weather is especially cold, but you’ll thaw out the track sooner than later.  

Step 3: If you had the choke running, you want to turn it off as the engine begins getting heat from your sled. 

Step 4: Does your snowmobile have a primer? This tool, which is typically included in older snowmobile models, will pump fuel to your sled’s engine. As you warm up your sled, you might have to pump a few extra times before the primer switches from air to fuel. 

Step 5: When the engine has warmed up, stop any priming or choking activity. Continuing to do so will only send excess fuel to the engine, which can damage the engine and prohibit your snowmobile from starting next time. 

Step 6: Begin riding your snowmobile, but keep your speeds low and don’t go far, as you’re still warming up the engine. Don’t gun your engine at this point or you’ll have to pump or choke more fuel to it. 

Depending on your model of snowmobile, your sled may have a dashboard light that indicates when the engine has warmed up enough that it’s usable. If so, you’re free to begin riding as usual when you see that light on. 

What Do You Do If the Weather Is Too Cold for Your Snowmobile to Start?

A teeth-chatteringly cold day is perfect for sledders, but what if the single-digit or even negative-digit temperatures have caused your snowmobile to not want to start at all? Do you just have to ride another day? Wait longer for it to warm up?

You can try waiting 10 or 15 minutes for your snowmobile’s engine to thaw, but on those significantly cold-weather days, your vehicle still not start. For these cases especially, it might not be a bad idea to consider using starting fluid.

What is starting fluid? This flammable treatment for internal combustion engines, lean-burn spark engines, and/or diesel engines includes carbon dioxide, diethyl ether, and heptane and other volatile hydrocarbons.

The carbon dioxide is a propellant while the heptane is found in natural gas. The diethyl ether, especially when used with a hydrocarbon propellant or a stabilizer, will activate internal combustion engines since it auto-ignites at 320 degrees Fahrenheit.

Starting fluid is handy to have when the snowmobiling season begins, but you probably won’t have to use it much as winter progresses. That said, as a word of warning, since starting fluid lacks lubrication, you don’t want to become over-reliant on it. If you have a two-stroke engine especially, starter fluid can do a number on your engine, eventually breaking down the pistons.  

Use it if absolutely nothing else works to warm up your sled, but know the risks when you do. 

Final Thoughts

Your snowmobile’s engine and other internal components need time to warm up so they can work efficiently. Giving them at least five minutes is highly recommended. Make sure you follow the steps outlined in this article as well to properly warm up your snowmobile. Best of luck! 

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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