This has gone on for two years. In the morning on a warm day I’d turn the key with the choke on and nothing would happen. A few more tries and it would eventually kick over normally and start. Other times it would light up and then fade out after a few revolutions, as if it had a shortage of spark. Then it would get its act together and work faithfully for the rest of the day.
This caused apprehension when waiting to begin a parade, but otherwise wasn’t all that inconvenient because it never let me down. I became adept at predicting on which turn of the key it would start, based upon the combination of heat and humidity over the last week. After a ride on the trailer it would be fine for a few weeks. As the days grew colder it became more reliable, as well.
The local small engines guy couldn’t find anything wrong with it. The dealer muttered something about starter brushes and suggested I bring the machine in for an examination.
Then we completed the heated garage and I treated the Ranger to a 400-hour oil change on a luxurious concrete floor in a warm room. It went well. I have finally learned how to wiggle the filter out and in with my finger tips. A lot has to do with jacking up the back wheels, rather than the front, to drain the oil. That provides the angle I need to make best use of the limited space. I also moved a fuel line up out of the way temporarily to provide more space.
So in a fit of fussiness I decided to clean the contacts on the battery. Found a Phillips bit in my ratchet set. Braced myself for a hard turn to remove the screw which holds the first cable. It came off with no effort. The screws looked tight, but they were loose, and evidently have been for some time. I sanded the surfaces and tightened the screws back up.
No more strange hesitations at start-up. Funny it took me 300 hours of operation to figure this out.
UPDATE: February 2, 2011
That didn’t solve the problem. Winter starting was growing noticeably weaker to the point I couldn’t rely on the vehicle. A new battery restored starting capability, but to my surprise it did not eliminate the strange hesitation, just reduced it to a momentary pause.
UPDATE: March 4, 2011
What hesitation? With the new battery it starts fine. Looking back at my earlier comments, I must conclude that there’s a bit of corrosion somewhere I haven’t found.
UPDATE: June 3, 2011
Since the new battery went in, the hesitations have become a distant memory. The battery was worth the money.
UPDATE: 21 April, 2014
It still hesitates on cold starts in warmer weather. Since the last posting I have replaced the ignition switch, so that’s not it.
UPDATE: 29 July, 2014
After a spraying session which landed the Ranger knee-deep in DSV (dog strangling vine) I practically disassembled the thing to ensure that I had not brought any seed pods back home to the farm. While I had the plate off the bottom (with a car hoist it’s a breeze) I tidied up, sprayed with rustproofing oil, and at long last checked the leads to the starter. The main connections were tight and showed no evidence of corrosion, so I looked for something easy to take off. There’s a small black wire with a push-on connector right at the bottom of the solenoid. I wiggled it off and put it back on a few times.
This has produced an improvement in solenoid response. Too many updates to this page have trumpeted a solution to the strange hesitation for me to be overconfident about the fix, but if your starter hesitates, it’s worth wiggling this little black wire.
UPDATE: 30 November, 2014
It’s been a couple of months since I installed a new higher-end, maintenance-free battery in the TM. That solved the starting problem.
Perhaps the problem with the stock batteries was their thirst for water. I know my most recent battery needed refilling more frequently than at 50 hour oil changes. On this machine a neglected battery is a dead battery.
UPDATE: 25 May, 2015
The hesitation disappeared with the installation of the new, $165 battery from the Polaris dealer in Kingston. I discovered that it still goes dead occasionally, though. The addition of a charging plug for an occasional top-up seems to have taken care of the problem. I think I have charged it twice since the new battery went in in November. My friend believes he traced the battery-killing episodes on his 2002 Ranger 500 to a faulty light switch. Could be.
UPDATE: 18 November, 2015
A couple of months ago the ignition switch on the TM failed for the third or forth time, this occasion stranding the machine at my neighbour’s until I winched it onto its trailer. The switch failure was complicated by the decision of the carburetor not to run any more gas through until it had an overhaul. Because it had never complained before, the carb refusal produced a good deal of confusion.
I trailered the TM to Cory Sly’s Small Engine Service in Elgin, ON. In an earlier life Cory had worked as a Polaris service tech, so he knows the TM quite well. He had the carb restored (without parts) in a couple of hours of cleaning, but cautioned me that the ignition switch not only takes a few seconds to engage the starter, but a further couple of seconds to shut the engine off.
Fine. For a few days I waited at both ends of the trip, but the engine started and ran very well. As soon as Cory had the new switch I substituted it in and the delays went away. Now I find the solenoid hesitates if the battery is low but leaps into action if it has been recently topped up.
Another caveat, though: I have two electronic chargers. The simple one tricked itself and barely topped up the battery the last time. Two weeks later the more sophisticated charger gave it a good load, though it was showing only three LEDs of the potential seven on its display.
I guess the TM’s charging system is doomed to remain a mystery at 838 hours.