The Family PetUPDATE: 2 February, 2010

After more than a year of running I find that the Ranger has become very reliable. It always starts. When I re-read this passage it appears as though this was not always the case. Maybe it needed to break in, or to allow the better lubrication to work out the carbon, or maybe it’s the shed I built for it, but the Ranger will now start in sub-zero weather without difficulty.


The Ranger TM in Snow
Saturday, January 10, 2009: It was about zero F this morning, and the Polaris wouldn’t start. By noon it limped into motion on one cylinder, and eventually the other one cut in after a long warmup. It may be old plugs, but with 130 hours on it, it shouldn’t be. I’ll give it some new ones tomorrow and then try it.

To its credit, it did manage to start without a boost or a battery charge, but this isn’t good enough. I put the battery on the charger for the afternoon and then it lit up quite easily, so it may be a maintenance, rather than a design issue.


YouTube is full of film clips of Rangers in sand and mud, but I haven’t seen much about cold weather operation of the machines.

This week during a cold snap the shift cable froze solid, imprisoning the TM in its tent/garage until heat from the idling engine eventually thawed it out.  Requests for information from ATV forums didn’t produce anything useful, quite possibly because all of the avatars of contributors have their machines surrounded by sand or mud, not snow.

The 2004 TM is still under factory warranty, so I called the dealer and explained that this intermittent failure of a cable could be a real safety issue for me if I’m out on a frozen lake in mid-winter, so he ordered a replacement cable.

The Subaru 653 twin didn’t start all that well on the cold morning, either, picking up on one cylinder and the choke, and only gradually getting #2 into the act.  I bought the machine as a demonstrator last fall with almost 100 hours on the engine (now 130), and I’ll bet it has never had a plug, though, so I’ll hold off on complaints about cold-weather starting until I have fresh spark in it.

UPDATE  18 DECEMBER, 2008:  Today was so cold my Toyota groaned when starting, but the Polaris lit right up, and the shifter hasn’t whimpered since that one tantrum a week ago.  The snow was too deep for the TM, but I had work for it to do, so I cleared a trail back to the woods with my tractor and 5′ snowblower.  It was able to bull around enough in the deep snow to turn around at the ends of the road, though more weight in the bed might help.  Inexplicably, the left dog on the tailgate release stuck in the on position late this afternoon.  It seems to need lubrication, so whenever things thaw out enough for oil to flow I’ll see to that.  A small wood chisel has signed on as one of the TM’s tools to free the tailgate if it sticks again.   (Turns out it was a twisted cable jamming in the other side.  Simple fix.)  UPDATE ENDS

This morning I took the TM for a drive to follow the tracks of the coyote who had scurried out of the barn as I approached.  I had a pleasant morning wandering around a hundred acres of fields and pine, spruce and walnut seedlings.  The coyote is clearly doing her job, foraging for mice almost exclusively around my young seedlings, so I guess her Christmas bonus is assured, and I’ll try to forgive her persistent use of the miscellaneous piles of shavings in my barn as her personal litter box.  What’s with that anyway?

Most of the footing was frozen grass under about four inches of powdery snow.  As a test I drove the TM at low speed as far as it would go into a field with a gradually thickening pack of snow and ice left over from an earlier storm.  With no load in the back the traction failed before it dragged bottom.  Fine.  I backed up, interested to see whether the thing would get itself out of a situation on the flat, or if with the differential locked it would skid off to the side and compound the problem.  I was quite pleased to find that in reverse it follows its track quite faithfully, and seems able to back out of whatever situation I create for it while driving forward — on the level.  It would be foolish to expect to back uphill to get unstuck with a 2WD machine.

All in all, the Ranger TM is quite a pleasant machine in cold weather.  So far I have only had one morning when it wouldn’t work, and this may be easy to fix.

A month ago the dealer offered me a used cab frame, windshield, cab enclosure and plastic roof, but I declined after considerable thought.  A small cab like this would frost up quickly from one or more persons’ breath on a cold morning.  There’s no defroster.  Further, if I towed the machine to a lake over sanded highways, I’d have to clean the windshield before starting out.  That would be rough on the plastic.  The doors would have to be removed for safety when traveling on the ice.  What’s more, I have a perfectly good 4X4 pickup which is most capable off-road.  Why would I create another, inferior copy of it?

The advantage of the Ranger is that I can look up and enjoy the tall trees when driving through my woodlot.  In buildings and around obstructions it’s the easy visibility and lack of fragility of the body which give it an advantage over the truck. A cab would reduce these benefits.

So instead of a cab I have opted for a snowmobile suit and helmet with full face shield and a scarf for the chin area under the helmet which freezes instantly without it.  Feet don’t seem to get all that cold, but very heavy mitts are a necessity, as well.

My first cold-weather run nearly froze me before I adapted to snowmobile attire.  That time I had some carburetor icing or governor issues:  at full speed the engine would bog down to medium revs for a while, then speed up again.  It continued to fire well throughout the slowdown, though.  Surprisingly, the problem has not recurred.  Perhaps there was moisture in the crankcase which frosted the carburetor, but once it had cleared the problem resolved itself.

I haven’t started my 1976 Ski Doo Alpine yet this winter, and we have had lots of snow.  That says something about the appeal of the Ranger TM.


At long last I went with the windshield/roof/rear curtain approach. The Ranger is much more usable as things get cold in the fall. My wife and our dog appreciate the comfort during short expeditions around the property. I haven’t tried towing the thing with the plastic windscreen in place yet.


UPDATE: December 25th, 2008

Bet received new snowshoes and poles for Christmas, so we all had to take a run through the mountain bike trails in the woods to let her try them out. A quarter-mile of soggy field separated the house from the woodlot, so I loaded everyone into the Ranger for a run through about eight inches of slush to the top of a knoll at the edge of the woods. Conditions for snowshoes were surprisingly good within the sheltered canopy, so we had a great time wearing each other out on the trails which wind up and down the hill.

The return run to the house was a bit more of a challenge, because it required a short downhill run to gain some speed, then an undemanding run along a fence row, but a fairly tough climb through deeper snow to meet the road at the barn. I loaded Charlie and Roz into the back for ballast. They braced their feet against the tailgate and held onto the roll bar. It’s as though that bar had been designed as a hand grip. I know this goes against all the rules and labels and insurance regulations, but as my mother commented, “Things are a bit different on a farm.” With the extra weight astern, the Polaris dug its way through the slushy snow with great willingness. I guess it will need some weight in the box before any lake expeditions. Three hundred and fifty pounds seems to work about right.

The Ranger’s fast becoming a family pet.

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