Whether you are buying an ATV for business or for pleasure, there is no doubt that an ATV can represent an incredible investment. They can allow a farmer to reach the far ends of his property quickly, or they can allow weekend recreational riders to explore and enjoy some of the most beautiful landscape in our country – or race around tearing it up in a hugely enjoyable spray of mud.
No matter what you intend to use your ATV for though, the truth remains that it represents a big investment of cash. One of the ways to offset that investment a little is to look to pick up a quality used ATV.
At the same time, you must ensure that the used ATV is of a good quality, otherwise it can become more expensive than a new ATV via repairs and new parts. In this article we have put together a definitive checklist of top tips to help you find the right ATV for you.
Lets get right into this list then, and kick off with:
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Research and Prepare
Perhaps one of the key tips that we can give you is to take it slowly. We would strongly suggest that you don’t go off to the address of the first listing on CraigsList with a pocket full of cash!
We apologize if that sounds condescending, but we know of too many people swept up in the excitement of picking up a new ATV ending up picking up a dud.
The first thing to bear in mind is that there are a whole host of different ATVs out there, all with different spec, engine sizes, speeds and weight capacity. That means that some ATVs are going to be better suited to your needs. For example if you want an ATV for a work project, carrying weight could be important. For a recreational rider on the other hand, it could be speed or fuel efficiency that matter more.
A good place to start is the websites and review sites of each manufacturer and ATV style, where you can highlight the manufacturers and models that best suit your needs.
In addition, it is also a good idea to prepare a checklist of ATV elements and components to check. It can be easy to overlook a few points in the excitement of seeing what could be your new ATV, meaning that it’s easy to forget the checkpoints you want to go over.
We would also suggest that you take another person with you when you go to inspect your ATV. Just like the checklist, they can help you to remember any points you overlook!
Finally, it can be helpful to bring some tools and equipment to help you. We would bring a flashlight or two, even if you are going to see the ATV during the day. It can help you to peer into all the nooks and crannies on the ATV for a really thorough inspection.
If you have a portable car jack, bring that too if you can along with some rags and work gloves if you have them.
Know What to Ask
Before you even get to inspecting the machine itself, start by inspecting the owner. No, don’t lift them up on a jack or shine a light in their face – but do ask them a few questions.
Check how long they have owned the ATV and if they bought it new, that will give you a rough idea of age. Also ask them for the service history, and see if you can check out the servicing and maintenance records.
It can also be a good idea to just ask how often they ride the ATV, where they ride and why they are selling it. Some seller will tell you a pack of lies, so bear that in mind! Most genuine sellers will be happy to chat you about these points though, and they can give valuable pieces of information about the overall condition of the vehicle.
Inspect the ATV
Just to add a point that goes with the one above, we would strongly suggest that you do actually go out and physically inspect the ATV before you hand over your cash.
We know that these days the Internet makes it easy to see products for sale all over the country, even the world. Whilst buying items over the Internet these days is a better idea than it has ever been before, that doesn’t really equate to used ATVs in just quite the same way. You really do need to inspect the vehicle before you buy it, and the best way to do that is in person.
Start with the Tires
Assuming you have followed our advice above and have gone to physically inspect the ATV, the next question is where do you start? There are so many components and parts to check, it can seem overwhelming.
That is why we strongly suggest starting with the tires as the first inspection point. For one thing, they are one of the easier components to inspect, being mounted externally to the main ATV body. They are also quite easy to test the current state of the tires.
Get your flashlight and shine it all over the tires, thoroughly inspecting the tire sidewalls and into the treads, looking for any cracks or damage such as pieces of missing rubber.
Cracks are particularly worrying. ATV tires age just the same way as normal road tires. The thing is, an ATV will often be used a lot less often than a road tire. Signs of age will usually present as cracks rather than wear and tear on tread.
Poor tires are not an automatic fail for a potential used ATV – just bear in mind you may need to drop some additional dollars on replacing the tires.
Bearings & Ball Joints
Whilst you are down inspecting the tires, you can also inspect the bearings and ball joints – provided of course you remembered to bring that car jack.
If you did, raise the ATV so at least one wheel is off the ground. Once in place, grasp the tire with one hand on top and one at the bottom and rock it back and forth. Repeat this on all four tires, noting that if you feel any give or play in the tire, that indicates a worn wheel bearing, a bad wheel joint or possibly even both.
Take a look at the shocks next, as they are located behind the wheels so are easy to access. Specifically, look for any patches of wetness near the top of the shocks. If you see any damp or wet patches, touch it with your fingertips. If it feels oily, this is fluid leaking from the shock. That means the shock is on its last legs and will shortly need replacing.
CV Boot Inspection
Located on the rear (inward) portion of the wheel, the CV Boot is a rubber or plastic cap that covers the rotating joint that holds the wheel on the axle. Because of the various off road conditions including wet, mud and snow that an ATV can drive through, the CV boot is there to keep the joint greased.
Check out the CV Boot looking for any rips in the material. If you find any, it means that the CV Boot will need replacing. In addition though, you may also see sand, grit or dirt has invaded the joint area. This is a worse problem, as you need to check the joint has not been damaged.
Take a clean rag and rub it over the head gaskets and valve covers in the engine. If it comes back coated in fresh oils, you are looking at replacement valves or head gaskets, a job that could cost hundreds of bucks.
Whilst you are hanging around the oily end of the engine, take the advantage to check the actual oil itself with the dipstick. If the oil comes out looking milky, then water has gotten into it. If it looks extremely black and opaque, it’s filthy and needs changing.
It’s not the end of the world to do an oil change, but it is time consuming and you’ll need to pay for new oil too. This could be a good bargaining chip with the owner to get the price down a little though.
Check out the oil and air filters too if you can, and make sure to ask when was the last time they were cleaned or replaced.
The frame of an ATV can take a lot of punishment over time. Look for any bent sections in the frame tubing, which can indicate a big impact at some point. Also check out the frame for rust, paying particular attention to any weld points you can see.
Finally take a good look at the braking system. In particular, we would suggest that you take a look at the thickness of the brake pads, as well as their overall condition. Check out the rotor too, and look for any deep gouges or wear to the rotor surface.
That’s about it folks! There is a range of other factors too, such as paintwork, even wear and tear on the seat that should be taken into account. But the list above is pretty comprehensive of the key areas of wear on an ATV, including the areas with the highest replacement and repair costs. Just bear it in mind when inspecting your potential used ATV and you should end up with a top quality machine.