How To: Detail a Sled

October 21, 2008
Filed under How To

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A principle of psychology says that the whole is equal to more than the sum of its parts. While this theory refers to the study of the human mind, it can relate to the job of restoring the condition of an older, dirty snowmobile, too.

A roached-out sled consists of many dirty components. The plastic is dull, the seat is faded and under the hood, it’s greasier than a box of McDonald’s french fries. But if a person takes the time to clean and detail each one of those parts carefully, the snowmobile will look like new and, theoretically, be more fun to ride and have increased value to its owner.

If the last time your sled had a bath was the day you hauled it away new from the dealership, now’s the time to roll it out under the autumn sun and wash it before the weather turns cold. We’re not talking about a run-of-the-mill wash job where you splash it with soap and water and call it good. This is a deep-down, on-your-hands-and-knees, dirt-under-the-fingernails cleaning that degreases the engine, cleans the suspension rails, polishes the hood and strips away the grease from the spindles.

With everything clean as new, you’ll look forward to another season behind the handlebars on your older sled rather than come up with excuses not to ride it this winter.

Degrease Under The Hood

Start by spraying engine degreaser on the exhaust ports and near the oil reservoir. Most degreasers should be applied to dry surfaces and allowed to break down the mess for a few minutes before rinsing, but follow the directions on the container to be sure.

A grease-cutting cleaner like Simple Green can be sprayed on everything else under the hood, including the exhaust pipe heat shield, air box and nosepan. After a few minutes, use a hose to rinse the surfaces with water. If necessary, re-apply the degreaser and rinse again until the water runs clean.

Electrical parts on modern sleds can tolerate overspray pretty well, but nonetheless, avoid spraying water directly on those components. If the clutches get wet, fire up the engine and run the track around a few times to spin-dry the pulleys.

Lots Of Soap And Water

Wash the hood, tunnel, seat and nose pan with a rich, soapy lather — preferably with warm water — while the degreaser does its work. Dish soap works well, but it will cut any wax or polish that might be on the hood. If you wash the sled under direct sunlight, do a small section at a time to prevent spots and streaks. Rinse the sled until water runs clean.


Look closely at the nose pan after it has dried. If it still looks dirty, spray a mist of Simple Green on it to break down the dirt, then use a stiff-bristle scrub brush and more soap and water to remove the grime. Really stubborn stains — like exhaust residue — will need to be rubbed down with contact cleaner or carburetor cleaner and a rag or scuff pad. Test an inconspicuous area to make sure the cleaner or pad doesn’t damage the surface.

Clean Steering

Spindles and ski saddles are especially prone to become a greasy, grimy mess. They usually get a few shots of grease as part of routine maintenance, but most people don’t remove the excess grease that squirts out. This holds dirt, sand, road salt and grime.

Start by removing the extra grease with a finger, then wipe it clean with a shop towel. Regularly use a clean portion of the towel to prevent smearing the grease you just removed. With the grease gone, spray the spindles and skis with Simple Green, scrub them with soap and water and a stiff brush, then rinse.


Shiny Metals

Aluminum parts like the suspension rails and tunnel should be sprayed with Simple Green and allowed to soak for a few minutes. Then, scrub the parts with warm, soapy water. You might wonder, “Why should I bother cleaning the suspension rails?” But you’ll be surprised at how well they shine up with a little elbow grease. And remember, you want each visible component to be clean so the whole sled looks its best.

Vinyl And Plastic Restoration

Seat covers turn dull if they’re exposed to the sun, but their finish can be restored with a little extra effort.

Spray WD-40 on a shop towel and rub the vinyl to bring back its clean appearance. This works on handle bar pads, too. You can also use WD-40 to restore the shine of under hood heat-deflection tape and to detail plastic nose pans or side panels.

When you’re done cleaning/shining the plastic, rub the A-arms and steering rods with the towel. This will clean the parts and protect the metal from corrosion while restoring their shine.

Coat Of Wax

Wax or polish will protect the hood for the next five-or-so years until you wash the sled again. First, polish the hood to remove the dull finish and fine scratches, then rub in a good coat of wax to make it shine. Revive bare aluminum with a metal polish. A quick, light coat will restore its factory appearance, or rub until your arm falls off to make it look like chrome.

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