So you’ve dropped $10,000 (potentially much more) on your new outdoor baby and she looks beautiful.
Of course, you want to make sure she stays that way.
I don’t blame you at all, that’s how I want mine to stay too.
But with the miles of rough terrain you’ll be trekking and all the mud, dirt and rain it will be powering through, how do you make sure you’re taking care of your ATV properly?
As with any other large investment, whether your car, house, or yourself, putting in time and resources upfront can save you lots of money and headache down the road. Not to mention, you’ll have something that runs more efficiently and looks nicer during the time you own it.
Here are 15 ways to take care of your ATV. Use this as a guide or maintenance checklist. I also use this as a pre-season checklist to make sure it’s ready for the months to come.
Some of these only need to be checked every few hundred miles (I’ll point that out when necessary) but some of them should be checked before every ride.
Follow the break in procedure
When vehicles come off the manufacturers assembly line, they aren’t given an adequate amount of time to let all the parts lubricate or loosen up. Into a delivery truck they go where they travel hundreds of miles to arrive to their sales floor.
While there is still a healthy debate around whether you should let your vehicle get easily broken into or not, I like to err on the side of caution and not test out the warranty before it’s really needed.
For the first ten hours of use, avoid going over half-throttle for extended periods of time. Make sure to vary the throttle speed regularly and don’t operate the vehicle on just one throttle position.
During the ten to twenty hour time period, avoid going over the three quarter throttle position for an extended period of time. It is ok to rev the engine through the gears but it is not recommended to ever hit full throttle during this time period.
Now that your ATV is fully broken into and the twenty hour riding period has passed, you should perform your first full oil change so that your ATV can be ready for the full riding experience.
If you’re not frequently starting up the engine without allowing the temperature in the oil to warm up, you could get condensation to build up and show on the dip stick.
Another sign that it may be condensation building up in the case is if there is a white milky substance dripping from the dip stick when it gets removed.
Water mixing with the oil is not a good thing so simply change the oil and make sure to start the engine and ride it for a long enough period of time to allow the oil to heat up significantly.
Change/check the oil
It would be hard to imaging buying a new car or truck only to never check or change the oil, right?
Everyone knows you have to change the oil on a car or it won’t run properly. Same with an ATV. It’s no different.
The quality of oil that is used on your ATV plays an important role in the life span and performance of your engine. The smaller engines on quad vehicles are far more sensitive than that of your car or truck, so make sure to use the manufacturer recommended oil weight and type.
Changing the oil on your quad is also easier than on a car and should be done more frequently. By doing this, you are helping to rid the engine of impurities, residue and deposits that are naturally formed from engine use.
Doing routine oil checks also ensures that you have enough oil in the engine. Needless to say, but engine burning of oil is not a good thing, but refilling it with oil when it’s low will prevent the engine from overheating and eventually leading to engine failure (not good and also expensive).
Oil is cheap, so always keep some on hand.
For best practices, always follow your manufacturers recommended engine maintenance schedule to keep it running long and strong.
I know it looks really cool when you’ve got mud marks all over your four wheeler, it visually lets people know that you just had an amazingly great time on the trails (and off the trails) but in some riders there is also the conscious decision to not wash it off (not recommended)
Mud and dirt trap moisture and humidity onto your vehicle which generally doesn’t mesh well when there isn’t a thick layer of paint or anti corrosive treatment on metal of your ATV.
This can cause oxidation or an acceleration of oxidation, especially when there has been some type of impact to your four wheeler.
Not only that, but dirt and mud also affect the vehicles performance by penetrating the air filter, not allowing proper air circulation and increasing the consumption of fuel.
So to prevent that, give your four wheeler a good wash after each use.
Make sure to cover up any intakes and don’t be afraid to get into tight spots. After a solid wash, you’ll be glad you did it, and plus, it’s a big part of a good maintenance plan!
