Unmaintained snowmobiles don’t last very long; by the time you reach 10,000 to 15,000 miles, they’ll typically break down. However, even a well-maintained snowmobile is less reliable than most power sports vehicles.
Getting stranded is bad enough, but you will likely be miles from home or your car when your snowmobile stops working. What are the main reasons why snowmobiles are so unreliable?
The main reason snowmobiles are unreliable is because they take a lot of abuse with constant vibration that is inherently damaging to the internal components. Modern snowmobiles are primarily electronic, adding ease of use and additional features, but with more small parts comes more risk resulting in frequent and ongoing problems with components.
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What Makes A Snowmobile Unreliable
When looking at what makes a snowmobile unreliable, you have to consider the users and circumstances.
People are not kind to their sleds and seeking out the smoothest path is rarely on the agenda.
Instead, the intention is mainly to go fast, do tricks, and have fun. You could chalk most of a snowmobile’s unreliability up to aggressive use, but that’s not the whole story.
1 – Vibration, Jolting, Wear, and Tear
The number one reason snowmobiles get called out as unreliable is all the shaking, jiggling, vibrating, and general jolting around they experience as a regular part of their operation.
Unfortunately, the movement is unavoidable because of the nature of these machines.
Still, it creates a situation where sleds’ moving parts take on wear and tear very quickly.
2 – Complex Electronic Parts
Whether you are an expert DIY snowmobile repair person, or you’ve never seen under the hood, understanding how complex parts can fail doesn’t require a deeper understanding of how they work.
Simply put, the more complicated a machine becomes, the smaller parts it has. Every component is a potential point of failure.
When people say things aren’t built like they used to be, they unknowingly express this concept.
More electronics equals more effortless operation, and additional features contribute to rider safety and comfort.
However, as things become ever more complex, each new part has to work perfectly for the whole machine to run the way it should.
3 – Failed Maintenance
A savvy snowmobiler knows you need to do a lot of maintenance. Your sled needs service roughly every 150 to 300 miles and failing to set a schedule and keep it will leave you out of luck at the worst moment.
Failed maintenance is a substantial contributing factor where snowmobile unreliability is concerned.
Snowmobile maintenance is a lot more than preparing your snowmobile for the next season.
To properly maintain your snowmobile, you must follow a pre-ride and after-ride care checklist.
Additionally, every snowmobile requires mid-season and end-season maintenance as well.
4 – Temperatures
Although snowmobiles are quite literally made to handle the cold, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job.
The engine of your sled is made from metal parts, and it’s easy to imagine that super durable metals are essentially unaffected by temperature.
Still, nothing could be further from the truth. The pattern of freezing, warming, running hot and rapid cooling is a problem even for the best-designed engines and can cause thermal cracking.
As Clifton Steel explains, “Metals that are typically ductile at room temperature may lose that in the colder temperature and become stiffer. Brittle transition temperature is the temperature where fractures in steel change from ductile to brittle. In other words, instead of bending, it breaks.”
5 – Extended Storage Issues
Snowmobiles can run on roads, grass, and other surfaces, but it’s excessively harsh on the skis and track.
Plus, it makes the engine work harder. Your sled is meant to drive over snow, so you almost certainly have to pack it away for part of the year. Long-term vehicle storage opens it up to a host of problems.
From rodents and insects nesting inside to gasoline in the engine going off and ambient moisture causing rust, storage is problematic in many ways.
Fortunately, this is one problem you can control. You can cut down on storage-related unreliability by leaving your tank empty and doing a thorough pre-ride inspection before your first ride of the snowy season.
What Is The Most Unreliable Snowmobile
The 1974 Arctic Cat Panther VIP is arguably the most unreliable snowmobile ever built.
Although it’s been almost 50 years since these incredibly unique machines came out, the plethora of problems makes this model the worst and least reliable sled around.
The unusual looks, rich chocolate brown body, and leopard print details made these machines attractive and hard to miss. Sadly, the internal components didn’t live up to the hype.
Inside, the Panther was plagued by leaks. Additionally, this machine had a heavy engine, and the front-end weight made it difficult to maneuver.
Sadly, many riders ended up stranded with a smoking engine compartment which is why this gets my vote for the least reliable snowmobile of all time.
If you want to see the 1974 Arctic Cat Panther VIP breaking down and learn about four other famously unreliable snowmobiles, I recommend checking out this video from Glame Top 5.
They show off some of the worst sleds ever built and explain why you should never buy any of them.
Helpful Tips To Know About Why Snowmobiles Are So Unreliable
Any machine subject to bouncing and vibrating at high speeds in subfreezing weather is bound to have some problems.
Despite their issues, snowmobiles are necessary for some people, and they are highly desirable regardless.
Snowmobiling is fun and can get you places in winter you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.
Here are a few more helpful tips to know about why snowmobiles are so unreliable.
- Where and how you ride matters. Avoid top-speed off-trail riding if you want to extend your sled’s working life.
- Manufacturers and designers often build features into electronics that cause them to stop working correctly after a certain period. Doing this forces customers to buy more products. This practice is called planned obsolescence, and though I didn’t put it in the top five reasons snowmobiles are unreliable, it is worth considering as one of the contributing factors.
- Unbalanced snowmobiles are another problem that causes these machines to be unreliable. A lighter body and engine mean more speed and less wear on the internal components, but when a sled is too lightweight, it tips easily. Regrettably, that means they are unreliable to drive and tend to fall, becoming damaged quickly.
- There are plenty of unreliable snowmobile models around. However, if you want to skip right past the bad news and seek out the most reliable sled, you’re looking for a Yamaha that specifically uses a 4-stroke engine. In the snowmobiling community, these are the most trusted and relied upon models, and the Yamaha engines are considered top of the line in durable trustworthiness.
There are lots of factors that contribute to what makes snowmobiles unreliable. Surprisingly, most of the issue has less to do with bad builds than you’d expect.
Snowmobiles are made for incredibly harsh weather, and few riders go out of their way to take the smoothest and least difficult path.
Half the fun is going fast; many riders leave the groomed trails and tackle rough areas or perform stunts and tricks.
All the bouncing and banging, plus normal wear and tear, engine vibration, and subfreezing weather, contribute to faster and more frequent parts failure than most power sports vehicles.
Excellent maintenance and storage practices can help, but snowmobiles can’t possibly avoid everything that makes them break down.