Year-Round ATV Maintenance
Sometimes the machines that work the hardest for us get neglected the most. Our ATVs often get pretty dirty, from caked on mud to endless dust from the trails. Maybe it's the tendency to view our ATV as a tough and rugged machine, but the truth is, we can often forget the importance of ongoing maintenance. To keep your ATV performing optimally, it’s important to maintain this all-terrain vehicle in every season.
Preseason ATV Maintenance
If you winterized your ATV last year, you probably saved yourself a lot of work and you'll be back out on the trail in no time. But if you didn't, don't worry, as long as you go through the proper preseason maintenance you'll be up and running quickly.
First, grab your manufacturer's manual. It's essential for making sure you're checking everything you need to and getting the right replacements for fluids and parts. It's also an easy reference for how your ATV should be running and maintained. A manual can provide great general maintenance tips based on your model and number of hours of operation or mileage you've put on your ATV. If you don't have a manual, talk to your dealer or go online.
Second, you'll want to check all the fluids. If your oil looks like tar, it's time to replace the oil and the oil filter. Why? Because an engine run with dirty oil will suck in contaminants that could potentially hurt the proper operation of your ATV. Regular oil changes help prevent corrosion and excessive wear of the engine - this can lead to poor fuel economy, power shortages, or even complete engine failure.
Don't stop at the oil: check all the fluids in your ATV's engine including the coolant, four-wheel drive, transmission, and brake fluid. Refill or flush as needed.
Third, you're going to test all your ATV's parts. You want to make sure that all the moveable parts are working properly, and, where necessary, are adjusted appropriately. Check the carburettor and injectors to make sure they're clean. If your ATV is chain-driven, check the chain and reapply a fresh coat of lubrication. Finally, check and clean all belts and hoses, keeping an eye out for cracks, peeling or loose fittings.
Next, check the spark plugs. Watch out for dry rot, and clean or replace as necessary. Check the battery to ensure its kept its charge over winter before moving on to check the brake and tail lights. Your throttle control is next - you want to know that it will snap back, as needed, with the proper amount of play. Finally, check your ATV's tire pressure and all its panels and fittings.
Now you're ready to ride!
During the Season
Be sure to keep your ATV clean and check it over for damage. Continue your routine oil changes and check your fluids and replace them as necessary.
Winterizing Your ATV
Before you put your ATV away for the season, make sure you prepare it for the long period of sitting ahead. You want to protect it from the four dreaded C's: cold, corrosion, chemical breakdown, and critters.
Step 1 - Cold Protection
For liquid-cooled machines, top up the coolant or completely replace if it’s more than two years old. Always use the manufacturer’s recommended coolant and make sure the new mix has adequate antifreeze protection. Freshen up your brake fluid too, or change it if it’s due.
Step 2 - Corrosion Protection
To protect your ATV from the damage that water and dampness can produce, you must make sure it’s clean and covered. So, the first step is to wash, rinse, and dry your ATV. This helps to reduce the risk of corrosion, as caked-on bugs and brake dust will only increase the chances of decay and rot. Remember to wax painted and chromed parts and lubricate items such as chains, sprockets, cables, lug nuts and even exhaust pipes—anything that can corrode.
It’s important to drain the carburettor (if your ATV has a carbureted engines), especially if your fuel stabilizer isn’t alcohol-free. With the machine running, close the fuel petcock valve and let the engine run out of fuel. Let the engine cool, then locate the drain screw for the float bowl and release the remaining fuel from the carburettor.
To protect your fuel tank from internal corrosion, fill it with fresh fuel and add a fuel stabilizer. Run the engine for 10 minutes or so to get it up to operating temperature and distribute the stabilizer through the lines. Now, top up the fuel until the tank is almost full (about the bottom of the filler neck) to prevent condensation inside the tank (which leads to corrosion).
Step 3 - Chemical Breakdown Protection
To prevent engine breakdown, consider fogging. This is when you remove the air filter and spray fogging oil directly into the intake while the engine is running until the exhaust gets smoky. You then replace the filter. Just remember, don’t fog if your ATV has a catalytic converter. Another option is to drain the carburettor, then remove the spark plugs and pour about a tablespoon of clean motor oil into each cylinder. With the plugs out, cover the holes with a clean rag and turn the engine over a few turns to distribute oil in the cylinders. Replace the plugs. What's best for your ATV will depend on its engine - talk to the manufacturer or a mechanic.
Now, while the engine is still warm change the oil and oil filter. Used oil contains acids and combustion by-products that will eat away at the engine and other components over the winter.
Finally, remove the battery and charge it. Store it where it won’t freeze, and hook it up to a trickle charger.
Step 4 - Protection from Critters
First, deal with the tires. You’ll have to determine what type of tire is on your ATV. With radial tires, just inflate to slightly above riding pressure for over-winter storage. But with bias-ply tires, you’ll need to deflate the tires to expel any moisture, then reinflate to the recommended pressure to avoid flat-spotting (damage caused by sitting in one spot). An even better approach is to set your ATV on a jack stand or blocks—this protects your tires and prevents critters from building nests in the wheels.
To protect the rest of your ATV from animals, tape over any potential entry points, such as exhaust pipes and intakes. Finally, use a tarp to protect your ATV from critters and the elements. If the ATV stored outside, use a waterproof cover; if it’s stored inside, use a breathable cover.
While your ATVs may be covered under your home insurance policy, it's a good idea to talk to your broker about your policy limits. If your ATV is valuable or an important part of your recreational lifestyle, consider getting ATV insurance to protect it.
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