Snowmobile Clutches: Purpose & How to Clean Them

Snowmobile Clutches Purpose & How to Clean Them

How do snowmobile clutches work? What is their purpose and how do you clean them?

Well, for a skiing enthusiast, this is just a simple, handy component to help move back and forth and make u-turns. However, for the average owner, snowmobile clutches can be a pain in the neck. That’s because they don’t work like a normal clutch, and they fail at a very high rate.

The Snowmobile clutch is an amazing part of the vehicle. It is an integral part of the engine and an important component that performs crucial tasks such as keeping the snowmobile’s engine in sync with the track to provide better traction, control, and overall performance.

While we’re on the subject, a dirty snowmobile clutch can lead to several problems that may affect the handling of the vehicle, and lead to power reduction. So it’s only right that you ask yourself what the purpose of snowmobile clutches is, how they work, and how to clean them.

Here’s a quick rundown of the key functions of a snowmobile clutch.

What Is The Purpose Of A Snowmobile Clutch

What Is The Purpose Of A Snowmobile Clutch

From a distance, snowmobile clutches look like the same kind found on ATVs. However, they are much different not only mechanically, but also in their design.

The main function of a snowmobile clutch is to smoothly transfer power from the engine to the jackshaft and to cut the connection when the engine is in neutral to keep the machine from rolling all the time. It serves to deliver power to the engine so that the snowmobile travels smoothly and quietly, reducing the overall vibration from the drive.

A snowmobile clutch system, therefore, is a type of continuously variable transmission (CVT). As it keeps the engine running at its maximum RPM without shifting into a higher gear, the clutch system assists the user in maneuvering their snowmobile uphill in heavy powder snow.

Snowmobiles are basically made with a clutch so users don’t have to worry about a manual shift. The CVT clutch system means that the snowmobile can have an infinite number of gears, unlike the five or six associated with an automatic auto commonly found in cars.

The CVT mechanism is what allows for this infinite number of gears. It just moves up/down so every time you stop decelerating or accelerating you’ll be in the appropriate gear for that speed. The clutch also saves wear and tear on the engine, track, and various other parts.

Even though the clutch does a lot, it is still a relatively simple mechanism compared to other components of the snowmobile. Here’s how a snowmobile clutch works.

How Does A Snowmobile Clutch Work

How Does A Snowmobile Clutch Work

The clutch system of a snowmobile is made up of two clutches or pulleys that are connected by a drive belt. There’s the primary snowmobile clutch and the secondary one.

Starting with the p primary clutch, it’s located in the engine crankshaft. There’s a pressure spring that keeps the two halves of this primary clutch apart when the engine’s RPM is low.

When the engine starts accelerating, the clutch weights produce adequate centrifugal force to lose the clutch, which allows the belt drive to move freely and transmit enough power.

The secondary clutch, meanwhile, is connected to the tracking mechanism, which powers the tracks and turns the wheel. A spring then drives the cams (wedges), which push together and tighten the belt as the engine RPM rises and the primary transmit power increases.

The process continues until the snowmobile starts to accelerate. Once the snowmobile hits its top speed, the primary clutch loosens, and then it shifts the belt into a higher gear. And when the snowmobile needs less power to speed up than it did to start, the secondary clutch opens.

The final drive ratio of the CVT system rises with an increase in engine speed, hence the name continuously variable transmission. This is the difference between the decrease in track speed and the engine speed. A snowmobile clutch system is comparable to an automobile with an endless number of gears on an automated gearbox where you never notice a shift.

How To Check a Snowmobile Clutch

How To Check a Snowmobile Clutch

As a general rule, you should inspect your snowmobile clutch at least once a year. However more regular inspections are always beneficial. The two clutches might wear down very quickly since they rotate so fast just like the engine crankshaft.

To check the clutch in your snowmobile, you will need to remove the cover. And if you’re interested in a more thorough inspection, you’ll need to take it apart and disassemble it. This might be effective given that most wear and tear cannot be visible from the exterior.

It’s recommended that you change the clutch springs annually for safety reasons. So, even though it’s a bit of a hassle, you should remove the clutch from your sled every year, especially if you ride the sled more often or hard. This is the most effective way to inspect and maintain its internal components. Do you want to know how to take the clutch out?

How Do You Clean Snowmobile Clutches

How Do You Clean Snowmobile Clutches

Well, as mentioned, a snowmobile features two clutches, a primary clutch, and a secondary clutch. Both of these need to be disassembled for cleaning, which can be a little trickier than simply cleaning them.

