2-Stroke vs 4-Stroke Snowmobile: The Differences

There has been somewhat of a long-standing debate between which snowmobile engine is better since the 4-stroke engine first became available. I don’t think one is better than the other. It just depends on your riding style and preferences. 

I’ve been an avid snowmobiler for most of my life, and I have decades of experience riding all over North America. I have used many different 2-stroke and 4-stroke sleds over the years, and I know through first-hand experience their main differences. 

This post will touch on the differences between 2-stroke and 4-stroke snowmobiles to give you a better understanding of why you might want to use one over the other. I’ll touch on the advantages of each engine to help you know more about them. 

Let’s dive in. 

The Big Debate

If you ask ten different snowmobilers, they will all probably have a different recommendation on whether to use a 2-stroke or 4-stroke snowmobile. 

The truth is there isn’t one right or wrong answer here, and both styles of engines work well in different situations. 

I have had good experiences with both 2-stroke and 4-stroke sleds and still use 2-stroke machines more often. This is just my personal preference and what sleds I have owned over the years. 

Engine Style Defined

Looking at things from a clear perspective, it’s good to know what defines a 2-stroke and 4-stroke engine, whether that is looking at a snowmobile or any other machine. 

A 2-stroke engine generates power on every other stroke of the pistons in the engine, while a 4-stroke engine generates power on every fourth stroke. That may not mean much unless you understand how an engine works in the first place, but they are two completely different designs. 

Rather than get into the specifics of how these engines work, I think it’s a better idea for this article to explain how the differences affect how a snowmobile operates in the snow. 

2 Stroke vs 4 Stroke Snowmobile

I’ll break down all of the main differences between 2-stroke and 4-stroke snowmobiles here to give you a better understanding of both. 

DesignSimpler/More heatMore complex/More parts
CostLess expensiveMore expensive
PerformanceMore powerBetter compression ratios
Emissions Higher emissionsLower emissions 


2-stroke snowmobiles have been around for longer because they have a simpler, more basic design. 4-stroke sleds are more complex and require more complicated engineering, so they have only become more available in recent years. 

The design of a 2-stroke engine also generates more heat, which means that they need a better cooling system than a 4-stroke engine. But a 4-stroke engine has more parts, which can cause more weight overall for the sled. 

Another big difference is that 2-stroke engines require a mix of gas and oil. So these types of engines burn up oil in the fuel, and you’ll end up using more oil in the long run. 4-stroke engines can reuse oil, so you don’t burn as much during regular operation. 


2-stroke snowmobiles are generally cheaper than 4-stroke sleds because a 2-stroke engine is cheaper to build. But a 4-stroke engine will last a lot longer in total operating life, so upfront cost should be compared against lifetime use. 

There are more moving parts in a 4-stroke engine, which typically means that there is more need for potential maintenance. But again, these engines will last longer than 2-stroke, so they can be a better or similar value in the long run. 


Most riders will tell you that 2-stroke snowmobiles are more powerful than a 4-stroke. But a 4-stroke will give you better compression ratios. These slight differences in performance will probably only be noticed by experienced riders. 

2-stroke snowmobiles are lighter because the engine doesn’t have as many components, making them easier to maneuver in tight situations than larger 4-stroke models. 

This weight consideration also means that 2-stroke sleds have a lower center of gravity, giving you better handling when making fast manuevers.


2-stroke engines are not as environmentally friendly as 4-stroke engines. 2-stroke engines don’t actually create complete combustion, meaning that not all of the fuel is burned up during each engine cycle. This causes excess fuel to be ejected into the atmosphere (emissions). 

4-stroke engines have near-complete combustion, which results in fewer emissions and better performance for the environment. These engines are more modern and can therefore be more fuel-efficient as well.

Other Considerations 

Another consideration you might want to know about when choosing between these snowmobiles is that 2-stroke engines are usually louder than 4-stroke models. If you want a more peaceful experience or don’t want to disturb nature and animals, keep this in mind. 

And 2-stroke engines will typically be able to stay in operation when they get flipped upside or operate at high ride angles. If a 4-stroke engine remains upside down for a long time, the oil flow can get messed up, leading to engine damage. 

This is something to keep in mind if you like to ride on really steep terrain or tend to bale off your sled often. 2-stroke engines are a little less particular, and you can beat them up without worry. 4-strokes shouldn’t be left upside for an extended amount of time. 


