2002 Polaris Ranger 500 after 1650 hours: Review

November 15, 2012

My friend Tony ran across an elderly Ranger 500, a recent trade-in at the dealership where I bought my Ranger TM some years ago.  He asked me to have a look if I got the chance.

We drove to Carleton Place today to see how much worse (or better) the vehicle in question was than our 2004 two-wheel drive TM.  My first impression wasn’t good.  The solenoid wouldn’t even click when I tried to start it.  The booster battery didn’t work either.  Then the sales guy remembered to touch the brake while starting, and it purred to life.  Polaris put on a safety interlink which allows starting in gear.  Once started, the engine ran very well.  Bet was impressed by its smoothness and its quiet.

Two different guys at the dealership told me about the two Ranger 500’s at the Carp landfill which have run all day, every working day, since they were bought in the early 2000’s.  I don’t know how they’d measure such a high number on an hour meter, but one’s supposed to have almost 17,000 hours on it.  No motor job on either yet.

This test vehicle’s a trade-in from a farm with a maple sugar operation.  From where the mud is caked underneath, mixed with bits of hay and bark, that makes sense.  The clutch take-up is still smooth, so I don’t think it has ever towed a heavy trailer.  On a farm there’s a tractor (or four) to do most heavy jobs.  A large dent in the front plate indicates that somebody hit a rock or solid stump up front.  That can happen.  The radiator is untouched after a considerable impact from the front and below.  The choke cable hangs out of the dash.  It’s stiff and needs to be replaced.  The torn seat bottom has been replaced by a borrowed one, but it still needs the heavy rubber grommets which allow the front of the seat to snap into the frame.

I didn’t check the oil or the air filter, but the machine looks to me as though it has had normal use around a farm over a long period of time.  Farmers take care of stuff.  Possible trouble spots?  Old cable and leaking tires, upholstery.  It needs new wiper blades.  As nearly as I could tell the drive train works properly, as do the brakes and suspension.

I understand the engine received a rebuild a few years ago.  The 500 cc single is smooth, quiet, and powerful in comparison to the detuned 650 cc twin in my Ranger TM.

The cuts/scratches on the right side of the plastic box likely came from an encounter with a barbed wire fence.  The box is in better condition than the one on our TM.  This one’s nice and straight.  Ours droops over the axle a bit due to what I assume was an outrageous load before we bought it.  Similarly, this roll cage is still solid.  Mine needs a bit of welding.  The TM’s “roll bar” is much less sturdy than the 500’s.

One reason why the 500 is set up to start in gear with the brake on no doubt is because of the involved procedure to get the thing into road gear.  Shift from N to L to another N to H.  Or shut it off in H and drive it that way until you need to back up.  The separate shift for differential lock is the same as on the TM.  AWD engages with a rocker switch on the dash.

The roof and glass windshield (with wipers) are desirable features, but I expected dust and exhaust fumes to make their way up around the box and into the cabin.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I understand a second windshield to close off the rear of the cabin is necessary for proper protection against weather and fumes.  That said, I could likely get by with the slightly smelly air as the exhaust from the little engine wasn’t that bad.

After fifteen minutes of driving in a large flat lot I didn’t see or feel anything about the Ranger to ring any warning bells.  I think this 2002 Ranger 500 is exactly what it appears to be, a solid machine traded in on a new one of the same model after 10 years of service.

I would own it.

UPDATE: 4 MARCH, 2013

The dealer replaced the choke cable and the front ball joints before he released it for sale. Turned out the joints were very bad. A session with the mechanic taught me the trick with the oil changes on a dry sump engine: after the sump is drained there is still a cup of oil in the engine block. Remove the spark plug and flip the engine over a couple of times to allow the pump to empty this residual oil out. Then add two litres and start. If the dip stick still reads high there’s a vapour lock, so squeeze the soft rubber vent tube from the sump to the engine and try again. This will usually allow the oil to pump through. When the dip stick reads properly, the job is done.

I put the 500 into my shop and went to work on the little things. The rear lights needed bulbs, but the wiring was intact. The wiper motor’s connection was weak. Tire pressures needed adjustment. When I retired my sedan cruiser to the corner of the back field I removed the vinyl side curtains from the expensive stern cover. They had sat for years in an equipment bag. It was the work of a couple of minutes, two spring clamps and a couple of feet of red duct tape to put a temporary rear windshield on the 500’s cab. It has served so well in that application — even with a couple of trailer rides on the highway, that it’s likely to stay there. The cab/windshield/rear screen is surprisingly comfortable against winter’s blasts.

AWD makes a huge difference with the Ranger in winter. While I wouldn’t take it out on the lake in 10″ of snow, it can go very well in six inches with occasional drifts deeper than that. The 500 has proven amazingly agile when climbing over obstacles, powerful enough to push through heavy snow and slush, and capable of sustained, 30 mph speeds over distances.

The 500’s engine starts very well in winter. There was a phantom electrical fault which drained its battery a couple of times, but we have traced that to a sticky light switch. The thing always smelled strongly of gasoline. Replacing the gas cap didn’t help. After a couple of weekends it quit starting and dumped the contents of its fuel tank onto the ground by way of the carburetor overflow whenever we operated the starter.

A call to the dealer revealed that it was a needle valve plugged with dirt in the carburetor, so off it came — a simple job except for the cables, which were tricky. It went back on minus one of the two screws which hold it in place. We’ll find the screw in the spring, with any luck. The engine runs very well once more.

The odd electrical glitch and crud in the gas line are to be expected from an old machine. Apart from that, it’s a surprisingly capable and pleasant UTV.

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