2003 was a critical year for the Polaris Sportsman 500 lineup, just having had its breakthrough the year before. Given the situation, the American firm was careful not to overdo the number of its model versions. However, this is not to say that the firm fell short in delivering dependable, quality machines to the public – as you will later discover in this article.
The 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 was the 8th installment in the Sportsman 500 lineup and the antepenultimate production year of the carbureted, H.O. models. Like earlier versions, the Sportsman featured PVT with EBS, fully-independent front and rear suspension, and Mossy Oak® Break-Up™ Camo packages.
Because the Sportsman 500 made headway with the Japanese-dominated, utility-ATV niche, it made sense for Polaris to not only redefine its overall approach with the famous four-wheeled machines but also practice restraint with its special-edition trims. And thanks to the lack of buzz around the launch of the 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500, Polaris was able to cleverly draft the future course the iconic 4×4 would take.
An Insightful Move
Instead of going big and beyond with many offerings, the company did the opposite with the 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500. From its star-studded 2002 selection inclusive of the Remington and Ducks Unlimited editions, Polaris trimmed the product down to three (3) versions, namely:
- 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 HO (High Output, base)
- Model number A03CH50AA
- Model number A03CH50AB
- Model number A03CH50AC
- Model number A03CH50AD
- Model number A03CH50AE
- Model number A03CH50AH
- Model number A03CH50AJ
- Model number A03CH50AU
- 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 HO (High Output, Mossy Oak Camouflage trim)
- 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 6×6
Though not understood at the time, the reason behind Polaris taking a step back with its limited-edition trims is foresight. Cracking the code, so to speak, is not enough to ensure the product line’s continued success. The firm has to anticipate customers’ future riding needs while staying unrelenting in its pursuit of excellence.
To do so, it has to find ways to reinvent its machines’ overall design and functionality without compromising on what is made available for consumers – hence, fewer product versions.
Despite taking out the popular statement trims, consumers did not feel that the then current-year selection was insufficient – thanks to the Mossy Oak® Break-Up™ Camouflage trim. The EBS-equipped base models and hunting-oriented camo versions were plenty enough to choose from.
The 6×6 Sportsman with its 27-inch-longer wheelbase and manual-tilting cargo bed was also there to cater to drivers searching for a more utility-oriented niche vehicle.
2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 Specs & Features
The 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 uses a 4-stroke, liquid-cooled single-cylinder SOHC engine. Like previous-year models, it has a bore-stroke ratio of 92 x 75 mm (3.622 x 2.953 inches) and a compression ratio of 10:1.
Piston displacement is 499 cm3 (30.45 in3), delivered by a 40-mm Constant Velocity Mikuni carburetor with a pressurized dry-sump lubrication system and a single-pipe exhaust. These engine configurations lend to a top-speed rating ranging from 54 to 69 mph (87 to 111 km/h).
Fuel & Lubrication
Oil capacity remains unchanged at 1.89 US quarts/2 liters of SAE 10W-40 4-stroke motor oil. The manufacturer still recommends Polaris Premium 4 Synthetic Lubricant or any API-certified SJ synthetic oil meeting JASO T903 MA standards. Mechanics and veterans advise engine oil without molybdenum additives and of the same viscosity grade.
As for recommended fuel, tank capacity is 5.25 US gallons/19.9 liters of unleaded gasoline and a minimum PON rating of 87/89 (oxygenated/non-oxygenated) or RON 91 rating. Any compatible fuel variant containing no more than 10% ethanol or 5% methanol is permitted for use.
An automatic, torque-sensitive Polaris Variable Transmission with EBS, Hilliard-type clutch assembly (with reverse and an E-Z high-low shifter), and direct rear driveshaft deliver power to the ground. This powertrain offers On-Demand™ AWD/2WD driveline modes controlled by a thumb switch located on the right-hand grip. All other controls, such as the headlight, starter, auxiliary shut-off, and override switches, are housed on the left handlebar.
