April 20, 2014
Rise and shine ladies and gentlemen, riding season is upon us and your old friend in the garage could use a little TLC before you plan to hit the trail. Although there are a few regions where you can ride year-round off-road, the majority of us live in climates that require us to store our toys for a few months through the winter. Unfortunately, some bad things can happen to our beloved four-wheelers when they are left unattended. Hopefully you are a good ATV or UTV owner and your machine is stored in a climate controlled environment with a trickle charger on the battery and a full tank topped-off with a quality fuel-stabilizer. If not, that’s okay, because the majority of us didn’t do it the right way either. Whether or not that describes you, feel free to read on and check out a few tips that will help you start the new riding season on a positive note.
If your ATV or UTV has been sitting around unused for even a few weeks it is always good to start off by visually inspecting the unit for any obvious signs of disrepair. Is there fluid leaking underneath it? Any oil, brake fluid or coolant? Is the chain loose or the sprockets hammered? Are the tires low on air or are they looking haggard? Inspecting the exterior of the machine can give you an idea of where to start. If there are leaks, address them immediately, find the source and if necessary bring the vehicle to a qualified mechanic to sort it out. If you are a DIY type then break into the owner’s manual and make the necessary repairs if you have the skill to do so. If the visual inspection of the exterior comes up clean, it’s time to dig a little deeper.
Check the engine oil level and take note of the last time you actually changed your oil. If it’s been a while, now is the time to do it. Check your owner’s manual for the manufacturers recommended weight and amount, then pick up a new oil filter. Remember that oil loses its useful qualities over time as well as through normal use. Keep in mind that some manufacturers recommend using some type of synthetic motorcycle oil while other OEMs recommend using traditional mineral-based oil. Make sure you utilize the OEM recommended type and discard your used oil at your local repository. If you have a UTV, the oil change may not be as easy as it is on an ATV. If the task is over your head just call your favorite shop and get it in there for an oil and filter change.
Your gas and the tank that it’s in can be an easy component to overlook as part of your pre-ride check list. Pop off the gas cap and smell your fuel. If it smells bad then it should be drained and replaced with fresh fuel. Bad gas can cause the tiny circuits in your carburetor or fuel-injection system major issues. This is especially important if you live in an area where Ethanol might make its way into your tank. If you used fuel stabilizer when you stored your machine then you should be in good shape. If it’s been a while since you filled it up and the gas smells bad then have your shop drain the gas and dispose of it unless you are capable of doing it yourself. In the future, make sure to always use a Fuel Stabilizer before storing your vehicles for an extend period of time.
Any off-highway vehicle, from a motorcycle or ATV to a Side-by-Side, has a fairly easy to access air-filter these days. Check your owner’s manual for the access point and visually inspect this critical component. If it’s clean, you need to use your vehicle more often. If it’s dirty, then it’s nice to see you have been using your rig, but you should always keep that filter clean. Most foam filters are easy to clean: Grab a pair of latex gloves, remove the filter and wash it out in a bucket using a good air filter cleaning agent. Let it air dry and then apply a nice coat of air filter oil before reinstalling. Make sure the air box itself is clean too. Any mud, debris or dust should be carefully cleaned out. This is a very simple task that pays huge dividends in the long run.
With the growing popularity of sand dunes and the intricate nature of high-tech fuel systems on ATVs and UTVs these days, the Pre-Filter is a great way to increase the effectiveness of your air filter system. Popular brands like K&N and Outerwears have been building them for a long time. If you’re serious about the sand or ride in a lot of dust, you should take a look at these products.
All UTVs are water-cooled as are the majority of the modern ATVs. Making sure that your cooling system is operating correctly is a good way to stop a problem before it starts. If possible, inspect the radiator itself. On the outside, make sure there is no brush, rocks or debris stuck in the cooling fins. If there is, carefully remove them. Remove your radiator cap and inspect the fluid level. Take note of the coolant;is it water or anti-freeze? If you live in a cold climate, hopefully you have anti-freeze. But there are occasions where your dealer or the previous owner fills them with simple high-quality H2O. There are many types of coolant on the market these days that range from simple anti-freeze to high tech coolant like Engine Ice, MotoCool and Cool-Aide. How does the radiator look inside? If it’s gummed up or corroded it may be a sign that you need to take the unit to a mechanic for a second opinion. It may be time for replace radiators. Make sure the shroud bolts are all in place and that any radiator braces or screens are properly secured.