Clean air filter
Having a healthy, clean air filter that freely allows the circulation of oxygen is very, very important to any engine, but in particular your ATV.
Riding with a dirty, water-soaked air filter prevents your engine from functioning properly.
Comparatively speaking, it’s like a person with emphysema trying to work out – there is simply not enough oxygen coming in to support the activity.
Simplifying things, engines work in much the same way – they only need a combination of three things: air, fuel, and a spark. When these three ingredients combine in an engine, it causes a controlled explosion that sends energy directly to the wheels of your vehicle allowing you to move.
When the air filter is blocked, the engine becomes oxygen deprived and affects the performance of the engine. If it is severe enough, it may even cause the engine to shut down.
Make sure to check the condition of your air filter after each use, if it becomes deeply soaked with mud then it may be prudent to just simply change out the air filter.
It’s also best to check your filter after a long period without using your quad as bugs and insects taking a liking to hiding in tucked away spaces.
To further touch on what was said above, spark plugs are one of the three main ingredients in making an engine work, and are what create the spark to ignite the explosion that takes place in the engine.
Not just that, but old, faulty spark plugs cause misfires in the engine which lead to increased exhaust emissions, wasted gas and reduced power and will cause older quads to buck, stall, run rough or start slow.
In addition, replacing those old spark plugs with new ones can help with cold starts. This is extremely helpful when you haven’t ridden in a while or if the weather is cold.
Check the belt
Belts are used in many automotive systems but transmission belts should be checked periodically. Check your owners manual for the frequency at which you should be inspecting your ATV.
CV belts for your transmission can become stretched and worn out due to normal wear and tear. As mud, dirt and other material (even rodents) become stuck within the grooves of the belt, it causes the tread to produce more heat, eventually leading to the belt simply tearing.
Once your CV belt is torn, your quad simply will not move.
The good news is that it usually doesn’t happen without warning. You’ll notice a strong decline in performance capabilities and the gears will shift erratically.
In some cases, if you’ve let it go far enough, you can smell the burning of rubber and that’s your sign to shut off the vehicle and inspect your belts. Again, follow the transmission belt maintenance schedule on your ATV and you should avoid many problems that could easily have been prevented.
Treat the gas with a stabilizer product
Time can wreak havoc on your ATV at times. I hate to say it, but it’s true.
Just like engine oil breaks down after a certain date, even without it ever having been put to use, so does gasoline.
And unless your owners manual calls for it, you don’t need to use premium gas because that won’t help either. It still decomposes and unstabilizes with time.
Unfortunately today’s gas is very unstable and degrades very quickly and will do so in as little as 45 days.
When gas breaks down, it leaves sediment and deposits behind ultimately clogging fuel lines like cholesterol blocking your veins.
It will even cause fuel injectors to clog preventing fuel from reaching the cylinder and when that happens, well, there goes one of the three main ingredients!
This is why it’s important to treat your fuel if you intend on leaving your four wheeler without much use for an extended period of time, or even just for the winter season.
Treating your gas (and gas lines) with a stabilizer will prevent the gas from decomposing and leaving build-up along the fuel line walls. They are really cheap and very easy to use. Simply pour the stabilizer into your gas tank and make sure to run the engine for several minutes allowing it to mix into the gas lines.
Maintain the tire pressure
They say the most important part of a race car are the tires.
You won’t be going 200+ MPH but needless to say, tires are extremely important when riding on rugged terrain.
Make sure to inspect your vehicles tire pressure before each and every use, you don’t want to be riding on a quad with low air in the tires. Not only will you feel the steering wheel pulling in a certain direction, but it’s easier to get caught in an accident and if the pressure is low enough, you can cause damage to the tire rim.
Checking the tire pressure is extremely easy and fast, simply remove the cap off of the tube sticking out of the wheel and apply a tire pressure gauge directly on top of it. The gauge meter will be forced out with a direct proportion to the amount of pressure inside of the wheel.
There’s really nothing to it.
