Many side-by-side owners started off researching machines like Rangers and Defenders, only to find that the biggest common problem with such CVT-driven vehicles are the belts and clutches, which lead many would-be Polaris and Can-Am owners right into the arms of their local Honda UTV dealer. The lack of a Honda Pioneer drive belt is the reason why many riders choose their Pioneer 1000 or 500. Just look at Jeeps, Land Rovers, or Land Cruisers, and you’ll find that one of them uses a drive belt. And sure, a properly engineered drive belt might not slip, break, or fry when you’re in the middle of nowhere, but who wants a rubber band or some 1960s snowmobile technology powering their side-by-side? We’ll wager a guess that the answer is not that many. You might like the smell of burnt rubber at drag races or burnout competitions, but you probably wouldn’t like it if that very same smell was coming from your belt-burner propulsion system. Belt drives are just too unreliable, which is why Honda Pioneers are shaft-driven!
If you spend a few hours studying the net, you will find that most Honda Pioneer owners discuss upgrades such as lifts, tires, and windscreens. Very rarely will you come across a post about mechanical upgrades. Contrast this with Polaris Ranger, Can-Am, and Kobata side-by-sides, and it seems like every other post is about belt upgrades, clutch rebuilds, or aftermarket drive belts. Sure vehicles like the RZR or Maverick are go-fast machines that will outrun a Pioneer any day of the week, but try riding a Can-Am through a puddle with water up to your seat and see how long it pulls without the belt slipping.
Because the Honda Pioneer has no drive belt, you don’t have to worry about the belt slipping when it gets wet or breaking after a few rides. With the Honda Pioneer, so long as you change your oil at the scheduled maintenance times, the auto-style torque converter with three-speed automatic transmission will last for the lifetime of the side-by-side itself. And where pulling is concerned, a 2,500 lb trailer will pop the belt of a Kawasaki Brute Force 750 after a few yards and smoke the belt of a 1000 Ranger after a few miles. But with a Honda Pioneer and the exact same trailer, you’ll be able to pull heavy loads all day long without a single issue. Ask any Honda Pioneer owner, and they’ll likely tell you that they’ll never go back to a belt or chain drive, claiming that the shaft drive is the way to go.
The above mentioned reasons are all valid for those wanting a shaft drive instead of a belt drive. That being said, if a belt goes out, the fix is simple. But when the clutches in a shaft-driven Honda Pioneer go out, the repair process is a bit more involved. Different Pioneer editions also use different transmissions / propulsion methods. The Honda Pioneer 700 has a torque converter, whereas the Honda Pioneer 1000 uses a dual-clutch transmission. Because of this, the Pioneer line of UTVs are much more reliable than other machines with drive belts. Through proper tuning, you can make your Honda PIoneer clutches last longer. Although it might make your rig noisier when shifting due to the clutches being more fully engaged, tuning will make it so that there’s less slip time when the vehicle shifts. That being said, unless you’re constantly abusing your rig, a set of clutches should last 10 years or more in a Honda Pioneer 700 since the torque converter does most of the work.
As we mentioned earlier, instead of Honda Pioneer 500 drive belts, Honda Pioneer 700 drive belts, and Honda Pioneer 1000 drive belts, the Pioneer 700 has an automobile-style hydraulic torque converter. A torque converter is like a big oil pump -- there is a turbine on the input side from the engine that spins oil, which then spins the impeller on the output side. When you shift gears, this hydraulic fluid disengages, the Pioneer shifts, then the fluid engages again. Big trucks and vehicles have this system, and they are known to be very reliable due to there being few parts that grind or rub -- like the rubber belt on non-Honda UTVs that goes out all the time. The Pioneer 1000 has a dual-clutch transmission, so to shift from first gear to second gear, clutch pack one disengages and clutch pack two engages almost instantaneously. Then from second to third gear, clutch pack two disengages and clutch pack one engages. Each clutch pack is responsible for shifting three gears -- 1, 3, 5 and 2, 4, 6 -- and this is why the Pioneer and other DCT road vehicles have such quick shifting times (because there is always another clutch waiting to shift). The Honda Pioneer 500 has a similar DCT system, only with five gears instead of six.