A dead battery always sucks, so do your part to prevent it from happening to you. If you store your ATV or UTV for longer than a week without driving it, then toss it on a battery tender of some type. There are many options available and the majority are very good. Some tenders have hard-wired attachment points, others have non-typical layouts and you may have a used ATV with tender cables that have been set-up by the previous owners. Make sure that you are sticking the leads to the correct post on the battery. If the battery is dead, replace it. Check your owner’s manual to make 100% sure that you are buying the correct battery for your machine. Again, this is important when you are dealing with a used ATV or UTV.
If you have a stock exhaust you will not be too concerned with this next tip, but if you run an aftermarket system you should know how to keep it maintained. These days the BLM and other governing OHV bodies are requiring strict sound requirements be met by all OHV users. Be aware of the minimum dB ratings for your riding area and do your best to comply. One way to comply is to utilize the quietest aftermarket system available for your ATV or UTV. Many options are available, some of which are quieter than others so do some research and choose a system that suits your needs and local laws. If you have a system on your machine already then all you need to do is keep it in good running order.
The muffler or slip-on component of the exhaust system is often designed to allow the owner to repack the internal fiberglass-type material in an effort to reduce the sound emissions. If your system is designed to be rebuilt then it will have Allen-type screws holding the internal core of the muffler to the exterior tube. This outside unit is often aluminum, but can be stainless steel in some cases. You might need to drill out the rivets in order to access the internals but, before you do, check with the exhaust manufacturer for their recommended order of operations for separating the two pieces so that you don’t ruin your exhaust. The internal core will look like a perforated pipe and needs to have the packing material wrapped around it 2-3 times, per your muffler specs. Hold the packing in place while you slide the interior back inside the muffler and reattach the Allen bolts. Voila: your exhaust is good as new.
A brake inspection will be easier on an ATV than a UTV, but it’s a necessary evil for both types of machines. A sport ATV or UTV has disc brakes all the way around. This means you will be looking at multiple sets of brake pads – but stopping is an important part of the riding experience so it is sort of a big deal that they work the best they can. If your pads are thin, replace them. Nothing good comes from running thin pads because if they are left unchanged and wear out, you risk damaging your brake rotors and that will greatly increase the expense associated with what should have been a simple brake job. When you are looking at the UTV brakes it may be a bit more difficult, you will likely need to remove the wheels in order to get a good look. If you’re not comfortable doing this then bring the unit to the dealership and request that they conduct the inspection for you.
In some cases the utility-ATV and Side-by-Sides may have drum brakes. Accessing them is much more in-depth but it can be done. Check your owner’s manual for recommendation on how to go about this and follow the same general rules. You can clean out the inside of the drum housing with a good brake cleaner to remove the dust, debris and particles that accumulate inside. When it comes to your brakes, don’t skimp on this area, it’s not worth the risk.
The four-wheeler segment has a diverse number of drive systems directing power to the wheels. Chain and sprockets are still around and are popular on sport ATVs and some older utility ATVs. Kid’s quads typically have a chain too. Shaft-driven ATVs are more and more common in the utility styles and they are a great low-maintenance alternative to the chain. The majority of the UTVs utilize a belt-drive of some type. You will need to remove the protective cover to access them and it’s always a great idea to get familiar with the procedure in case you have a belt break while you’re driving in some remote location. Being familiar with the access point on belt-changing procedure will make it much easier to make the belt swap and get back on the trail quickly.
Traditional chain and sprockets are common to this day on many ATVs so they are easy to access, clean, maintain, tighten and in some cases even replace. There is usually a placard-decal on the chain-side of the ATV that will inform you of the recommended chain tension and the tensioner itself is often on the same side as the chain drive. An eccentric hub is very common, as are simple adjusters. Make sure not to over-tighten the chain and place undue stress on the counter shaft or create a situation that allows the chain to bind. At the same time, you should not run the chain too loose either. If the chain or sprockets need to be replaced it is always recommended that they be replaced at the same time.
The shaft-drive is a popular solution among the Utility ATV market. These low-maintenance components require that the user keep an eye on the gear oil housed in the differential. Four-wheel drive ATVs will have them front and rear, obviously. It’s good to keep an eye on the gear oil level and fill it up if it’s getting low based on the recommendation found in your owner’s manual. It is common that a large Allen-wrench will be required to turn the plug which is often located near the top of the differential. In some cases the access will be difficult because of the bodywork or hardware on your ATV. If this is the case, then the dealership has to be the recommended way to maintain your bike.
