There is no doubt that the Sportsman 500 series only gets better and better. The evolutionary stage of the product line was highly evident in the 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500. This mean machine had a better look and fit, capable stock tires that could take on diverse terrain, a superb suspension system, and a robust engine excellent for cruising off-pavement with ease. It delivered the kind of punch you would expect from a cross between a sport motorcycle and an SUV – with a twist.
The 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 was the 9th release of the Sportsman 500 lineup since its inception in 1996. This utility ATV retained its capable H.O. base model and added something new – the Sportsman 500 ATP (All-Terrain Pickup), consequently awarded as the 2004 ATV of the Year.
In terms of styling, comfort design, and ingenuity, the 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 was one incredible work-and-play-ready vehicle. Let this guide lead the way as we look more closely into the monstrously powerful and versatile machine that made Polaris an off-road vehicle powerhouse.
Royalty Meets Innovation
In 2004, ATV-royalty Polaris returned to the drawing board and came up with a brilliant idea to reinvent its highly-successful Sportsman 500 lineup. Not that the market was getting bored with what the 500-cc beast had to offer.
It was just the nature of the American manufacturer – to come up with something new and practical for the benefit of its consumers. Hence, the H.O. base models continued while the ATP or All-Terrain Pickup trim was born.
Although Sportsman enthusiasts were already happy with their four-wheeler’s storage, Polaris thought they could further improve it. Keeping the H.O. base model intact, the firm then decided to begin working with the Magnum chassis for the ATP trim and build more storage options into it.
The result was a Sportsman model with a slightly longer wheelbase, front racks-cum-storage box, and a rear mini bed with a manual tilt and a dropping tailgate.
These changes made perfect sense, especially for outdoor adventurers who sometimes feel that storage can be inadequate. Furthermore, the ATP version sported a “Turf” mode – perfect for riding on lawns or golf courses without tearing up the surface.
This extra option resulted in the quad having a three-position driveline switch, which was a first for any ATV at the time. These remarkable additions were enough reason for ATV Magazine to award the four-wheeler as the 2004 ATV of the Year.
2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 Specs & Features
- Engine: A four-stroke, liquid-cooled single-cylinder SOHC engine brings the Sportsman to life. The bore-stroke ratio is 92 x 75 mm (3.625 x 2.955 inches) and compression ratio is 10:2. It has an engine displacement of 498 cm3 (30.45 in3), delivered by a 40-mm Mikuni BST carburetor. It has a dry-sump lubrication system. Fuel tank capacity reduces to 4.75 US gallons/18.1 liters for the H.O. and 3.3 US gallons/12.49 liters for the ATP versus previous-year models. Regular leaded or unleaded gasoline with a minimum PON rating of 87 (oxygenated) or 89 (non-oxygenated) is recommended for use. The maximum power output of the 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 HO is 41.5 HP (30.94 kW/35.28 WHP – based on 15% drivetrain loss). Installing Hot Cams (view on Amazon) in your four-wheeler will gain you a few more ponies.
- Lubrication: 2 US quarts/1.89 liters is the oil capacity. Use SAE 0W-40 Polaris Premium 4 Synthetic Lubricant or any API-certified SJ oil. For best results, use synthetic oil with the correct API classification and one meeting manufacturer specifications and JASO T903 MA standards, such as Castrol EDGE 0W-40 Synthetic Motor Oil (view on Amazon). Note that you may need to do oil change more frequently if not using Premium 4 Synthetic Lubricant. When using other variants, always go for oil without molybdenum additives.
- Drivetrain: A belt-driven automatic Polaris Variable Transmission with compound EBS controls the power, and a direct rear driveshaft delivers it. A side lever (with a high, low, neutral & reverse gearshift pattern) controls shifting. Like older models, the H.O. has dual driveline modes (AWD, 2WD) controlled via a thumb switch found on the right handlebar. To extend belt life, use low forward gear when hauling or operating at less than 7 mph for an extended period. Similarly, jetting adjustment is required when traversing terrain at altitudes above 6,000 feet.
- Ignition: The four-wheeler has a CDI (Capacitor Discharge Ignition) electric start system with a recoil starter for backup. The ignition timing is 30° BTDC @ 5,000 RPM 2° and requires a spark plug (NGK BKR6E) with a 0.036 inch (0.9 mm) gap. It contains an alternator charging system with a rated output of 250 watts. A 12V, 12 Ah 210-CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) battery with assembled dimensions of 5.31 x 3.50 x 6.56 inches (134 x 89 x 166 mm – L x W x H) powers up electronic accessories and a 12V DC outlet. Current YTX14AH battery variants will fit perfectly in the ’04 Sportsman 500.
- Tires & Brakes: Front and back steel wheels use either Rawhide or Titan 25 X 8-12/205/80 R12 tires and 25 X 11-12/ 270/60 R12 tires – both with a recommended tire pressure of 5 psi (34.47 kPa/0.35 kg-f/cm2). Front brakes are hydraulic discs, while rear ones are hydraulic, opposed piston caliper, fixed discs – all secured to the driveline. As a precaution, you should never operate your quad on inclines steeper than 25° and avoid sudden braking.
