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15 Tips for Buying a Used Snowmobile: What to Look For

Snowmobiling offers an easier way to navigate snowy landscapes. However, it entails sound riding skills and an equally dependable machine. Opting for a used snowmobile can be a budget-friendly approach — provided you follow the guidelines outlined in this article.

When buying a used snowmobile, check the rig’s engine capacity, safety features, documentation, and overall condition. It is also good to gain insights into average market prices and compatibility with aftermarket parts.

Don’t worry if you are new to scouting secondhand sleds. We will break down the process in detail in today’s guide.

Man in Red Jacket Riding Green Snowmobile

Tips When Buying Used Snowmobiles

Since this guide focuses on considerations when buying a used snowmobile, it is necessary to reiterate the different types of snowmobiles covered in one of my recent posts. The reason is that not all the tips provided here will universally apply to all these snow rigs. Hence, knowing which snow rig meets certain conditions is crucial.

With this in mind, here is a quick rundown of the seven snowmobile categories:

Entry-Level or Trail

  • Cost-effective for novices
  • Offers easy handling
  • Suitable for exploring groomed trails and moderate terrains
  • Caters to recreational riders


  • Narrow and agile designs for tight spaces
  • Excels in alpine and backcountry with specialized components
  • Powerful engines
  • Advanced features akin to entry-level or trail models


  • Offers a versatile blend of trail and backcountry capabilities with a hybrid design
  • Longer tracks
  • Impressive maneuverability
  • Typically powered by 600—1,000cc engines


  • Features torque-oriented 4-stroke engines and distinct with broader tracks and robust designs
  • Ideal for practical applications like transportation and towing


  • Combine utility and sportiness
  • Features robust engines
  • Advanced suspensions
  • Ample cargo space
  • Excels in both work and play on trails


  • Precision-crafted for speed and agility
  • Features aerodynamic designs
  • Powerful, lightweight mills
  • Advanced suspension systems
  • Best suited for advanced riders in competitive racing

Multi-Seater or Touring

  • Boast reliable 4-stroke engines
  • Ergonomic designs
  • Ample storage options for extended trips
  • Comfort for multiple riders

Even in secondhand condition, these snowmobiles will differ in the durability of crucial components and their ability to withstand wear and tear. Their intended use and compatibility with a rider’s skill level may also influence perceived benchmarks for reasonable pricing for these machines.

All these factors warrant thoughtful pondering and bring us to the gist of today’s article — which is knowing what to look for when procuring a used snowmobile (as detailed below):

1. Verify VIN and Registration

The first thing I strongly recommend you do when buying a used snowmobile is to confirm that its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) matches the registration and is valid. This item may be further down the list of some snowmobile enthusiasts. But for most riders, this is often a dealbreaker since snowmobiles require a VIN and registration to legally ride on designated trails.

Naturally, requirements vary by region. Nonetheless, snowmobilers need to adhere to specific trail-riding regulations. Similarly, it is important that you verify this information and their corresponding documents during the purchasing process.

The VIN on a snowmobile is typically located on the right side of the machine, under the hood, or near its front. Once spotted, verify that it is not altered or tampered with. The location can vary depending on the rig’s make and model, so consulting the owner’s manual or the manufacturer is highly advised.

2. Check Maintenance Records

Request and review the snowmobile’s maintenance history to gauge how well it has been cared for. To add, research and inquire about the riding history of the used snowmobile and past repair costs — these should provide you insights into the severity of potential abuse the sled has been subjected to.

Relative to this, here are some red flags to look out for once you have the unit’s paperwork in hand:

  • Blatant unwillingness from the seller to share comprehensive maintenance records or hesitation in providing specific details about the snowmobile’s history
  • Missing or incomplete information in the service log, such as gaps in service dates or unclear descriptions of performed tasks
  • Unverifiable documentation relating to the provided maintenance records, especially if they lack official stamps, signatures, or receipts from reputable service providers
  • Lack of or limited repair information regarding major repairs or overhauls, which could be crucial in understanding the snowmobile’s current overall condition
  • Generalized or vague descriptions of maintenance activities without specific details on adjustments made, parts replaced, or issues addressed
  • Mismatched information or inconsistencies between the maintenance records and the seller’s statements about the snowmobile’s usage, repairs, or modifications
  • Sellers who exhibit a lack of or limited knowledge about their rig’s maintenance history or are unable to answer specific questions about past services — a reasonable cause for skepticism, especially for snowmobiles with multiple previous owners
  • Recent repairs or modifications that have been mentioned but are not supported by documentation
  • Ambiguity or inconsistency in mileage readings or usage patterns

3. Inspect Overall Condition

If you find no loopholes in your prospective snowmobile’s maintenance records, proceed with scrutinizing the entirety of the machine. Examine its body, chassis, and suspension for signs of damage, wear, or rust. See if cosmetic flaws are limited to scratches, buffs, and thinning body paint or are more considerable, like cracks or dents.

While exterior damage may not always indicate internal issues, certain types can suggest potential problems. Examples include a cracked chassis and front-end damage. The former usually points to structural weaknesses affecting the overall integrity of the rig. Meanwhile, the latter might suggest a collision that could translate to issues with the drive system, suspension, steering, or alignment.

4. Assess Size and Engine Capacity

Upon thoroughly inspecting the snowmobile, determine if it matches you. Consider its size and engine displacement, ensuring compatibility with your skill level and intended application. Additionally, ensure the machine’s engine compression is within the OEM-specified range.

The size and capacity of the power mill, concerning its heft, shape the snowmobile’s power-to-weight ratio and other competencies. This, in turn, influences the machine’s top speed, acceleration, and overall performance. Balancing these facets, your skill level, frequented terrains, and the rig’s intended use is important.

5. Prioritize Safety Features

Look into the functionality of safety features like brake levers, throttle limiters for beginners, and safety tethers or kill switches. It would be a plus if your prospective snowmobile comes equipped with hand guards and heated grips, an engine overheat warning system, a roll cage (for certain touring snowmobiles), or a polycarbonate windshield (view on Amazon).

6. Evaluate Skis

Once the preceding items check out, visually inspect the skis for structural deformities or excessive wear — particularly at the keel and edges. Snowmobile skis (view on Amazon) should be robust and have no signs of impact-induced warping. To ascertain this, pull them up to look at the wear pads and replace the latter if they appear flat.

Other than these parts, inspect the wear bars or runners, carbides, skags, spindles or tie rod ends, and ski-mounting hardware for significant wear, looseness, or misalignment. Affected components should be immediately tended to or replaced, as they can adversely impact traction control, handling, and steering if neglected.

7. Scrutinize the Track and Suspension

Like the above, inspect the condition of the track, suspension, and sliders for excessive wear or any damage. The track, in particular, should not have tears, exposed cords, or any missing lugs. It should also have proper tension and alignment compliant with OEM-recommended specifications.

As for the suspension and its components, test them for smooth operation and look for any leaks. Include the shocks, suspension arms, rails, and slide rails in your inspection, keeping your eyes peeled for signs of damage or bending. Test the suspension movement by compressing and releasing it, ensuring there is no binding or unusual noises. Do the same for the rear suspension (if there is one).

8. Examine the Drive Belt

Since the drive belt transfers power from the engine to the track, it should be next on your “to-inspect” list. Assess its overall condition by examining the following areas:


Look for wear, fraying, or damage (especially on the edges). Likewise, check for cracks, tears, or separations between the cords. Apart from aging, such damage can suggest potential drive belt issues or stress on the belt material.


If your prospective snowmobile has a cogged or notched belt, inspect the teeth for wear or damage since this can affect performance.


Assess the drive belt’s tension. It should not be too loose or too tight. Check belt deflection, too, applying pressure to the center of the belt and seeing if there is excessive deflection or lack of movement. Revert to OEM specifications for proper tension if the tension falls outside these parameters.


Ensure that the drive belt is aligned correctly on the pulleys. Misalignment can have several negative consequences — uneven belt wear, inefficient power transfer from the driven clutch to the track, and reduced belt life.

Burn Marks

Look for any burn marks on the drive belt. Examining these marks is crucial as they indicate potential overheating or slipping issues during operation. Overheating may result from excessive friction or prolonged engagement. Slipping, on the other hand, can occur when the belt fails to grip the pulleys adequately.

Oil or Grease

Inspect the belt for any oil or grease contamination signs. A belt with oil or grease stains may experience reduced traction. Such contamination can compromise the belt’s grip on the pulleys, resulting in power transfer inefficiency and untimely belt wear.

9. Inspect the Clutch

When examining a used snowmobile’s clutch (view on Amazon), ensure overall component health — focusing on wear, belt dust accumulation, and proper spring tension for smooth engagement. Verify clutch alignment to prevent uneven wear, inspect for visible cracks, assess roller condition, and check bushings for wear that could affect precision.

Keep an eye out for oil contamination while at it, as it may cause slipping. At the same time, listen for unusual noises during engagement. Finally, do not forget to test the reverse system’s functionality to comprehensively assess the clutch system’s condition and performance.

10. Test Brakes

While item #5 involves ascertaining the working safety features of used snowmobiles, this particular tip entails looking more closely into the functionality of the rig’s braking system and verifying that it does not negatively impact braking efficiency. This means ensuring the latter is functional and that brake pads have sufficient life.