There are two ways to clean snowmobile clutches. The first approach is the quick clean. This is where you keep the clutches on the sled and perform a quick clean on the sheaves.

The second approach is deep or complete cleaning. With this method, you’ll have to remove the clutches and do a complete deep clean as the name suggest.

Here’s what you need to clean your snowmobile clutch:

  • Clutch or brake cleaner
  • Snap ring pliers
  • Socket wrenches
  • Scrubbing pads
  • Air compressor (optional)
  • Clutch puller (optional)

Start By Removing the Belt

The first thing is to remove the belt that connects both the primary and secondary clutches. This is how you get to remove the clutches for proper cleaning. The process of doing this might differ from machine to machine, but the idea of cleaning is the same.

The most common and easiest way to remove the belt is by using an L-bolt kind of tool to lengthen and reduce the belt from the secondary clutch. So you’ll need to screw this tool until the belt is sufficiently loose. Once the belt is off, you can proceed and check for any damages.

Now that the belt is off, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clean the clutches. Remember there are two approaches to doing this: one is quick cleaning, and the other is deep cleaning.

Quick Cleaning Clutches (Without Removing Clutches)

This is where you get to clean the clutches without removing them from the machine once the belt has been taken off. Check out these instructions and do one clutch at a time. In order to prevent the engine from starting while you are cleaning, make sure the kill switch is turned on.

This method is usually suitable if you don’t have time to remove the clutches for deep cleaning.

Grab the air compressor and use it to remove all of the dirt, grit, and debris that has accumulated around the clutch components as well as the sheave area. It’s a good idea to put on safety goggles and a mask in this step.

After that, take the brake cleaner and spray it on both sheaves. It’s also a good idea to soak things quite well so that you can remove whatever you’ve loosened using the air compressor.

Next, use the abrasive pad to rub the sheaves (also known as the clutch faces). This can be a bit labor-intensive. But you’ll need to grab an abrasive pad, reach inside, and begin cleaning. The point here is to polish up the sheaves.

Keep rotating the clutch as you scrub so that you can access the entire surface and get the whole thing scrubbed up well. It may take some time, but it’s necessary for proper cleaning.

Deep Cleaning Method (With Clutches Removed)

Deep Cleaning Method (With Clutches Removed)

Although the quick clean technique is better than doing nothing at all, there are cases where performing a deep clean would be necessary, at least once every season. It involves more work and takes a little longer, but you’ll be able to clean the clutch more thoroughly in every way.

In fact, deep cleaning is something you should do if you’ve got time.

Now, to get along with this method, you’ll need to first remove the belt as discussed above. the clutches should be taken out of the machine as well.

After that, get an impact wrench and use it to remove the clutch bolt from the hub of the clutch. Then use a clutch puller to get the clutch out. Put the clutches on a table or bench.

Start removing the fasteners holding the clutch together. Instead of an impact wrench, however, use a hand wrench. Pay attention to how each component fits for reassembly.

Remove the spacers and clutch weights. You’ll realize that the spring will force the two clutch sections apart once the bolts binding them together have been removed. Check and clean the spring as well.

Once you’ve taken everything apart, get the brake cleaner and spray it everywhere you notice dirt, dust, or grime. Spray brake cleaner liberally and be sure to cover every inch.

After that, use an abrasive pad to scrub. This is where actual deep cleaning starts.

Scrub the sheaves properly as described in step 2, including all interior parts. Clean anything you can reach, including the clutch weight, rollers, and the underside of the sheaves, as well as the parts surrounding clutch components.

You might want to use a toothbrush or something similar for this kind of deep cleaning. Also, note that since you have the complete clutch unit dismantled, it will take you some time to polish everything, so be careful to do a nice job.

Once you’re done, resemble the clutches and mount them back onto the sled. Check to ensure that the clutch bolts are torqued to specification. Then install the belt as follows:

Installing The belt

After properly cleaning the clutches, the last thing is to reinstall the belt. Remember to check the belt for damage, as described before, and be sure to replace it if necessary.

You don’t necessarily need to replace the belt every time you clean the clutches, but it’s a good idea to change it after every season so you know it will be in good working condition.

Why You Should Clean Your Snowmobile Clutch

Why You Should Clean Your Snowmobile Clutch

You should clean your snowmobile clutch regularly as part of general maintenance. And this is why:

A dirty clutch might result in a number of issues. For instance, the grit and dust that gather from the friction of the belt can easily start to build up and even get into the carbs. This can lead to problems such as poor performance, engine bogging, and issues related to acceleration.

