What Is the Life Expectancy of a Snowmobile?


You just bought your first snowmobile fresh from the dealer. It’s a brand-new vehicle, so right now, you’re not thinking much about the future, only the present. Someday though, your snowmobile’s life will run out and it will stop working. How long can it take for that to happen?

The average life expectancy of a snowmobile is 10 to 20 years, but that’s by no means guaranteed. If you care for your snowmobile and maintain it often, then it could last 10 more years or even twice that in some instances.

In this article, we’ll discuss the factors that impact snowmobile lifespan and which parts of your vehicle might fail before your whole snowmobile does. We’ll also discuss tips and tricks for adding more years to your snowmobile so you can enjoy this investment even longer!

How Long Should You Expect Your Snowmobile to Last?

When talking about snowmobile longevity, people tend to put the figure in miles rather than years. That’s because mileage may be a more accurate indicator of snowmobile life.

For example, if you only ride your snowmobile three times a year and put around 600 miles on it in all, then you’re likely going to have your vehicle for longer than someone who uses their snowmobile often and puts 3,000 or 4,000 miles on it in that same timespan.

The average amount of snowmobile miles ridden seems to be about 1,000 miles a year. That’s where we got the 10 to 20-year snowmobile lifespan from the intro. After 10 years, you’d have ridden your snowmobile 10,000 miles, and after 20 years, 20,000 miles, give or take, if you stick to that limit of 1,000 miles a year.

Does this necessarily mean that your snowmobile will stop working as you hit that 20,000th mile? Not at all. Some especially meticulous snowmobile owners still have snowmobiles from the 1960s and 1970s. Do they ride their snowmobile often? No, but they could hop aboard their older snowmobile if they had to or wanted to and it would ride just fine.

Then again, there are snowmobile racers who have to replace their sled every couple of years because the vehicle has broken down. 

How much you use your snowmobile and how well you take care of it are the two biggest determining factors for the life of your snowmobile. 

Which Parts of Your Snowmobile Might Break First?

Your snowmobile as a whole might last you a decade or two, but the individual parts will not. Most components will break especially quickly if you never maintain them.

Here are the parts you want to keep an eye on.

Clutch

The snowmobile clutch system uses a continuously variable transmission or CVT, which relies on dual pulleys. These are also known as clutches. The pulleys are attached to a drive belt, with one, the primary clutch, on your engine’s crankshaft. The second clutch is linked to your track drive, which is responsible for generating power to your tracks and moving the wheels of your snowmobile.

If the belt wears down or snaps, often due to time, pressure, or lack of maintenance, then your snowmobile stops working. You can typically tell when you’re having issues with the clutch belt, as the snowmobile sounds and feels different than it does when the belt is intact and operable. 

Cylinder Compression

Your snowmobile has cylinders that should maintain a certain pressure, about 120 pounds per square inch or PSI of pressure. By testing for pressure often, you can ensure your cylinders meet those requirements. 

For two-cylinder and three-cylinder snowmobiles, it’s recommended you take the spark plugs out when doing a compression test. It’s better if your engine is warm rather than cold when running a compression test, as the cold air can inhibit the accuracy of your reading. 

Spark Plugs

The spark plugs in your snowmobile don’t operate that much more different than they would in a car or truck. Spark plugs send electrical current to the combustion chamber from the ignition system if your engine uses spark ignition. When that current reaches the combustion chamber, the combination of compressed air and fuel ignites.

You can test your spark plug health, and you should do this fairly often, at least once a season, maybe twice. Take the spark plugs out of your snowmobile and then ground the plugs on a head bolt. Now, when you turn your engine over, you should be able to see a spark from the plugs.

Well, that’s only if your spark plugs are healthy. A dim spark or one that you can’t see at all are both signs of a problem, so get new spark plugs. 

Carburetor

We just wrote a detailed introductory post to your snowmobile’s carburetor or carb. You must take your carburetor completely apart at least once a year and give all the parts a thorough cleaning with compressed air and a carb cleaner.

This is admittedly a time-consuming job, but it’s part of snowmobile ownership. You can also upgrade to an electronic fuel injection system or EFI, which doesn’t require the same kind of regular cleanup. 

Engine

Arguably, the most important component of your snowmobile is the engine. Without an engine, your snowmobile won’t move an inch, so you must maintain the engine and repair/replace it if ever necessary.

Your engine choices are a four-stroke and two-stroke. This article in SnowGoer mentions that four-stroke engines tend to be more reliable than a two-stroke. They also don’t make as much noise, they run smoothly, and you save on fuel economy.

You do have some downsides of a four-stroke engine to worry about, such as less horsepower for each cubic inch. The engine is also heavier overall, which can impact snowmobile performance to a degree. 

With two-stroke engines, you get a lighter engine that may deliver more power faster.

At the end of the day, whether you opt for a two-stroke or a four-stroke engine, what matters more is keeping the engine in good condition. You’ll have to break the engine in when you first get your new snowmobile home. This means you avoid hitting the throttle too hard right away until the engine has had a chance to warm up and run for a while. 

You also want to avoid using the wrong types of fuel for your snowmobile engine or mixing fuel if your engine manufacturer cautions against it. Most of the time, your manufacturer guide will tell you the exact types of oil to use for a two-stroke or four-stroke engine, so follow those instructions. 

How Can You Make Your Snowmobile Last Longer? A Maintenance Checklist to Follow 

To reiterate, the best way to keep your snowmobile alive and kickin’ for decades to come is regular maintenance. If this is indeed your first snowmobile, then you might not be sure where to start with your maintenance work. Here’s a handy checklist to follow every winter when bringing your vehicle out of storage.

Set the Ski Stance

A ski stance in the world of snowmobiling is very different than in skiing. In this case, it’s how far apart your right and left skis are. If your ski stance is out of whack, your snowmobile’s performance suffers. From the toe out, set the skis to 1/8th an inch to 1/4th an inch.

Refill the Fluids

About every month, you want to check all parts of your snowmobile that take fluid, like coolant, antifreeze, or oil. Your engine especially will need an oil change if it’s a four-stroke, at least annually. 

Test the Chaincase Tension 

Your snowmobile’s chaincase should be tense, but not overly so. Set your snowmobile’s parking brake and then move the secondary part of the vehicle a bit. Does it move a little too freely, such as more than 1/4th an inch or even half an inch? That’s a problem, and you’ll have to readjust the tension of the chainscase. The instructions on how to do so should be in your owner’s manual.

Align the Riser with the Steering Post

For better handling of your snowmobile, you need your riser aligned at the right height. This should be in tune with the steering post height.

Replace Your Ski Carbides if Necessary

Carbides can wear down fast, and you shouldn’t use them if yours are in poor condition. Once or twice a season, check and replace the carbides if they’re old. 

Clean the Clutch and the Belts

Take off your belt cover and wipe down your clutch once or twice a season as well. Compressed air can clean this much like it can your carb, especially if the belt has a lot of dust. For the sheaves, a snowmobile parts cleaner will get them looking spiffy, shiny, and clean. 

You may want to change out the clutch belt or ask a professional to do it for you as the snowmobiling season gets underway, just to be on the safe side. 

Final Thoughts

Your snowmobile can last for 10 to 20 years or longer depending on how well you care for it. From the engine to the clutch belts, the carburetor, spark plugs, and carbides, many parts of your snowmobile can fall apart from heavy use. Get into a good maintenance schedule and you could hold onto your snowmobile for an impressively long time! 

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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