How to Tell the Difference between 4 Stroke and 2 Stroke?

One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a 4-stroke and 2-stroke engine is to listen to it while it is running. A 4-stroke engine will have a smoother sound that has a constant hum. A 2-stroke engine will be a little louder with sporadic popping sounds. 

2 Stroke vs 4 Stroke: Which One is Better for Trail Riding?

4-stroke engines can be better for long-distance trail riding because of the liquid-cooled engines and better gas mileage. But both of these engines can work well for trail riding, it just depends on your needs and preferences.   

Do 4 Strokes Last Longer than 2 Strokes?

This is a widely circulated statement, but it really doesn’t hold up. 4-stroke and 2-stroke machines can both be very dependable and last a long time. This is especially true with newer machines, but you might see some more lifetime mileage from a 4-stroke.

Will 2-strokes Make a Comeback?

I don’t think that 2-strokes will make a big comeback. But I also don’t believe that they will become obsolete any time soon. They are still pretty popular with hardcore riders and have some advantages that keep them marketable. 

Final Thoughts 

As you can see, there are quite a few differences between 2-stroke and 4-stroke snowmobiles. A lot of this won’t mean much to the casual rider, but it’s good information to know and understand if you are looking at buying a new machine. 

That said, I don’t really have a particular recommendation as to which style engine is best. Take all of the information here to heart, and try to decide based on your riding style and preferences. There are plenty of good options in both types available.

About Chaz Wyland
I’m a snowmobile fanatic. I live for riding and am out on the trails or backcountry as often as possible during the winter months. I was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains and have snowmobiled in dozens of North American locations. When the snow is falling, you’ll find me on a sled.

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  • Sami

    One thing you don’t mention is mileage. I know that there aren’t much actual data about fuel consumption, but just by engine efficiency 4T is superior.
    More heat is somewhat irrelevant since most if not all 2T engines have liquid cooling. Heat production is also good indication about efficiency.
    Engine noise? I have no first hand experience on modern snowmobiles, but usually 4 strokes are more quiet, at least this is fact on dirtbikes.

    • Chaz Wyland

      Hey Sami,

      Good call on the mileage. I do think that 4-strokes are likely to be more efficient, but I didn’t have exact data or direct comparisons on that, so I didn’t include it in this post. I’ll keep that in mind for any updates, though. And I made the heat comparison just to show a difference between the two, even though liquid cooling helps out a lot with that.

  • William

    I’ve been snowmobiling for over 50 years both two and now four strokes. I’ve blown 6 two stroke motors in the past five years that were two strokes both the 500 two cylinder and the 600 three cylinder Polaris Indy models. They had just over 3,000 trail miles (never over 3/4 throdle. I trail ride with wife and children on both single & two up models. I have given up on 2 stroke models now. I have driven over 14,000 miles on older sleds (1981-1992) with no problems. But the newer models (1993-2000) were the ones the blew up with low miles. I think that the gas has changed over the years and has something to do with it. My brother-in-law has been running 4 stroke Yamaha’s since they came out and he runs his full throdle most the time basically racing 60+ all the time. I’ve driven with him on his sleds before purchasing my own 4 strokes. I’m never going Back to a 2 stroke again. Been riding our 4 stroke with NO problems at he past 2 years now.

    • Chaz Wyland

      Hey William,

      I’m bummed to hear about those two blown engines! But thanks for weighing in here with your experience. It’s great to know and hopefully will help steer others in a good direction with what option they want to choose. I’ve never had a 2-stroke go out on me, but I’ve heard the same thing happening, and poor-quality gas was a potential problem. 4-strokes can rip and might have fewer issues in the long run. It’s good to know to steer clear of newer 2-strokes with that in mind.

  • John Harrington

    Thank you, Chaz, for your great, well-written information. Do you have any make/model suggestions for me for ice fishing? Be safe out there.

  • Elwood

    Might see more lifetime mileage from a 2 stroke? I hope that’s a miss print, or you don’t know the difference between the two at all.

    • Chaz Wyland

      Hi Elwood,

      Good catch! That is indeed a typo and should say 4-stroke. I’ll get that edited ASAP. Hope you have a solid winter!