To do this:

  1. Check the brake discs or drums for signs of excessive wear or scoring.
  2. Examine the brake pads for thickness, ensuring they have sufficient material for safe operation.
  3. Assess the brake lines for any visible damage or leaks.
  4. Test the brake lever or pedal for responsiveness and check if the brakes engage smoothly sans unusual noises.

11. Gauge the Steering System

As soon as you are done with the brakes, proceed to examine the snowmobile’s steering mechanism. Begin by checking for any play or looseness in the handlebars, ensuring they turn smoothly without resistance. Inspect the tie rods and bushings for signs of wear or damage.

Assess the snowmobile’s responsiveness to steering inputs, seeing that it allows for precise control. Verify the skis’ alignment with the handlebars to guarantee straight tracking. If the handlebars are challenging to turn or there is significantly visible wear or damage on steering components, then chances are the rig’s steering system is problematic or misconfigured.

12. Examine Electrical Components

This is one of the more labor-intensive checks you must do on a snowmobile. However, there is only so much of a prospective snowmobile you can tinker with — provided permission is granted by the seller. Nonetheless, you should seize the opportunity when given, as the state of a sled’s electrical circuitry can provide valuable insights into its working condition and potential performance hiccups.

That said, inspect the battery’s condition and connections, ensuring they are corrosion-free. Evaluate the functioning of the snowmobile’s lighting assembly, confirming they illuminate appropriately. Ensure the wiring has no exposed wires or signs of damage. Test the ignition system to verify consistent starting and assess the performance of additional components like hand warmers and the gauge cluster.

13. Check for Fluid Leaks

If the snowmobile you are eyeing is in questionable shape, you should have already come across fluid leaks at this stage of your inspection. Otherwise, now is the time to focus on this aspect.

To start, examine the engine and its surrounding areas for any signs of oil, coolant, or brake fluid — paying mind to the engine case, hoses, and connections. Check shock absorbers (view on Amazon), suspension components, and the sled’s underside for drips or puddles. Additionally, inspect the coolant and brake fluid reservoirs for proper levels and signs of seepage.

14. Survey the Exhaust System

We are down to the last area of a used snowmobile that needs checking — its exhaust system. Inspecting it is crucial as it directly impacts engine performance, emissions, and overall reliability. A well-maintained exhaust system ensures proper fuel combustion. In contrast, a problematic one reduces power and contributes to increased emissions and propensities for engine damage.

To avoid being caught off-guard by such consequences, it is wise to scrutinize the entire system for rust, cracks, or visible damage at the point of sale. Pay close attention to the muffler (view on Amazon), exhaust pipe, and joints when performing this check. If you have not already done so, check for oil or coolant leakage around exhaust connections. Then, start the snowmobile and listen for unusual sounds like hissing or rattling.

15. Test-Drive the Snowmobile

Assuming you have already arranged (or are currently in) a meeting with the seller, test-drive the snow rig after completing the preceding items in this checklist. This final step allows you to validate your initial findings, assess the snowmobile’s operational status, and detect subtle indicators of potential misuse or neglect that you may have overlooked earlier.

Most sellers are amenable to this practice, so do not hesitate to ask! A test drive is the best way to get a feel of the snowmachine and see if its capabilities resonate with you as a rider.

Average Cost of a Used Snowmobile

Regardless of skill level, budget — or the lack thereof — significantly influences a snowmobile enthusiast’s purchase. Depending on the rig’s close-to-pristine condition and one’s financial capacity, a rider could acquire their dream sled, a reputable but slightly older machine, or a less-powerful but budget-friendly alternative.

This is not to say that all affordable options are always subpar, as some secondhand units sell for as low as $1,000. But often, these models are at least a decade old (if not sold for parts).

Naturally, the best deals often occur during warmer months, presenting an abundance of secondhand snowmobiles in the used market. If your make and model of choice is relatively new, consider checking if local dealerships offer discounts and promotions. Otherwise, you need only find a trusted seller before haggling your way to a reasonably priced snowmobile.

Outside these scenarios, used snowmobile prices can differ considerably based on brand, features, condition, and market dynamics. On average, secondhand units cost between $2,000 and $9,000. That said, a budget of $3,000—$5,000 can already secure a quality deal — a snowmobile in great working condition with several aftermarket enhancements.

Note, however, that this quote significantly increases for performance-oriented, limited edition, and collectible snowmobile models.

Conclusion — Buying a Used Snowmobile

As established in this guide, buying a used snowmobile demands careful consideration and a systematic approach. Thankfully, the tips shared here encompass essential aspects — from verifying the sled’s usage and repair history to inspecting critical components. By following these guidelines, you are assured of an informed purchasing decision — irrespective of your budget and riding expertise.

Hopefully, this knowledge enables you to confidently embark on memorable winter adventures with a soon-to-be-yours, reliable snowmobile!