Spring is here and for millions of Americans, that means pulling the ATV out of winter storage. It’s been a long, chilly few months since your last ride, and you’re probably itching to get rolling. But before you hit the trail or haul that first load, you’ll want to make sure your four-wheel friend is in good working order.
Taking the time now to run through this checklist will help ensure your vehicle runs smoothly and safely all season.
1. Start with a visual inspection.
Experts agree you should start your spring tune-up with a top-to-bottom visual inspection. Eyeballing every nook and cranny of your machine will help you spot fluid leaks, worn or underinflated tires, loose chains, and all sorts of other wear and tear.
Don’t assume all is well if you don’t find any mechanical issues. Mice and other rodents love to crawl into tight spaces and build nests, especially if your ATV has been kept under a cover. “Grab a flashlight and take a serious look around your equipment to ensure there have been no critter incursions,” writes powersports blogger Nelson Ireson. Check behind body panels, inside luggage or storage areas, inside fenders, and inside mufflers and air inlets.
As for leaks, check both under the machine and around seals and plugs on the drivetrain equipment and at suspension dampers, Ireson writes. Be sure you also check the brake fluid reservoir, brake lever or pedals, and brake calipers or drums. If there are leaks, get them taken care of immediately and, if necessary, bring your ATV to a qualified mechanic. If you prefer DIY and have the skills, break out the owner’s manual and make the needed repairs.
2. Change the oil.
Check the oil levels and figure out when your oil was last changed. Ideally, you had it changed before storing your ATV for the winter but, even if you did, it’s probably a good idea to change the engine oil and, if applicable, the transmission fluid before the start of the spring and summer season. When sitting unused, oil can separate and become waxy, dramatically reducing its ability to protect your gears from wear, Ireson writes.
For the recommended weight and amount of oil needed, check your owner’s manual and then pick up a new oil filter. Some manufacturers recommend using some type of synthetic motorcycle oil, so keep that in mind. The oil change might not be as easy if you have a UTV. If you can’t manage the task on your own, take it in to the shop for an oil and filter change.
3. Check, charge, or change your battery.
Whether or not your battery is still kicking come spring will depend on whether you put it on a charger over the winter. If you didn’t, there’s a pretty good chance your battery is dead and may need to be replaced. If that’s the case, check your owner’s manual to be sure you are buying the correct battery for your ATV. If it’s still got some life, you’ll want to visually check your battery for signs of leaking fluid or corrosion on battery terminals or nearby parts of your machine. If you notice your battery needs topping off, be sure to wear safety gloves and goggles and only add distilled water to adjust the electrolyte levels. Once that’s done, go ahead and charge the battery if it isn’t already fully charged.
4. Check all fluid levels.
Your engine and transmission are not the only parts of your ATV that need lubrication. Coolant and brake fluid levels are also vital to the longevity and health of your machine. You’ll want to inspect for and address any leaks before you ride. Be sure all fluids are at their proper levels and, if any are especially low, go back over your inspection list to see if a leak is the culprit. Consider draining and replacing the fluid entirely, especially if there are signs of wear or if you haven’t replaced it in the past few seasons. This is especially true of brake fluid, which absorbs moisture from the air and can get dirty and less effective over time.
5. Keep those filters clean.
Your engine needs a steady supply of clean air to run efficiently. To keep a supply of clean air flowing through it, the air filter must be clean and dry. When taking your ATV out of winter storage, be sure to check the filter before you cold-start your machine. Another reason to check air filters: They are a favorite spot for critters building nests.
6. Pull and replace plugs, arrestors, and other important stuff.
While rooting around inside your ATV, don’t forget to check what kind of shape your spark plugs, chains, belts, and cables are in. If any of these parts need swapping out, now is the time to do it. Cables should be checked for frays and weakness, while belts can become stretched and worn over time. If you have a chain ATV, check for slack and adjust it according to the owner’s manual.
This check will also remind you to make sure you’ve installed one or more spark arrestors. If you live in an area that’s dry and prone to wildfires, chances are that they’re required. If you’re not sure if they’ve been installed already, stick a stiff wire into the exhaust of your ATV — if something stops you after an inch or two, then you’ve got an arrestor in place. If not, a mechanic can install one for a fee.
The ATV Safety Institute also recommends:
- Checking controls to ensure they work smoothly.
- Inspecting the throttle and other cables to make sure they move smoothly and snap closed with the handlebars in any position.
- Checking to be sure the throttle limiter (if equipped) is adjusted appropriately for the rider.
7. What about wheels, tires, and rubber components?
No doubt your tires lost some air over the winter months and possibly took a beating last season. To ensure your ATV is trail worthy, you’ll want to be sure that tire pressure is set and maintained to the manufacturer’s specifications. Having correct tire pressure is not only important for safety; it also makes the ride more enjoyable. You’ll need a low-pressure gauge to measure tire pressure because automotive tire gauges are not accurate for ATVs.
Sitting in the cold can also cause rubber parts of your ATV to develop cracks, flat spots, and other problems. This applies to hoses and handlebar grips, as well as tires. Don’t forget to check for cuts or gouges that can cause air to leak out. To avoid loss of control, make sure axle nuts are tightly secured with cotter pins and that wheel nuts are torqued sufficiently.
And, while you’re at it, check your brake pads. If you can’t see indicator marks, they need to be replaced. More wear on one brake pad than the other means it’s time for an alignment. If you see any buildup of dirt and debris on your rotors, give them a good scrub. Check your caliper seals and replace them if needed. Brake controls should operate smoothly and be adjusted according to the owner’s manual. The foot shifter should be firmly attached and positioned for safe operation.
8. Keep safety in mind.
Now that your ATV is revved up and ready, it’s time to think about safety. The ATV Safety Institute is your one-stop resource. The Irvine, Calif.-based nonprofit offers lists of rules, training, and tips on riding gear and state regulations. Their available courses include a free e-course and modestly priced hands-on training courses for adults and children. The group also offers free downloadable guidebooks and an ATV readiness checklist.
9. Show your ATV some TLC.
With your ATV all checked out and ready to rip, what else could you possibly need to know? How about a few tips on keeping your machine bright and sparkling after you’ve played in the mud? With prices running as high as $10,000 for high-end models, these motorized toys represent a significant investment. It only makes sense to protect your investment from the elements, so it continues to run well and look good. Covering your ATV and storing it in a barn or garage are two ways to show your machine some love. Washing, drying, and shining up your motorized play thing will help keep it looking spiffy for years to come.
10. Make sure you’re covered.
If you made changes to your insurance coverage in the winter months, make sure you have appropriate coverage before you get out there and ride. You may consider speaking to your insurance company about available discounts and any optional coverage that will help you worry less about the unexpected and enjoy your adventures more.
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