What are the most important things I should check to make sure the sled is in good shape and safely operable? What should I look for in the suspension, skis, tunnel/body and track, headlights, etc.?
First of all talk to the owner and get a history of the sled. Ask questions such as “has it ever been wrecked,” “how long have you owned it,” “have you ever had any issues with it,” “do you have any service records?” From there, give the sled a once over. Take note of how many miles a machine has. DO REASERCH. I can’t stress this part enough. Each brand has had bad years and good years of sleds. Search forums, articles, and talk to your local dealer. Once you’ve decided you want to take a look at it, check to see the owner was correct on the odometer reading. Look for large damage to the tunnel and bulkhead. Look at the sled from the front and the rear and see if everything is straight. Bring a flashlight to look in those dark areas. Inspect that there are no leaks. Look for bad paint jobs or touch ups. Before looking at the sled ask the owner to not start the sled the same day your coming to look at it. When you get there, first put your hand on the engine to ensure they haven’t already ran it. Try starting the sled up. If it fires up with ease that’s a good sign, if it doesn’t you may have a problem that needs to be addressed. Not starting the sled the same day can prevent a shady owner from hiding a hard starting sled and can cost you $$$ in the future.
How do I know if the engine is healthy or if it’s wore out?
If you didn’t bring a compression gauge look for leaks in the engine (leaking crank seal, carb boot cracks or rips, and coolant leak). Does the sled start hard and pull over easily? This could be a sign of low compression. Look at the miles and look at the rest of the sled. General rule is that if the rest of the sled wasn’t taken car of the engine was probably treated the same way. If you did bring a compression gauge you’ll screw it into the spark plug hole and pull the engine over (with the throttle open and key off) about 4-5 times or until the gauge has stabilized. Anything less than 120 psi indicates lower compression. If you’re below 100, you’re guaranteed a rebuild.
What should I be watching for and listening for during a test ride?
Listen to the engine and drivetrain. The engine should be smooth running with no knocking, pinging, rattling, clunking. The drivetrain should also be smooth. Any ratcheting noises, high pitch whines, low rumble rubbing noises can signal a bad bearing, worn bushings, or some worn parts in the drive or track. Make sure all of your lights work, all of the switches function properly, and that you run the sled long enough to ensure the handwarmers (if the sled has them) work.
What are some red flags I should look for that would indicate the sled wasn’t properly maintained, took a beating, was in an accident or took a swim?
Look for cracks in the bulkhead and in the tunnel near your suspension mounting points. These are the first areas of a beat sled to fail. Look for high levels of corrosion, rust, etc. Ask the owner what they used to transport the sled. If they say an enclosed trailer or open trailer with a cover it’s a safe bet there wouldn’t be a ton of corrosion. If they say on a trailer uncovered I’d really examine the sled carefully as salt does its damage quick to sled, and with rust and corrosion the value of the sled goes down and your looking at future problems. As for taking a swim it’s hard to tell but look to see if there are high levels of corrosion in hidden places and maybe pull back some of the wire insulation and see if there is hidden corrosion.
If I decide to buy a used sled, what should I do for maintenance and inspection before I take it out for that first ride?
Inspect it from front to back. I’ve found in many cases what the owner said they did and what they actually did can differ significantly. Park the sled on cement overnight (or if no access to cement place a clean board under the sled) and look for those leaks.
Read Cody’s tips on how to get your snowmobile ready for winter.