All terrain vehicles, or ATVs, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Whether you’re looking to buy a humble farm machine or a $20,000-plus super racer, you’re going to want to pay close attention to the condition of the ATV as these vehicles typically live hard lives. To be a smart consumer, you’ll need to know the different types of ATVs and key points to check for each, what to look for when you test ride, and what sorts of maintenance you’ll need to conduct to keep your ATV in great shape.
Determine what type of ATV you want to buy
What type of ATV you want will really depend on what you want to do with it. If you need it to help out around the farm, a racing quad probably won’t actually help you get anything done, so skip the race bike with four wheels and look for a utility task vehicle (UTV), which is basically a fuel-burning, off-road golf cart.
If you want to go ride some trails at your local off-road vehicle park, you might want to look for a beefier quad bike or a more powerful, performance oriented UTV. Or, if you want to get into racing, stick with lower powered quad bikes so you can get a hang of riding and maintaining such a high-maintenance machine.
Prices for “turn-key” machines will likely average $3,500 for used, and closer to $10,000 for a new one. There are some ATVs that can even cost as much as a well-equipped new car.
Going for your test ride and inspection
When you’re ready to check out an ATV, go for a test ride and mechanical inspection. It’s best to take a seasoned rider along with you to help gut check your potential purchase. It’s common to have an ATV with a 2-stroke engine (similar to a weed whacker) so make sure you know what you’re getting into in regards to fueling/oil.
These engines are very high strung and provide a unique power delivery that is “intoxicating” to say the least. As a result, they are unfortunately less reliable.
No matter what ATV you want to buy, making sure it’s been maintained routinely. Ask the seller - even if it’s a dealer - about any service records or its maintenance history. This should include regular fluid changes of the oil, coolant if it’s water cooled, transmission fluid, and differential fluid - especially if it is four-wheel drive.
Check out the frame for any signs of rust or distress. Because some ATVs like to be jumped, the frame is susceptible to damage and cracking, especially where the suspension ties into it.
The chain and sprockets will also be important to look over. These act as final drives for the drivetrain and are often changed out for more speed or faster acceleration. If not, they can get worn and instead of being uniform, become bent.
How to maintain your ATV
Many people tend to store ATVs in the off season, and if you plan to do the same, you’ll need to store it properly. Remove the battery and clean the terminals. If you plan to leave the machine dormant all winter, it’s a smart investment to get a small charger to ensure the voltage doesn’t drain entirely from the battery.
Adding fuel stabilizer is also a smart idea. This ensures the quality of the fuel stays strong throughout the winter and won’t cause any ill-performance when you’re ready to go riding again. When that time does come, you’ll probably want to simply change the oil, oil filter, and air filter as well.
While you’re riding, lubrication is going to be the most important aspect of maintaining your ATV. Greasing suspension joints, drive chains, sprockets, etc. will help the ATV from wearing out critical components. If it’s water cooled, routine changes of the coolant will also ensure the ATV remains cool and protected under hard loads.
ATVs are fun ways to enjoy the great outdoors and truth be told, they don’t require any more attention than an older car. If you’re ready to buy, keep in mind the above tips and you’ll be fine.