Bargain Machine or Lead Sled? A Quick Guide for Used Snowmobiles

Let’s say you have decided to join the awesome and ever-expanding world of snow machines. If this is your first time, odds are you are looking at used, and that’s a good choice. A new Yamaha or Polaris is a great buy, but a used sled can be a great value, if you know what to look for. With that in mind, here’s a quick guide for buying a used snowmobile.

Shows, Dealers, Private Party, Oh My!

snowmobileOdds are you know where to find a good local sled. If not, the absolute best places to look for quality “pre-loved” snow machines are at trade shows, expos, and your local dealer. Alright, I know some of you are groaning at that, and yes, you can usually find a cheaper deal through a private party transaction, but hear me out.

Sleds are complex machines, and as a greenhorn, you might miss obvious signs of wear or damage that an unscrupulous private party seller could try and hide. Sure, there are nice guys selling their sleds in the classifieds too, but you’ve heard the stories. The chances of a junker being pawned off as good at a reputable dealer are essentially zero. Think of it like this: which is more likely to scam you: the used Arctic Cat dealer at the Toronto International show, or “Larry” from Craigslist? Plus, some barely used dealer sleds still have their factory warranty, but prices are drastically reduced when compared with new.

Make Sure She’s More Than a Pretty Face

Alright, so that sleek used sled in front of you, and it looks pretty clean, but if the previous owner flubbed the maintenance schedule, it could have serious unseen damage. Here’s what to keep in mind once you are in front of your potential new ride.

A test ride is ideal, but at least start the machine and let it warm up to operating temps. Then shut it down and pull a spark plug. If it is covered in oil, odds are the valve seals are worn. Another symptom of this is slight smoke on start up, but none when warm. If the spark plug is covered in a milky looking liquid, coolant is getting into the oil, most likely due to a head gasket failure. Unfortunately, neither of these are newbie-friendly maintenance, but could be tackled over the off-season with patience and a good manual.

snowmobile engineAfter the engine, the biggie is to see if it has been in an accident. Just like a car after a severe wreck, it can be repaired, but it never quite goes back the same. Look down the tunnel, checking both sides to see if they are symmetrical. Then check the status of the front nun. That’s the bulkhead that houses the front suspension, steering bits, and whatnot. It’s kind of important. Pop the front hood and check for dents. A bent nun is not the end of the world, but should certainly lower the price, as it, like the engine, is not a 1-hour newbie friendly job.

If everything checks out so far, look over the little parts. Make sure the skis aren’t sloppy and lose. Check that the all the lights, gauges, and handlebar warmers work. Sit on it and look at the suspension. The springs and a-arms should be at the same compression level on the left and right side.

Remember when buying used, there is often “wiggle room.” Find what the sled needs, and talk the previous owner down due to your cost of maintenance. Finally, remember the old saying: “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

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