The drive belt is the most common drive system used on Side-by-Sides. The access points are usually easy to get to and in most cases a special tool that should be provided in your OEM tool-kit that is unique to your vehicle will be required to change a drive belt. Check the owner’s manual for the changing procedure but for the sake of this guide you can expect the process to go something like this: Locate and remove the belt cover, look at and recognize the flywheel and drive clutch pulley and then remove all belt debris if the belt has come apart, taking care to get all the fiber strands. Use the special tool to open the drive clutch and then slip the belt over the pulleys and into place. Remove the tool. Replace the cover and your back on the trail: Oh, if it were only that easy! Like we recommended earlier, you should get familiar with the access, the special tool and the act of replacing the drive belt in the comfort of the garage. Then if you need to conduct a trailside repair you will know how to get the job done. Oh yeah, one more thing, be careful because all those engine parts are really hot, especially the exhaust.
A good set of tires is always a good thing. A set of properly-inflated tires is pretty good too. If you didn’t find any punctures or problems with your tires during the initial visual inspection then you can focus on tire pressure. Check the tire sidewall for the tire manufacturer’s recommended air-pressure and make sure to keep them inflated properly. A good tire-pressure gauge will go a long way to making your ATV or UTV handle consistently and extend the life of your tires by allowing you to keep equal pressure in all four tires. If your tire tread is getting near the end of its useful life then you should get a new set. Sure, you can run a set of tires until they are slick but you are greatly increasing the chance of getting a flat. Since a UTV is very heavy compared to an ATV you run the risk of putting yourself in a compromised position by running bad tires on a Side-by-Side in particular. Nothing beats the smell of fresh rubber except maybe the feeling of maximum traction provided by fresh, square knobs.
Make sure to take a good look at your ATV wheels as well. With four of them taking a beating on the trail the odds of damaging one is high. Visually inspect for dents and dings. As a general rule the rim can take some good hits as long as it doesn’t interfere with the tire holding pressure. Inspect your bead-locks and make sure the bolts are tightened to spec. They can come loose because they are taking a constant beating. If there are noticeable cracks, major dents or damage then it is time to consider replacing them.ATV Tires:Off-Road
Side-by-Sides are a bit more complicated than an ATV because they have seats and seat belts. The OEM seat belts are good enough for light recreational use but they are the least amount of protection you can have in case of an accident. They need to operate perfectly so make sure the returns are working and that they lock into place. Some strategic squirts of lubricant in the retracting mechanisms can come in handy. Check the owner’s manual for recommendations. If you have aftermarket harnesses then it is a good idea to check the mounting hardware to ensure that it isn’t working itself loose over time. Make sure the belts themselves have no visible damage and that the latches work smoothly so you and your passengers can get in and out without extra hassle. If you are taking kids with you it’s a good idea to adjust the harness at the mounting location so that you have additional strap length to provide a secure fit for the kids in your care. You don’t want them jostling around anymore than is necessary.
After your UTV sits for a long period of time it is a good idea to double check and make sure all of your accessory components are in good working order. A winch, LED lights or a stereo are a lot more fun when they actually work. Do you have any extra fuses? Is your winch remote still in the glove box? Make sure it works so that you know it is there if and when you need it. This is especially important with the winch.
Like we said earlier, the sun is shining and the riding season is upon you again. Now that you have given your ATV or UTV a thorough inspection, topped off the fluids, charged the battery, inflated the tires and made sure that everything is in good working order, you are ready to ride. We recommend a short out and back ride away from the staging area so you can make sure everything works before you take off on an adventure. Visually inspect the machine one final time then head out for the real ride.
Whether you are exploring trails on your Side-by-Side or going deep in the woods on your ATV in search of game, these modern four-wheelers are a load of fun. It is up to you to make sure they are ready to ride so take care and pay close attention to the condition and maintenance schedule of your toys. If you do, chances are they will continue to provide years of fun for you and your entire family.
By keeping a written checklist of your maintenance schedule you can reduce the chance that an important check-up doesn’t slip through the cracks. This is a particularly handy tip if you have multiple machines in your garage.