Safe Sledding: Starting Your Snowmobile (Randy Toth)
Published on Friday, January 7, 2011 in Guest Columns, News & Updates, Safety
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Starting your snowmobile may seem like a very simple and safe operation. It generally is, but occasionally this simple act can turn embarrassing, costly, or even deadly when “Sleds Go Wild.” It is quite an experience to witness a snowmobile start right up and then suddenly accelerate rapidly and rider-lessly across a parking lot, narrowly missing some fellow riders before plowing into a brand new pickup truck and causing thousands of dollars worth of damage to the truck. Luckily you have insurance. You do have insurance, don’t you?

  • Let’s backup and start at the beginning. Before even attempting to start your sled, you should verify that the preseason sled readiness checklist has been successfully completed. This checklist should include the following items:
  • Gas: Fully fill the gas tank with fresh gas.
  • Oil: Fully fill the oil injection reservoir (2-stroke engine) or the engine oil reservoir (4-stroke engine).
  • Coolant: Check and top off the liquid coolant reservoir if your engine is liquid cooled.
  • Chaincase: Check and top off the chaincase reservoir.
  • Grease: Grease the suspension fittings (not necessary if you did this when you put the sled away.)
  • Battery: Check the battery condition and charge or replace if necessary.
  • Frozen Parts: Check the throttle, brakes, steering, track, skis, and suspension to be sure they are operable.
  • Warn Parts: Check the ski runners, track slides, starter rope and brakes for wear.
  • Loose Parts: Check your entire sled for loose nuts, bolts and electrical connections.
  • Electrical: Check for proper operation of your lights, handlebar warmers, and other electrical equipment.

Now we are ready to go over the basics of safely starting your snowmobile:

  • Be sure your sled is not frozen to the ground.
  • Be sure your suspension is not frozen. If it is, then get help and lift the rear end up in the air and drop it to clear the suspension of frozen material.
  • Be sure your sled is pointed away from people and property in case it suddenly takes off.
  • Be sure your steering mechanism works freely.
  • Be sure your brake works.
  • Be sure your throttle is not sticking.
  • Be sure you have your helmet securely fashioned if you plan to sit on the sled while starting it.
  • Be sure your tether contact is securely attached.
  • Be sure your kill switch is in the operate position.
  • Be sure your fuel line valve is in the on position if you normally turn it off while transporting your sled.
  • Be sure your key is turned to the on position.
  • Be sure to set the choke to the appropriate position (full, half, or off) depending upon the current sled temperature.
  • You are now ready to activate the starter either manually or electrically. When the engine starts, release the starter switch and gradually back off on the choke as your sled warms up. Be sure to let it warm up for a few minutes, especially if it is very cold out, before starting off on your ride.

I assume you remembered to have your tools, spare parts, owner’s manual and emergency equipment stowed away on your sled. I also assume you have an up-to-date State Registration and Trail Pass. If going out of state you may also need Proof of Insurance and a Safety Certificate to ride legally.

Please remember that ride planning is an additional important safety consideration that should take place well before starting up your sled for a ride. Be sure to check the weather report for possible storms, expected low temperatures and wind chill. Dress appropriately and make sure you have a “Riding Buddy.” Let someone know your riding plans and don’t change them after you take off. Have a great ride! Randy Toth is a certified snowmobile safety instructor.

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