Taking care of your own ATV is its own reward. You’ll save a bag on workshop costs, suffer fewer breakdowns, but more than that, you’ll learn a ton of ATV know-how.
An ATV requires a lube service every 300 miles or three months, whichever comes first. Other important maintenance items and intervals include:
- Air filter clean every 100 miles or 1 month
- New plug yearly
- Drain carburetor every 3 months
- Coolant change every 2 years
- Clean spark arrestor yearly
- Change diff oil every 4 years
- Brake fluid 2 years
- Brake hoses every 4 years
In this post, you’ll learn when you should service your ATV and what other maintenance and adjustments are needed.
An ATV works hard, and while tough, they do need some love. Taking care of your own ATV maintenance is the correct decision. You know your bike best, and if it’s acting up, you can get on it early, and that very often saves you money and time in the longer game.
So what kind of maintenance needs to be done and when? ATVs are so versatile. It’s not surprising they’re so popular. They’re used for a variety of forestry, search, and rescue, recreation, farming, etc.
And how they are used differs, and that, as you can imagine, changes how they wear out their components.
Most ATVs don’t cover lots of miles; instead, they travel shorter distances, more of a stop-start life. For that reason, three metrics are used as a guide to service intervals – Miles, Hours, and records.
Servicing by Miles
We’re all familiar with this concept. The miles traveled by the ATV are recorded by a digital or analog dash Speedo.
Servicing by Hours
Some ATVs may be fitted with an hour reader. This is common practice with Agri and construction machinery. The dashboard incorporated hour meter starts whenever the engine is running.
Servicing by Records
Time since the last service isn’t recorded by most ATVs, so the operator or maintainer must keep a good record of maintenance carried out and also maintenance needed at the next service and when that is. It’s good practice to place a sticker on the bike as a reminder of its next service due date.
As ATV riders, we should always think of preventative maintenance. Of course, many of us do without even realizing it. Checking the oil before starting, visually checking over tires, steering components, checking for leaks, and being generally aware of our kit.
You know your own bike best, how it sounds and feels, how it performs, gas mileage, oil consumption. Noticing a change in your bike and being inquisitive about it is preventative maintenance.
Change oil and filter
Oil quality is mission-critical to your motor. In fact, the breaking in oil change is arguably the most important oil change of the machine’s life. Oil lubes the components, but it also cools them, and detergents in the oil help dissolve harmful acids inside your motor.
You couldn’t change oil too often, I’ve worked on engines for over twenty years, and the difference between a well-maintained motor and a neglected one is obvious even to the untrained eye.
Your oil type and quantity are important too. Using the oil specified by your engine maker makes good sense as they have likely stress-tested the motor using the recommended grade lube.
A common lube is 5w30, but ambient temperatures will dictate the weight of oil you use.
Clean and oil every 100 miles or one month, more regularly in dusty conditions.
A dirty air filter will cause your engine to run rich, blow black smoke, bog down under throttle and dilute the engine oil.
Replace the plug every year. Better plug design means they last a lot longer. Your plug will need to be removed, cleaned, and gaped every three to six months or every 160 hours approx.
You can tell a lot about how your engine’s running by examining the plug. A healthy running engine will cause the spark plug electrode to turn a tan color.
- Black plug, means your running rich (Fat)
- Black and oily means possible mechanical issue
- Grey/white plug and your running lean
Gaping the plug will require a feeler gauge or a plug gaper tool. It’s a simple process of measuring the plug electrode gap with the gauge and adjusting it with pliers if needed. An average gap spec is about .028 – .031 in (.7 – .8 mm).
Both too loose and too tight are common. Plugs are fitted with crush washers, which, when new, resemble a donut. The plug is tightened for the first time. It crushes the washer and makes a good seal.
Plug fitting tips
New plug – always starts threading the plug by hand. After the plug seats, turn it about 1/2 turn, using a ratchet and plug socket.
Used plug – Thread by hand until seats and turn a 1/4 turn with socket and ratchet.
All ATV carburetors cause problems eventually. Fueling is by far the most common ATV problem. It’s not because carburetors are of bad quality. It’s simply because mixing gas and air to a precise ratio is only possible if all components of the fueling system are working correctly.
It’s worth noting that air plays a large part in how carburetor functions, the root cause of a fueling system fault may be caused by an airflow fault.
Your gas is filtered and sometimes twice, but crap in the form of water, silt, and other contaminants gets into the fuel system. Remnants of gas cans with mixed gas and stale gas are a common cause of performance issues.
All fuel passes through the fuel bowl, and cleaning is all part of the maintenance checks. A gas bowl will have an easy-to-access drain screw or removable bung.
It’s good practice to remove and drain the bowl every time you change the oil. If you have an in-line filter, check it too and replace it yearly.