In fact, a dirty snowmobile clutch is almost the same as a carb issue. The faulty clutch will tend to stick, making the engine act as if it’s not delivering enough power. In some cases, you might even hear a nose as you come to a stop, which is a sign that your clutch is messed up.

You can clean the clutch a couple of times using the quick clean approach and then perform the deep clean once every season. This way, you won’t have to fiddle with the carbs as much, and it’s a more effective way to perform routine maintenance.

Cleaning the clutch can also help prevent blockages and enhance your snowmobile’s performance, and even prolong the overall lifespan of the machine. Otherwise, the following issues may arise with your snowmobile if you do not routinely clean your clutches:

  • A dirty clutch can cause the grip to make noise, which could cause more damage
  • Your snowmobile engine could become hard to crank
  • The sled could lose power while riding which might cause an accident
  • Your snowmobile’s fuel consumption could rise
  • The backshift could malfunction

Can You Lubricate Your Snowmobile Clutch

Can You Lubricate Your Snowmobile Clutch

No! Your snowmobile’s clutch shouldn’t be lubricated. Snowmobile clutches don’t require any form of lubricant to function. As mentioned above, your snowmobile’s clutch problems are most likely the result of a blockage or accumulation of dirt, not really a lack of lubrication.

This is a dry clutch and doesn’t rely on oil or lubricants.

Note that for clutches to work, the internal components must have traction with one another. Therefore, lubricating the clutch of your snowmobile could reduce this traction. If this occurs, the clutch won’t function as well and might even require additional repairs.

The porous surface of the clutches is another major issue. If you apply lubricant, these little poles can continually discharge lubrication, causing the belt to slip, which is something you want to avoid!

How To Know if the Clutch In Your Snowmobile is Damaged

How To Know if the Clutch In Your Snowmobile is Damaged

Similar to many other vehicles, a snowmobile has a clutch that enables the driver to shift gears for the best engine performance. However, it might be difficult to tell when the clutch in your snowmobile is having problems, especially if you are still unfamiliar with these things.

You can tell if the clutch in your snowmobile is damaged by paying attention to the performance while riding. If you notice a drop in overall performance then the clutch could be damaged. A damaged clutch will struggle to stay in gear while moving. As a result, you may find it difficult, if not possible to change gears.

If the clutch is damaged, you can either try to do a DIY fix or just take the snowmobile to a mechanic. Keep in mind that rebuilding a snowmobile clutch is not such a simple task, and you should only attempt it if you have the necessary tools and skills to do so.

Otherwise, if you try to fix your snowmobile’s clutch yourself without the proper tools and training, you’d be risking causing more harm and you could end up having to get a new clutch or expert repairs.

But you can avoid all these by giving your clutch regular cleanings and preventing buildup or obstruction within. This will also help to keep it from degrading. Again. it’s critical that you refrain from lubricating your snowmobile’s clutch. This is a dry clutch and doesn’t require oil.

Rebuilding A Snowmobile Clutch

Rebuilding A Snowmobile Clutch

Well, you’ll need a few specialized tools, a sturdy workbench with a vise, and your sled’s service manual to replace a snowmobile clutch. You may want to go through the manual carefully as this process varies from one sled to the another. Keep in mind that a snowmobile clutch rebuild, in most cases, is not cost-and-time-effective. And here we’ll explain why.

First of all, it’s obvious that specific tools alone, not to mention replacement parts, cost several hundred dollars. Plus, it’s hardly a two-minute job. It takes a lot of time to remove, clean, disassemble, and reassemble the clutch. Not forgeting you’ll need to balance it as well.

This is why rebuilding a snowmobile clutch might not be worth the hussle.

Nonetheless, this is how you rebuild the clutch. Start by removing the clutch from your sled and give it a thorough inspection if you’re not sure whether to repair it or replace it.

It is generally agreable to rebuild the clutch if you can’t see any damage caused by the weights and it’s still tightly engaged. However, if the weights have clearly worn into the spider, then it’s a sign that the clutch is no longer worth fixing.

Besides, you could easily get nice used clutch for less money than it would take to rebuild the faulty one.



As you can see, a snowmobile clutch does a lot more than just changing gears. It keeps the snowmobile’s engine in sync with the track to ensure better traction, control, and overall performance. They are critical in the overall operation of the engine and also play a large role in the smoothness of the ride. Hopefully, you now understand the purpose of the clutch in snowmobiles, how they work as well as how to clean it.

Sharing is caring!

Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Posts

Subscribe To Our NewsLetter!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x