How Does a Snowmobile Clutch Work?

The clutch system in your snowmobile is a critical function of how the machine operates. Snowmobile clutches use a CVT system that is also used in many other types of engines. 

My name is Chaz, and I’ve been riding and wrenching on snowmobiles for over 25 years. I’m not an expert mechanic, but I know the snowmobile engine components inside and out and love sharing what I’ve learned with other riders. 

In this article, I’ll explain how a snowmobile clutch works and how it helps the machine operate. This is good information to know if you want a bettering understanding of your sled and its mechanical functions. 

Get out your tools or notebook, and let’s get going!

Basic Functions of a Snowmobile Clutch

A snowmobile clutch’s basic function is to transfer the power generated from the engine to the shafts that help propel the machine forward. You can think of a clutch as a bridge that harnesses horsepower into motion that a snowmobile can use. 

The clutch system on any snowmobile is also known as a continuously variable transmission or CVT. This type of system has been around for hundreds of years and is a fundamental mechanical aspect of a modern engine. 

A snowmobile CVT is different than an automatic transmission in your car. The car will have a set amount of gears, while the CVT allows for the snowmobile to have an unlimited amount of gears for smooth increases and decreases of speed. 

How a Snowmobile Clutch Works

A snowmobile clutch consists of two different pulleys. Each of these pulleys is a clutch, and a belt connects them. A snowmobile has a primary clutch and a secondary clutch. They work together to transfer power. 

When you start up the engine, the crankshaft engages the primary clutch. The primary clutch is made up of two different parts – the stationary sheave and the movable sheave. 

As the engine starts and functioning at lower RPMs, these two sheaves are separated by a pressure spring. When you hit the throttle and the RPMs increase, enough force is generated to bring the two sheaves closer together. 

At this point, the clutch engages, and the belt connecting the two pulleys (clutches) begins to spin. This brings power to the secondary clutch, which is connected to the jackshaft. 

The jackshaft brings power to the chaincase, which turns the track on your snowmobile and propels it forward. 

The two clutches allow the stepless transmission to be smooth and won’t ever really feel a shift of gears when you are riding. When you reach top speeds, the primary clutch will close, allowing the belt to spin as fast as the RPMs. 

This video demonstrates the two clutches in action on a CVT and can help you get a better picture of everything I just described. 

Components of a Snowmobile Clutch

Here’s a quick breakdown of a snowmobile clutch’s various components to help you get a better idea of how everything works together to power the sled. 

Primary Clutch: Connected to the engine crankshaft and the first point of motion for a CVT transmission. This clutch closes at higher RPMs, allowing for smooth power transfer. 

Secondary Clutch: Connected to the primary clutch by a belt. Once engaged, this clutch begins to turn the jackshaft which is connected to the chaincase. 

Clutch Weights: These are weights that help increase the force of the crankshaft and drive up RPMs. Once enough force is generated, it separates the two sheaves and engages the clutch. 

Clutch Sheaves: These are parts of the primary clutch and consist of a moveable sheave and a stationary sheave. As RPMs increase, the two sheaves move toward one another and engage the belt between the primary and secondary clutch. 

Clutch Spring: A spring that allows for smooth engagement of each clutch. 

Helix: Part of the primary clutch that separates the two sheaves. Different helix angles allow for faster clutch engagement. 

Cleaning the Clutch

If you are experiencing issues with your snowmobile’s performance, you might need to clean your clutch. I’ll explain this in detail in another dedicated post to the subject, but I wanted to mention it here. 

If you notice poor acceleration or jumpy performance when you are on the throttle, you may need to clean or even replace the clutch. The cleaning process involves removing the clutches with pullers and then washing each component. 

If you aren’t experienced with basic mechanics, you should have a shop perform this task, but it’s not that difficult if you have the right tools and some basic knowledge. Some people use warm water to clean, but I like to use brake cleaner for deeper clutch cleaning. 


Here are some answers to a few common questions related to how a snowmobile clutch operates.

How do I know if my snowmobile clutch is bad?

There are a few different signs that your clutch might be bad. The two most telltale signs are poor acceleration and noise from the clutch area. Other signs include: loss of power, hard cranks, bogged down performance, and poor fuel economy. 

How long does a snowmobile clutch last?

This depends on how hard you push your sled and under what conditions, but the average lifespan of a new clutch should be around 1500-2000 miles. I’ve seen clutches last for as long as about 5000 miles, but that’s rare. 

How does a snowmobile clutch puller work?

A clutch puller is a tool you can use to remove the clutch when you want to clean it up or replace it. It works by grasping the pulley while a threaded screw pushes down on the crank. As you tighten the screw, the puller lifts the clutch up the shaft and eventually works it free. 

Final Thoughts

You don’t need to know how a clutch operates to operate a snowmobile. But if you’re a gearhead like me, it’s always great to have a better understanding of how your machine works. 

Plus, if you ever want to clean your clutch – you’ll need to know how to put things back together. 

Have you ever cleaned or replaced a clutch on your snowmobile or a different engine? Let us know in the comments below!

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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    Hello Chaz
    I’m from Argentina , My name is Jose, I´m studying mechanical engineering and my final work is about the snow mobile. I need help to recreate the stress in the caterpillar, could you help me?

    • Chaz Wyland

      Hey Jose,

      That’s awesome you’re doing a snowmobile project. Let me know some more details, and I might be able to help. What do you mean specifically by recreating the stress in a caterpillar? Let me know.