- Suspension – The 2004 Sportsman 500 uses a MacPherson strut front suspension with 6.7 inches of travel and a progressive-rate fully-independent rear suspension with a stabilizer bar, tubular shock absorbers, and 9.5 inches of travel lends to the 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500’s superior handling. Additionally, its overall turning radius of 5.42 feet (165.1 cm) makes for tight cornering angles. For the Sportsman 500 ATP, rear-wheel travel reduces to 6 inches (152.4 mm) in exchange for a rear swingarm and dump bed.
- Dimensions – The 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 HO’s overall dimensions are 81 x 46 x 47 inches (85 x 46 x 46 inches for the ATP – L x W x H). The minimum ground clearance when unloaded is 11 inches (279 mm), and the wheelbase is 50.5 inches (1,283 mm). It has a dry weight of 697 lbs/316.4 Kg, and the seat height is 34 inches (863.6 mm). Hitch towing rating is 1,225 lbs (556 Kg) and 1,786 lbs (810 Kg) with a brakeless trailer. Tongue weight capacity is 120 lbs (54 Kg) and should not exceed 180 lbs (81.6 Kg) when combined with rear rack weight. GVWR is 1,200-1,500 lbs – a combination of the 740-lb/336.3 Kg (ATP – 765.52-lb/347.23 Kg) curb weight, total rack capacity of 270 lbs (122.5 Kg), plus passengers (either one- or two-up).
- Exterior – Its Gen IV type steel frame has a medium gloss black finish, with a plastic body panel available in yellow and Mossy Oak Break-Up brand camo. Other standard features include front and rear composite utility racks, fenders, brush guards, hand grips and handlebars, full floorboards, and a full-length skid plate. A National Cycle Lexan ATV Windshield (view on Amazon) will be a great addition to the quad for those who often ride in the snow.
- Lighting – Two 27-watt grille-mounted single-beam lights and a 50-watt Halogen pod headlight provide the 4×4 superior light distribution. Lighting also includes an 8.26-watt taillight, 26.9-watt brake light, and single-watt indicator lights. Replacing stock lights with LED ones would be perfect for outdoor and late-night adventures. Trail Tech 752-114 Black Vapor Digital Speedometer Tachometer Gauge Kit (view on Amazon) is handy if your instrument cluster breaks.
- On-Demand AWD/2WD Drive System – This Polaris-exclusive feature activates via a switch found on the right handlebar. It allows the front axles to automatically engage at any time that the rear wheels lose traction. The reverse happens once rear wheels regain traction. The override switch activates AWD when in reverse. For the ATP model, this becomes a three-position switch and includes the newly-added “Turf” mode.
- Lock & Ride Cargo System – This technology allows for easy installation with no tools. It quickly attaches or detaches rear cargo boxes and other accessories when you need access to the four-wheeler’s composite racks.
How Much Does a 2004 Sportsman 500 Cost?
The 9th installment of the Polaris Sportsman 500 lineup saw a $400-decrease in the MSRP of the base H.O. model, sold for $6,599. The special-edition Mossy Oak Break-Up brand camo trim was only $300 more at $6,899 – still cheaper than the list price of the 2001 model. The ATP trim is a steal at $6,999.
This resale amount can go up to $8,499, depending on the choice of trim and whether consumers get a full accessory package with the inclusions of a trailer, high-performance exhaust, and AM/FM Radio-CD with speakers.
Average retail pricing can be anywhere from $1,490 to $2,060. Auction listing and trader sites assess secondhand units between $927 and $3,900. Some defects you can expect from these pre-loved wheelers include AWD not working and torn seat covers. Others are even sold as parts or as a build project.
On the contrary, there are quads in excellent working condition, freshly serviced, and even equipped with a new camshaft and a front toolbox. Mileage averages at 4,500 miles, and total hours are low, with 480 hours being the most. Interestingly, all units for sale do not have titles.
Be on the Qui Vive
Some 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 HO models mainly got it bad due to defective electronic control modules or ECMs that tended to overheat, potentially leading to a fire and burn hazard. Sportsman 500 models A04CH50AO, A04CH50AR, and A04CH50AS were recalled to avoid any serious rider injury, along with other larger-displacement Scrambler and Sportsman vehicles.
Outside of this recall, some common causes of overheating include:
- A poorly maintained or low-voltage battery, engine operation without proper jetting (especially applicable when riding in different altitudes)
- A compromised cooling system, a faulty fan switch, or hot light circuit
- Dirty or plugged radiator screen and core
- Ignoring the Check Engine warning light
Doing proper maintenance of your quad usually prevents overheating from taking place. If not, you will need to reach out to a professional for resolution.
In some cases, symptoms for this issue could be mistaken for leaking gas into the oil. A tad confusing as it would typically present itself in other ways like running rich or a hydro-lock during start-up. In truth, the culprit is a leaking carburetor needle valve. When the carb needle valve does not shut off the fuel flow into the bowl, the latter fills up and causes the excess to go up through the main jet holder, into the manifold, and then the motor.
