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Any tips for buying a used snowmobile?

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I would like to purchase a used snowmobile. Do you have any tips?—Jordan Simon, Lac la Ronge, Sask.

Buying a used sled isn’t that different from buying a used car, boat, or piano: Do some research first, bring someone knowledgeable with you when you shop, and keep in mind that buying from a dealership, where you’re more likely to get a warranty, may be less risky than buying from a private seller.

To figure out what kind of sled to 
buy, you need to figure out how you’re going to use it, says Josh Grills of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs. “Do you want to ride trails? Are you going to be pulling an ice hut with it? How important is fuel efficiency?” Then—unless you’re already up on all the latest tech—get educated. Grills 
recommends talking to staff at a dealership; they often have used snowmobiles for sale. “You don’t have to buy a new machine from them,” he says. Sleds that are 2003 models or newer usually have modern features such as electric start; you can expect to pay about $3,500 to $4,000 for a machine that’s in good condition.

Next, check out some prospects. Be sure to try starting the engine when it’s cold (engines that have been running already will start more easily); do a test drive, assuming that’s possible; and ask to see the ownership history and service records. Also very important: Get a mechanical inspection. Sure, even 
a snowmobile newbie would probably notice obvious signs 
of damage and wear, such as dents, cracks, ripped seats, misaligned skis, and excessive smoke coming from the tailpipe. And anyone who’s ever watched CSI knows the signs of a vehicular crash cover-up: mismatched or fresh paint, or areas covered with ridiculous decals. But unless you’re comfortable assessing the machine’s innards yourself, have a mechanic look at it.

Grills recommends avoiding sleds that have been used for racing (which can stress the components) or those that the owners have modified (say, by adding different shocks). “First 
of all, you don’t know exactly what they’ve done to it,” he says. “And second of all, you don’t know if they did it correctly.”