A solid-state DC-CDI (Capacitor Discharge Ignition) with an ignition timing of 30° ± 2° BTDC @ 3,500 RPM and an electric starting system with an auxiliary recoil starter brings the 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 to life.
This ignition system reduces the quad’s propensity to fail due to moisture or dirt buildup and works with an NGK BKR6E spark plug having a gap of 0.9 mm (0.036 inches). A triple-phase alternator with a 250W rated output serves as its charging system.
For its battery, the ’03 Sportsman 500 utilizes a 12V, 14 Ah/(10 HR) YB14A-A2 format to power up electronic accessories and its 12V DC outlet. If the stock battery is already shot or damaged, you can replace it with a 12V, 12 Ah/(10 HR) YTX14AH-BS battery. You need 10-mm spacers to ensure this battery fits inside the battery box.
Tires & Brakes
Steel wheels pair with tubeless, low-pressure 25 x 8-12 front and 22 x 11-10 rear tires. Cold-tire pressure on all fours is 34.47 kPa (0.35 kg-f/cm2, 5 psi), which can be aired down or inflated following a variety of terrain and manufacturer recommendations. A hydraulic all-wheel lock, a foot brake, and a rear hydraulic opposed piston caliper brake complete the 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 tire-and-wheel assembly.
An independent front MacPherson strut providing 6.25 inches (158.7 mm) of travel and a fully-independent, progressive-rate rear suspension with an anti-roll bar, dual shocks, and 9.5 inches (241.3 mm) of travel comprises the Sportsman 500’s suspension system.
This combo, alongside a minimum (unloaded) ground clearance of 11 inches (279.4 mm), wheelbase of 51 inches (1,285 mm), and turning radius of 5.42 ft (165.1 cm), makes for the 4×4’s maneuverability and superior handling when cornering or traversing technical terrain.
Overall vehicle dimensions – 85 x 46 x 45 inches (2,159 x 1,168 x 1,143 mm – L x W x H) – are evidently different and are a few inches longer and shorter than its 2002 sibling. Seat height and dry weight remain the same at 34 inches (863.6 mm) and 697 lbs (316.1 Kg), respectively.
Towing capacity ranges from 1,225 lbs (556 Kg) to 1,786 lbs (810 Kg) using a brakeless trailer. GVWR is estimated at 1,200 lbs (544 Kg) and is inclusive of the 741-lb (336-Kg) curb weight, 270-lb (122-Kg) total rack capacity, passenger weight, and accessories.
Like other utility-oriented models that came before it, the 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 four-wheeler has a Gen IV steel frame finished in medium gloss black. Plastic body panels are available in standard Sonic Blue, Sportsman Green, red, yellow color options. Understandably, it only offered the Mossy Oak® Break-Up™ brand camouflage version out of the five (5) special-edition trims produced the previous year.
Special trims aside, the ’03 Sportsman shared the same basic features as its predecessors: a full-length skid plate, fenders, full footwells, composite utility racks, hand grips, and handlebars. It also comes with an analog speedometer that can upgrade to a Trail Tech 752-114 Black Vapor Digital Speedometer Tachometer Gauge Kit (view on Amazon).
Single, 12V 60W handlebar-mounted high-beam Halogen headlight, two (2) grille-mounted 12V 27W low-beam lights, 8.26W taillight, 6.9W brake light, and single-watt indicator lights comprise the quad’s lighting system. TURBO SII – Combo Beam Offroad Driving Lights (view deal on Amazon) would be great additions for late-night wheeling applications.
2003 Sportsman 500 Pricing
The list price of the 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 ranges from $6,599 to $6,899, with the base H.O. model being the cheapest and the Mossy Oak® Break-Up™ brand camo trims being the most expensive. 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 parts and package add-ons that bring out the utilitarian prowess of the machine further the base price by $1,720 to $2,265. The same-displacement, 6×6 model has the heftiest price tag of the lot at $7,599.
Retail-wise, the average ’03 Sportsman 500 pricing falls between $1,655 and $2,340 per Nada Guides data. As for auction listings, secondhand units sell for as low as $840 (mostly non-operable) or an average of $2,700. Camouflage trims are rarely found in near-mint condition on trader sites – they are usually more expensive than typical resale values of the quad.