Despite the presence of a fuel pump and the motor turned off, fuel still flows. Likewise, a plugged fuel tank vent will cause pressure buildup in the tank, keeping the needle from seating. Ultimately, it requires carb work after you have done all initial steps.
To fix this problem:
- Completely drain the float with the drain screw, then turn on the gas. This step opens the needle all the way and enables the incoming fuel to flush out dirt (or any other type of obstruction) from the needle and seat.
- For good measure, replace the float needle seat, O-ring, and needle valve. Float level tolerances are a bit critical, too. A combination of hard and cold needle surface, tension loss in the needle spring, and a slightly higher float level are all that you need to cause an overflow.
- That said, measure the float height from the mating surface of the carb/bowl to the top of the float at the center, with the float bowl removed and laid down on a flat surface.
- With both floats parallel to one another and without compressing the float spring, the measurement should be 13 mm (.51 inch) ± 1 mm.
The probable causes and corresponding fixes for backfiring/misfiring on an ’04 Sportsman 500 are comparable to what any rider will encounter on older models. Your 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 service manual pdf is an excellent reference in these situations, providing troubleshooting charts that are easy to understand and perform. Fouled or defective spark plugs, clogged air filters, and fuel vent lines are among the first areas to inspect. Your owner’s manual also gives specific instructions to contact your Polaris dealer if the problem source is:
- Improper installation of plug wires
- Incorrect ignition timing
- A reverse speed limiter/electronic control malfunction
- Or any other type of mechanical failure
2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 Pros and Cons
If you are thinking about buying a Sportsman, it is best to know both the good and bad qualities of this iconic off-road vehicle. The 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 has undergone some evolutionary changes but has yet to reach the point of perfection in overall mechanism and function.
- Great attention to detail in terms of aesthetics and build. The plastics fit better against previous-year releases.
- A new, sleek pod with an industry-first tachometer is on the 2004 model. It houses the instrumentation of the quad and contains the choke knob that tremendously helps when cold-starting.
- The PVT’s continued use is welcome news for nouveau riders and off-roaders who do not prefer shifting.
- Features like the throttle, high saddle height, and full floorboards make the quad suitable for long trail rides.
- The On-Demand AWD/2WD Drive System works great and is sure to get you unstuck in any situation.
- Stock Rawhide/Titan tires are great overall performers either on a wooded trail or slick, muddy surfaces and make handling predictable regardless of the kind of terrain.
- You can access both the oil dipstick and filter without removing extra panels first.
- The 4×4 also comes with a winch-mounting area from the factory.
- Nothing beats the Independent Rear Suspension on the trails.
- It has plenty of power for a 500-class, mid-sized ATV.
- For the ’04 ATP trim, some notable mentions include the increased wheelbase, front racks with a storage box, rear cubbies built in the rear fenders, and a mini dump bed.
- “Turf” mode is exclusive to the ATP trim, making the 4×4 ride gentler on fragile surfaces.
- IRS may not be the best for hauling due to the squat you get in the rear.
- The tachometer tends to be slow-reacting, especially with declining RPMs.
- Single-lever brake operation for all four wheels can be quite troublesome.
- You need to be at least at 2,800 RPM to get the desired throttle responsiveness.
- The On-Demand All-Wheel Drive System only works in 4WD and reverse when you push the override button.
- EBS functionality can be detrimental when going down steep, rocky descents. That leaves riders with no option to use brakes in this type of situation.
- A rear swingarm replaces the Independent Rear Suspension on the ’04 ATP trim, as only a swingarm can support this particular trim’s towing capabilities. The downside of this change is a shorter rear-wheel travel.
- The “Turf” mode on the ATP trim makes the four-wheeler wander off on the trail.
Polaris Inc. is an American firm known for spawning the snowmobile industry. Acquired by Textron, Inc. in 1968, it began as a farm equipment manufacturer before it entered the world of snowmobiles in 1954. By 1956, the company was already recognized for its success with the Sno Traveler and amid increasing its product line.
Since then, Polaris has become a key player in the ATV landscape, successfully bringing the U.S. its first-ever American-made ATV in 1985. The maker of the 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 did not stop there and continued venturing into other industries, leading to the advent of automatic transmission, Independent Rear Suspension (IRS), and Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI).
Conclusion – 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 Review
The 2004 Polaris Sportsman 500 model may well be the much-needed turning point of the Sportsman lineage. It is both a show of foresight and strength of the brand. While it makes sense not to reinvent what already works, it is a more strategic course of action (for any manufacturer) to take calculated risks. With the All-Terrain Pickup trim, Polaris did just that while keeping the High Output base models available for more traditional customers.
Very few to no ATP models are up for sale or auction, which only proves that it is indeed a keeper. If you come across one, grab the opportunity and do not think twice. But if you cannot live without a longer rear-wheel travel and IRS, the H.O. trim is the way to go.
Both quads have motorcycle-like mannerisms, provides good traction on technical surfaces, and are great for serious work and fun. Either option is a fantastic way to experience what Polaris has to offer.
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.