If your ATV is fuel injected you won’t have to worry about bowl draining as they don’t employ one. You will need to clean the gas filter though.
If you’re storing your bike for an extended period, stale gas can create gumming of the carburetor. This is a problem that’s becoming more common with the proliferation of ethanol-blended fuels.
I use a gas stabilizer additive and fill my gas tank to the top. It helps prevent gumming, moisture build-up and keeps the gas fresh for up to 12 months.
Not all bikes are water-cooled, but even if your bike is air-cooled, it will need maintenance. Keep the engine cooling fins free from debris and obstruction. If your engine has a coolant system, you’ll need to make some extra checks. Coolant quality and quantity is super important.
It’s best to change coolant out every two years and no more than 3.
Running straight water or old coolant is risky and no coolant at all is risking imminent engine failure at worst and failed head gasket at best.
Coolant is, as you know, specially formulated to have a higher boiling point 220°F, and the antifreeze agents cause it to have a lower freezing point, mixed at a ratio of 50/50. The freezing point is about 35°F.
Two other important agents in fresh coolant include – a rust inhibitor that protects all the components of the system and a lube that helps keep the seals, pump, thermostat, gaskets supple.
While it is possible to use water in the system, it isn’t advised, even topping up with straight water is risky as it dilutes the antifreeze. In addition, water chemicals are harsh on all the components and promote corrosion in head-gaskets, frost plugs, etc.
When replacing the coolant, I advise customers to replace the thermostat also.
A typical system takes about 1.5 US quarts of ethylene glycol mixed 50/50 with distilled water.
Exhaust Spark Arrestor
Spark arrestor, while not fitted to all ATVs from new, is the law in many states to have one fitted. The arrestor prevents forest fires by catching any embers that may exit the tailpipe.
The arrestor is fitted to the rear of the tailpipe and is a simple wire mesh guard. The guard can become caked in carbon deposits that restrict exhaust gas flow and choke your engine.
An inspection and cleaning once a year is normal, however, every six months or 160 hours is best.
If your arrestor is choking up more frequently, you may have a mechanical issue.
Front and Rear Differential Oil
Differential oil lives a long life relative to engine oil – four years. Diff oil has a sticky, gloppy consistency and is excellent at coating components. The ability to stick is important as a diff doesn’t have an oil pump to move oil around. Instead, the diff relies on splashing oil about.
Your bike will have a recommended gear oil type, SAE 80 Hypoid oil is typically, and a diff doesn’t hold a lot of oil, about .3 of a US quart. Differential oil becomes less sticky with age and contaminated by fine metal particles. The metal occurs naturally as gears wear and act like liquid sandpaper if not drained and replaced periodically.
Brake fluid is often forgotten about, and it can be a costly mistake. Brake fluid likes to be changed every two years. The problem with brake fluid is it absorbs water, and the water promotes corrosion inside the brake system. Corrosive particulates then damage and tear the seals of master cylinders and caliper pistons seals.
Other issues with moisture-laden brake fluid include spongy brakes and brake fade. Both problems can be solved by changing the fluid and bleeding the system.
Inspecting, Adjusting & Lubing
Various components will need adjusting at various times, and putting a time limit on it or mileage won’t make any sense. Take brake pads, for example, pads could last years on one ATV and only months on another. It’s dependent on how the machine is used.
A thorough inspection of your machine is advised every three months, some inspection points will only require yearly attention, and some of these won’t apply to your bike at all.
Tyres & Wheels
- Tire damage
- Thread depth
- Bead lock fasteners
- Wheel nut torqued
- Clean debris buildup
- Free-play ball joints inner
- Free-play ball joints outer
- Steering head bearing
- Fluid level
- Controls secure
- Pads/shoes wear
- Hoses perished twisted or cracked
- Adjustments, drums and levers
- Lube controls
- Bushing & ball joint free-play
- Shock leaks
- Loose components
- Suspension Level
- Grease joints
- Check for leaks
- Airbox debris and drain pipes clear
- Coolant strength
- Clean exterior rad debris
- Check rad cap, hoses, and cooling fan operation
- Rebuild water pump every 4 years
- Carburetor mix and idle adjustment (3 – 6 months)
- Valve lash check (6 – 12 months)
- Wheel bearing free-play
- Drive shaft boots
- CV joints
- Diff lock adjustment
- Diff vents
- Grease joints
- CVT belt inspection
- CVT Clutches
- Manual trans clutch adjustment
- Battery fluid level check
- Battery cable clean
- Battery test
- Battery charging test
- Check fuses and relays clean and dry
- Solenoid cables are tight and clean
- Stater cable tight and secure
- CDI box block connector secure
- Rectifier/regulator clean and secure
- Electrical switches secure and working
- Electrical components secure and working lights winches etc.
- Check engine loom harness secure, block connectors free from corrosion
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