Make sure the pressure is within the allowable limits set by the manufacturer, this can be found printed on the wheel walls or also in your owners manual.
Keeping your engine from overheating is extremely important, the cooling system of your quad does so through the use of coolant.
Coolant is one of the many fluids you check when you do a routine inspection of your car, so it shouldn’t be new to you, but in any event, it’s a greenish/bluish liquid found in a smaller, clear plastic compartment.
You’ll want to check the coolant levels and inspect that the hoses leading to the radiator are securely in place. Make sure the coolant is free of dirt and debris and that it isn’t changing color as it could mean that it is mixing with other liquids (not a good sign)
Boots, bellows and bolts
Boots and bellows should be checked after periodic and strenuous use of your ATV. These parts are located near the wheels and have a rubber vent-like shape to them. Make sure to inspect them for tears as they could come apart extremely easily once the tear has begun. If you see a tear, replace the boot immediately.
This protective boot surrounds the drive shafts and protects the joint (CV Joint) of the axle from dirt, water and other contaminants.
CV joints are extremely important as they transmit the power from the engine to the wheels.
Now that you’re inspecting the joints, this is a good time to grease the bearings and pivot points if needed.
This is a type of hydraulic fluid used in brake and clutch systems in your ATV. The fluid operates under very high temperatures and pressures and without it, your quad would not stop when you squeeze the brake lever.
One of the issues with brake fluid is that it is susceptible to absorbing moisture in the air. This causes the brake fluid to degrade and not work properly which is why it’s recommended to frequently drain and replace the fluid on an annual basis.
Since brake fluid is critical to your safety, inspect your owners manual to see how frequently the brake fluid should be flushed on your particular model.
It’s fun to go racing through trails but braking is usually an afterthought, until of course you really need to use your brakes to stop suddenly.
This is where it becomes extremely important to get to know your vehicle and know when it’s just not responding the right way.
Indications of bad brake pads can range anywhere from grinding noises to a noticeable dragging feeling to complete non-responsiveness. You’ll also hear that nails-on-a-chalkboard noise screeching from your wheels.
If this is the case, the solution could be a simple replacement of the brake pads. But if the pads are new, they may have been installed incorrectly or they could be the wrong kind.
It’s very important you check to make sure you have the right kind of pads installed since riding with the wrong pads could be as dangerous as riding with no pads at all.
The changing of brake pads is completely dependent on how frequently you ride your ATV and how hard you stop when riding. If you’re unsure if you need new brake pads you can go into any automotive shop and they can easily measure the thickness of the brake pads to determine if new ones are needed.
Know thy vehicle
There is no replacement for knowing the ride and responsiveness of your four wheeler, but that comes with time.
When you notice a change, ask yourself why that could be. Is your ATV just coming out of a winter hibernation or did you just use it last weekend? Was the transmission slipping the last time you rode it, or is it a new issue? Was it leaking fluid before or could it be because you remember hitting something?
Don’t be stupid
By this I mean use common sense.
ATVs are an incredible source of an adrenaline rush, they can take you to many places that you couldn’t get to before, or maybe not as quickly, but it’s also not a form of spider man.
Don’t assume your ATV can tread the cliffs of a mountain just because you put new tires on it.
Use your head and understand that your ATV has limitations on it. Don’t take it to dangerous heights and expect it to accomplish dangerous things. Again, use common sense.
More so, always err on the side of caution. Speeding over large rocks while scraping the bottom frame of the quad is not smart, neither is rolling the vehicle because you took turns at too high of a speed.
No one is saying you can’t explore, climb or even give it some heavy throttle every once in a while, but understand that there is no substitute for good old common sense thinking.
ATV Maintenance Checklist
It’s nice to have a written reference to check the status of your quads maintenance routine.
Some people find it much easier to have an electronic copy of their maintenance schedule while others rather print one out and update it by hand.
Either way, below is one you can use so that you always know how many miles are left before your next check-up. Enjoy!