2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 Known Issues
Damaged Fusible Link
A more delicate part of the 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 HO models is its multi-gauge fusible link. A cracked shrink tube or corroded wires can cause this part to be blown. Similarly, running an amp rating higher than 18A through it easily melts its wiring harness, rendering the fusible link unusable.
Aftermarket parts like those created by professional outfitters like NAPA are good spare options and are guaranteed to work like stock parts.
Flooded Belt Housing
This particular problem is more evident in hard-ridden or water-submerged Sportsman 500s, even if owners adhere to the machine’s fording depth limit. To fix this issue, replace old or worn-out seals or remove the entire clutch housing. Doing so helps determine if other troubleshooting steps need to be taken.
Expect brake noises to occur over time since dirt or dust buildup on the brake pads and hydraulic discs cannot be avoided. Depending on how severely or carelessly the 4×4 is used, brake pads would eventually become glazed or excessively worn, and brake discs warped. It does not help that the manufacturer-recommended brake fluid is hygroscopic – one that easily absorbs moisture, eventually reducing brake performance.
Thankfully, doing regular cleaning and inspection of brake components and their alignment help keep squealing at bay. Make sure to check on premature pad wear, warped/loose brake discs and bearings, lever/pedal clearance, and master cylinder ports. Using tried-and-tested, non-flammable aerosol brake cleaners on the disc hub and brake pads helps remove obstructions and other stuck materials in these areas.
Issues with the analog speedometer could mean a problem with the quad’s All-Wheel Drive function. Your speedometer not displaying anything or giving inaccurate readouts are part of the telltale signs that your speedo may be defective. Resolving speedo issues would usually entail power cycling the component (if it were not serious), fixing bad wiring, or replacing the unit entirely. Unfortunately, you may also need to tinker with multi-pin electrical connectors to get the speedometer to work.
Despite releasing only one special-edition trim and High Output base models, the pressure was on for the 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 from the time of its launch. It should come as no surprise since it was the 2nd production model following Polaris’ successful pierce into Japan’s monopoly of the ATV industry.
Many old-time enthusiasts agree the Polaris Sportsman 500 lineup is the most sensible and purpose-appropriate series since Suzuki’s Quadrunner. Even so, it was not able to impress off-road aficionados and end-users until seven years after its inception.
This dual-purpose brute is unquestionably robust and dependable, making them great workhorses and recreational vehicles. Its well-positioned vent and water-resistant wiring are but a few of its praiseworthy qualities. But they are plenty enough to compensate for the Sportsman 500’s speed and power output. After all, the ’03 model is a utility ATV meant for serious mudding and wooded trails.
Polaris is an American manufacturer known for spawning the snowmobile industry. But that is not what the maker of the 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 is revered for. Polaris is the only company to have single-handedly put a stop to the Japanese’ ATV monopoly. And by doing so, it has inspired other automotive manufacturers to follow suit.
From the 1956 Sno Traveler to the 1968 Textron acquisition to the first-ever U.S.-made ATV in 1985, the American firm tirelessly continues to come up with industry innovations and improve its product line. This has consequently turned Polaris into an industry powerhouse recognized for introducing automatic transmission, Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI), and Independent Rear Suspension (IRS) to the market.
Conclusion – 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 Review
As in most things, the year after a successful turnover is almost always neglected but not for Polaris – and the 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 is clear proof of this. Sure, the firm did cut down on the quantity and variety of its standard and special trims but not without a purpose.
After uncovering the formula for winning consumers over, the firm has gone back to the drawing board, carefully planning how else it could make its product offerings better.
It would be another two years before Polaris lets go of its carbureted four-wheelers for good and replaces them with fuel-injected machines. While this was not a course of action everyone can appreciate, it was another step in the right direction for the American manufacturer.
The 2003 Polaris Sportsman 500 nearing the end of its line indeed made its appeal and loyal following grow bigger – a testament to Polaris’ well-thought-out efforts.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.