UPDATE: Sept 22, 2010: For those looking for a downloadable Ranger TM service manual, try this link: http://www.gsaparts.com/service_manuals/9918796.html
UPDATE: Sept 20, 2010: eBay 150336060505, a guy has five, 18 hp horizontal shaft Robin- Subaru engines for sale. SEE PART XIII OF THIS SERIES FOR THE VENDOR’S RESPONSE TO MY QUERY.
UPDATE August, 2010: Check Michael Crawford’s comment about a suitable replacement engine at the end of the comments section on this page.
As I may have mentioned I bought my TM from a dealer with full factory warranty because even though it’s a 2004, it had never been sold, spending most of its time in a warehouse in Montreal, according to the salesman.
I knew going in that the odd engine, a Robin/Subaru 653 twin, might make for some maintenance hassles. The plate held on by six screws which I have to remove each time to check the oil is a good example. Another irritating find was the tool kit. The spark plug wrench is far too small for the factory-specified plugs in this engine. Today I discovered the same applied to the drain plug for the crankcase oil. With the provided 9/16″ wrench I nearly stripped the nut. A 14 mm from my ratchet set worked well, though the service area was so cramped I worried I’d have to remove the transmission in order to drain the oil. After an hour of Internet research to determine that that nut was definitely* the drain plug (*SEE UPDATE, Sept 5, 2009), I discovered that the engine is a bit too big for its space on the chassis, and so there’s a bare sliver of space for a wrench to reach up through a hole in the skid plate below. Nevertheless, I managed to drain the oil. It took a few minutes to extricate the used oil filter from the dark alley between the engine and the transmission, though.
That was when things hit the fan. Yesterday the Polaris parts guy sold me an “oil change kit” consisting of a box, two litres of 0W40 synthetic oil, and a filter. Problem with the filter was that it was 1) way too long 2) .715″ in diameter at the inside of the threads, while the same measurement on the one I took off was .665″.
I called the service guy and after a long delay he admitted he had given me the wrong one, but doesn’t have the other in stock. He’ll order three, though. I asked how they had managed to change the filter when they serviced the TM to sell to me. He replied that they had some in stock then, but don’t now. I suspect he was lying, and rather adroitly, to cover up the fact that this thing had never seen a new filter since it was built.
A Yamaha dealer has opened just down the road, so I nipped over there to ask for a filter which would match the threads, at least. Two service guys insisted that the flow rates are all different, and you can’t just stick another one on there, even though it’s a de-tuned, low-performance engine. The Yamaha guy promised one the following morning for $14.50, but later sent me an email apologizing that the filter is very rare, and he hopes to have one in four days.
I proceeded on to Smiths Falls to NAPA auto parts and plunked the dead filter on the counter. A few minutes of cross-references on two computers, and the guy gave me one for Briggs and Stratton engines, charged me five bucks, and bade me good day.
What I don’t understand at this point is why Polaris makes such a fuss about using synthetic oil in this engine when its temperature is so poorly regulated that it never warms up above body temperature in winter, the spark plug in their books is the wrong heat range, and they can’t keep the correct oil filter in stock? I find it hard to believe that every Subaru/Robin 653 engine runs on a diet of 0W40 synthetic oil.
In 2005 Polaris used the same Robin engine, but switched to a hotter, NGR BPR4EY plug. I see they’ve shortened the service interval from 100 hours to 50 hours between oil changes on the kit box and on the Internet, but not in their printed manuals.
This litany of complaints should not be construed as dislike for the machine – far from it. It’s a wonderfully good-natured, stable beast with a terrific suspension and ample power for what I want to do with it. I just wish Polaris had put more effort into accommodating this engine into their design. Mind you, if they had done that the TM probably would have sold in 2004, and I wouldn’t have lucked onto it at an excellent price four years later.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Out of curiosity I had drained the crankcase oil into one of my wife’s stainless steel sauce pans. When I dumped it out I was astounded at the amount of grit in the residue. I didn’t see anything metalic, but the carbon(?) based grit in the bottom of the pan makes me think I’ll change the oil a lot more frequently after this. The manual calls for 100 hour intervals, but Polaris has moved that up to 50 hours, and calls for synthetic oil. For winter operation, a 25 hour service interval might be wiser. That sauce pan test was an eye-opener.
UPDATE (MORE OF A RANT, ACTUALLY): February 27 The local Yamaha dealer eventually came through with the correct oil filter, but he dinged me $24.80 CDN for it. That seems pretty steep. Nonetheless I decided to switch the golden filter for the $5.00 Briggs and Stratton model I had installed a couple of days ago, even though the Fram catalog lists it as the correct filter for the Robin 653 20 hp engine.
First I couldn’t get the filter to unscrew. I had to buy a small chain wrench. With the correct wrench it came right off. Then came trouble. Trying to do the right thing I lubed the threads of the new filter. That synthetic is very, very slippery. I couldn’t hold onto the filter. Frozen fingertips were all I had because of space restrictions. With an evil chuckle the filter slithered out of my fingers and hid under the transmission. After a few minutes of searching I chased it out of there with a wrench, only for it to take up residence in the shadow of the engine. So it went, back and forth in there, until eventually it made a break for it and landed face-down in the dirt below. At this point there was nothing but to clean it up and try again, so after warming my hands and getting my blood pressure down, I renewed my efforts and succeeded in threading the infernal thing onto the correct post.
It tightened up nicely and everything has run well since, but I have emerged with a new respect for synthetic oil and a deep emnity for Polaris oil filters.
UPDATE: June 3, 2009
The hour-meter was reading in the mid-180’s, so I stopped by the Polaris dealer to buy another oil change kit and air filter. This time they had the correct filter in stock, but charged me $20. for it. Perhaps I unfairly maligned the local Yamaha dealer for price gouging in an earlier passage in this post.
I collected the oil in a clean, stainless steel container to see how it had fared over a 50-hour interval. It looked much cleaner than before. The absence of crud in the bottom of the container forces me to conclude that the first time I changed the oil must have been the first for the machine, as well, at 135 hours. The dealer had to have failed to change it (as claimed) when I bought the machine at 100 hours, though there was oil spilled around the fill spout. I caught the tech ignoring a couple of driveshaft grease fittings, so shirking and outright deception from this dealership is not out of the question.
The air filter, on the other hand, was in good condition.
Mindful of the difficulties with it last winter, I didn’t change the filter this time. I’ll examine the oil again at the next interval and see if it makes a difference.
UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 5, 2009
Happening upon a downloadable service manual for the 2004 Polaris Ranger TM put up by the U.S. Military (since removed from the website), I had a look, and lo and behold, there’s a drain plug right under the engine, accessible through a cutout, and openable by allen wrench or socket. The Polaris service manual I bought from my dealer was a 2005 and later listing, and did not mention this vital bit.
It’s worth jacking the thing up to have a look.