Snowmobiling Tips for Riding Cleaner
By Nathan Howard
For many of us, the start of winter means
that it’s time to start up the snowmobiles and disappear for the season into
the wintry northern New England woods. But before we take that first ride,
let’s consider how to minimize the environmental impact of all that fun.
Studies have found that a single snowmobile can emit as much pollution in
one hour as nearly 100 cars! What is it about some snowmobiles that makes
them so dirty? The answer is simple: the two-stroke engine. The two-stroke
engine is a small, powerful engine used to run many common types of
equipment, from chain saws to snowmobiles. The “simple” design of the two-
stroke makes it extremely inefficient and very dirty. Unlike automobile
engines, two-stroke engines require that lubricant oils be mixed directly with
gasoline before combustion takes place. The combustion of this oil produces
a smoky exhaust, heavy with particulate matter—a pollutant that can
contribute to and exacerbate respiratory and cardiac illnesses.
If a new sled is in your future, you’ll be getting a cleaner ride. Beginning in
2006, the US EPA required all new snowmobiles to meet certain standards
that reduce carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions. Snowmobiles
manufactured beginning in 2010 will have to meet even more stringent
standards. These requirements apply to both two- and four-stroke engines so
any new machine will be cleaner than an old one. Most snowmobile
manufacturers now offer four-stroke models, which emit significantly less air
pollution than older two-stroke snowmobiles and increase fuel economy by a
But if you need to get a few more years out of your existing two-stroke
machine, there are a few ways to make your engine run cleaner. One option
is to use synthetic, low-emission lubricant oils. These lubricants are not only
designed to burn cleaner, but will also improve the overall performance of
the snowmobile. There are even a few lubricants on the market that are
biodegradable and will not pose a threat to surface or groundwater if leaked
or spilled directly onto the ground. Bio-lubes made from soybean oil
provide all of the above benefits and are also renewable – another
Another thing we can do now to make our two-stoke snowmobiles run
cleaner and more efficiently is to make sure that they are properly tuned, by
a qualified mechanic, before the beginning of each snowmobile season. This
strategy helps to ensure maximum fuel efficiency and performance out of our
sleds, while decreasing overall emissions.
Finally, an add-on carburetor and catalytic exhaust system proven to reduce
emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide by 75% - 80% is available.
This technology increases overall horsepower and improves the fuel
economy of the snowmobile.
Whether we purchase new, cleaner snowmobiles or take steps to make older
two-stroke engines more environmentally friendly, we can do our part now
to run cleaner over the landscape. So, let there be snow!
This column was submitted by Nathan Howard, a transportation planning analyst
with the Maine DOT. In Our Back Yard is a weekly column of the Maine Department
of Environmental Protection. E-mail your environmental questions to infoDEP@maine.
gov or send them to In Our Back Yard, Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta,