Polaris Drive Belt Survival Guide

One of the most common failures we see on Polaris vehicles is CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) drive belt failures. While these failures can be expensive to fix, the majority of them can be easy to prevent.

The easiest way to extend your belt life is to use the low gear drive range when you are not operating the vehicle at high speeds. Heat is one of the belt’s biggest enemies. The clutches on most CVT systems incorporate fan blades into the clutch design, and the faster the clutches spin the more air they circulate through the belt drive housing. By operating the vehicle in low range, not only are you applying less stress to the belt, but you are also moving additional cooling air over the moving parts. That keeps them cooler and helps them to last longer.

Our normal rule of thumb is that low range should be used below 15MPH, but you should check out your owner’s manual for specific guidance on the particular vehicle you own.

The second most common failure that we see is hourglassing of the belt. The term hourglassing comes from the way a belt looks after this failure has occurred. If you turn the belt sideways you can see that it goes from being full width, to being narrow where it is burned, and then back to full width again. The most common cause of hourglassing a belt is when the vehicle gets stuck and the operator applies full throttle to get the vehicle to move. When this happens, the drive clutch will spin at full speed, but as the belt is not moving, the clutch will overheat the belt where it contacts the drive clutch which then hourglasses the belt.

Depending on the degree of hourglassing, the belt and drive system may still be functional after this happens, but the vehicle will exhibit a driveline “knocking” as the hourglassed section of the belt passes over the clutches. The best preventative against hourglassing is to use the low drive range along with the 4×4 drive system when you are operating in areas where you might become stuck. If you do get stuck, and applying throttle is not moving the vehicle, then either use your winch to extract your vehicle or have another vehicle tow you to a point where you are no longer mired in the mud, sand, or water.

While Polaris offers an extended belt warranty on their vehicles, this warranty only applies to failures that result from a manufacturer’s defect in the construction of the drive belt. Upwards of 98% of belt drive failures result from misuse, abuse, and a lack of maintenance, and none of these failures are covered by the drive belt warranty.

There are other causes of drive belt failures such as getting water in the belt drive hours, or not keeping the air filter for the CVT housing clean, but they only make up a small percentage of the drive belt failures that we see.

Below is a drive belt failure analysis poster that Polaris provides to dealerships. This poster displays images and causes of the most common drive belt failures.

Polaris Drive Belt Failure Poster

While this blog post primarily discusses Polaris vehicles, the concepts apply to ATVs, UTVs, and Side by Sides (that utilize CVT drive systems) from all of the OEMs produced by Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Polaris, Honda, and Can-Am.

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12 Responses to “Polaris Drive Belt Survival Guide”

  1. C Titus | July 19, 2016 at 6:48 am #

    Thank you. This is the most informative article I have read. I have talked to different dealerships and get told conflicting information. Or they just simply double talk and don’t give a definitive answer. I just purchased my unit used (great deal) and wanted to be sure I was driving it correctly. Thank you.

  2. Earl Lindsey | September 23, 2016 at 7:47 pm #

    Just puy a new cvt drive belt on my 2013 polaris ranger 500 midsize in high range it stays in low range Before I installed the new belt it was working fine

  3. D | October 3, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

    Thank you for an informative article. Could you please elaborate on how the belt drive could end up being an expensive fix? A new belt does not seem too expensive but I’m wondering if more expensive damage occurs when trying to use a defective belt or something like that. Thanks

    • Mark Sheffield | October 4, 2016 at 8:54 am #

      D. OEM Belt prices can differ quite a bit. Some of the cheapest are under $100, and some of the most expensive now creeping up past $200. While a belt failure doesn’t often damage other components, there are instances where the belt can wad up and cause damage to either the belt housing, the clutches, or the output shaft seals. With parts, labor, and taxes, a belt repair can easily cost more than $300. To some that’s not that expensive, but to others it can be a lot. It really comes down to the individual. Good question, thanks for asking.

      • D | October 4, 2016 at 10:54 am #

        Thank you.

  4. Beano | May 25, 2017 at 9:45 pm #

    I have a ’13 Polaris 800 EFI with about 800 miles on it and during normal operation, it runs fine. However, when I am coasting to a stop, there is a very loud growling sound when I hit 10mph. I get this a bit when in low, but it is primarily when it’s in high. I recently changed all the fluids and it didn’t help. Could it be the belt? Thanks

    • Mark Sheffield | May 30, 2017 at 11:03 am #

      We normally pay more attention to hours than miles (just a personal preference) but on the 800’s we often see belt issues between 200-400 hours. If they have been hourglassed (look at the image on this blog post) then you will feel a thump thump thump as you are driving along on a smooth surface. With the growling that you are hearing, I’d check to see if it changes between 2 and 4 wheel drive. If that does, then you possibly have a differential issue. If it stays the same, then I’d pull the clutches and check the bearings that the clutches ride on. You will probably find they are worn. This can happen when you get dirt of water into the belt housing. The severity of the damage will guide whether you can just replace the bearings, or whether the clutches need to be replaced.

      Hope that helps.

      Woods Cycle Country

      • Beano | May 31, 2017 at 8:57 am #

        No difference between 2 and 4 wheel drive. And, it sounds like my belt theory isn’t likely. Is checking and/or changing the bearings something that I can do at home (with very limited equipment) or is this a dealer job?

        Bummer, but thanks.

        • Mark Sheffield | May 31, 2017 at 9:47 am #

          We’ve been out at the track, and in a pinch we’ve made up some spacers to get the clutch off, but if you aren’t careful then you can damage the output shaft (and that’s expensive to replace). I looked on Youtube and there are a few videos about disassembling the components. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WLBqkMdp5A . I also looked on Amazon and there are some cheaper clutch removal tools available (the ones that the dealership typically sells are commercial grade and they cost more than the online knock offs that are typically fine for the home user). You might find it cheaper to have the dealership check it out. Not sure where you are located, but just use Google Maps to find a dealer that has a rating of 4 stars or better and you should be good.

  5. Beano | May 31, 2017 at 8:56 am #

    No difference between 2 and 4 wheel drive. And, it sounds like my belt theory isn’t likely. Is checking and/or changing the bearings something that I can do at home (with very limited equipment) or is this a dealer job?

    Bummer, but thanks.

  6. Beano | June 1, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

    That sounds like it’s beyond my skill set, better take it somewhere. Thanks for the assistance; please let me know if you have any further thoughts.

    • Mark Sheffield | June 1, 2017 at 1:42 pm #

      Happy to help. When you get it figured out, let us know if we were on track, or otherwise what you found.