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Off-Season ATV Maintenance Guide


If you’re not riding your ATV through the winter, there are other things you can do to pass the cold months. If you’re into rebuilds, or your quad could use a little TLC, now is the right time to take that on. Our winter maintenance guide walks you through basic upkeep your quad while providing ideas of what you might be forgetting.

Prevention

The best way to avoid expensive repairs is to prevent little problems from becoming bigger ones. If you won’t be riding your quad through the winter months, finding a dry place for storage it is important. Don’t be fooled! This matters in the warmer months, too. Direct sunlight and high temperatures can cause sun damage, which wears your vehicle faster

Location, Location, Location

Indoors: barn, shed, storage facility/container, toy hauler, crawl space

Outdoor: lean-to, oversized porch, atv shelter

You’ll want a cover if you’re going for an outdoor option to keep snow, rain, and flying debris off your vehicle. It also comes in handy if you’re working on modifications, as covering your vehicle between sessions prevents dirt, dust and debris from settling on your assembly. In barns, it protects paint from animal droppings.

If you’re storing in a non-heated area, beware of frost wedging. This is what happens when temperatures hover around freezing, causing a melt/refreeze cycle. If moisture is anywhere on your vehicle, it will melt, seep into crevices, and freeze, creating minute cracks. Over time, the ice compounds, and hairline fractures can turn into large crevices.

Once you’ve decided where you’ll keep your vehicle, it’s time to give it a once-over. When did you last change the oil? Or check the transmission. What about the engine valves, the suspension, or the battery? And is it time to refurbish your plastics?

Change Your Oil

Debris and dirt create sticky gunk that can damage an engine. You’ll likely need to do this once or twice a year, depending on use. Swap out the filter, and check the air filter. Clean air intake boosts horsepower, and cleaning the filter takes about a minute. YouTube has videos if you need help. Last, look over your vehicle for loose bolts and screws, and tighten as necessary. You don’t want anything falling off mid-ride.

Transmission

If you’re not familiar with transmissions, we recommended seeking professional assistance. If you know your way around, however, we’ve got tips for manuals and automatics.

Manual 
Clutch is key, and the focus here is on smooth operation. If your clutch feel stiff, or seems closer to the floor than usual, you’ll want to make some adjustments. The mechanism is located on one side of the transmission bell housing. Consult your ATV service manual as it will have the most complete, accurate information for your model. If you’re also maintaining the gearbox, you’ll need to change your transmission oil, which needs to happen roughly every 2 years, depending on use.

Auto
Here the focus is primarily on the quantity and quality of the transmission oil. Healthy transmission oil is bright red; dirty oil is dark red. In a worn out transmission, the oil will smell strongly of rust. If this is the case, consult a professional.

To check your transmission oil, make sure the engine is off. Mark the level of the oil, which should be somewhere in the middle of the high and low marks. Then run the engine and see where the level drops. At proper operation, it should drop ⅜” to ½”. Top off or replace the oil, using the manufacturer’s guide for specifications. The wrong oil can cause serious damage.

Adjust Engine Valves

It’s not uncommon for valves to move out of place. Adjusting them boosts performance and reduces damage.

  1. Remove spark plug using the correct wrench
  2. Remove valve cover by the turning bolts holding it in place
    • If the gasket is stuck, thump the cover with a rubber mallet
    • If damaged, it will need replacing
  3. Engine must be Top Dead Center (TDC)
    • To position: Cover the spark plug hole with a finger
    • Feel the pressure of the compression stroke
    • When the flywheel marks line up with the marks of the timing, the engine is TDC
    • You may have to shake the rocker arm a bit, as it can become tight with wear
  4. Measure valve clearance with a feeler gauge
  5. Insert between valve stem and rocker arm. If you feel drag, clearance is correct
    • If the gauge does not fit, loosen the locknut and turn the adjusting screw a quarter or more as needed
  6. When the valve is at the correct clearance, hold screw in place and tighten locknut.
  7. Check clearance to see if at the right level.

This process requires practice and you may not get it on the first try.

  • Depending on engine specs, check intake and exhaust valves while at TDC
  • After valves are adjusted, replace cover
    • Before tightening bolts, make sure surfaces and gaskets are clean. Threads strip easily, so do not overtighten.
    • Apply anti-seize lubricant on threads
  • Replace or re-install spark plug. These strip easily as well, so avoid overtightening

Suspension Check

For a smoother ride and better performance, having the suspension on your ATV properly adjusted makes a big difference. Before you adjust your suspension, note that the break-in period is about 5 hours of riding, according to the experts. Do not alter any settings on your vehicle until it’s been properly broken in.

Once your vehicle has been broken in, check the following things:

  • Shock oil thickens in cold temps, and thins in high ones, so adjust as needed
  • Suspension performance declines over time. Shock oil breaks down with use. Check your levels and refill
  • Do not mistake nitrogen valve for the air valve. Nitro pressure cannot be tuned for firming or softening suspension. Correct pressure is crucial for proper shock performance

Beware: Chassis problems can look like suspension issues. To distinguish, first check A-arm bearings/binding/swinging arms before adjusting the suspension.

Ready to Adjust

  1. Set the preload for correct riding height.
    • Most shocks have threaded rings or stepped collars to adjust preload. These enable spring compression to adjust to correct riding height for better handling capabilities.
    • Typically preload is adjusted to allow rear suspension to sag to quarter of total rider weight
  2. Test the settings. 
    • When correct, suspension should only bottom out occasionally, so that full range of the spring can be utilized.
    • Compression damping can be adjusted with a special screw located near the shock mount. Count your turns to remember the setting.

Battery Check

Batteries aren’t always first thought when contemplating maintenance projects on a power sports vehicle, but proper maintenance extends life, which saves money. Here are some tips for different types of batteries, and how to store them when not in use.

There are two types: AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) or lead acid (wet batteries). Wet batteries have been in use for along time, though the switch to AGM is making its way forward. The two require quite different upkeep, so let’s take a look at that first.

Wet batteries have a vent tube protruding from the shell and fill caps on it’s top. Before you charge a wet battery, check the acide level and refill as needed, using a well-ventillated area. While charging, do not exceed 5 amps. At this level, calcification and overheating become problems. Set at exactly 5 amps, charging will take about 2 hours. Wet batteries should be checked every 30 days.

AGM batteries typically require less upkeep. They don’t spill, last longer, require less venting, and are superior in most ways. These batteries typically say “No fill.” “sealed” or “Do not open.” They can be installed right off the shelf, but best practice says to provide a low amp charge before use.

Regardless of type, all batteries should be disconnected while not in use. This prevents loss of charge due to parasitic currents (leaks to the ground), and prevents onboard electronics from seeping electricity, even while in the off position. This is a good time to do a maintenance charge, and clean terminals for good contact and conductivity. For cold climates, it’s best to store the batteries somewhere warm, on plastic or electrical insulators to prevent accidental discharge. A trickle charger is a wise investment if storing for months, as it will maintain battery charge.

Restoration

Your ATV takes a beating when you’re off-roading. If you’re looking to spruce up its appearance, we have a few tips.

Crack Repair

You can drill and stitch (holes on each side and zip tie) which prevents loose plastic from flapping. It’s a rugged look, but is a cost-effective alternative to replacing plastic paneling

Rust Removal

The exhaust pipe is a prime culprit for rust. Surface rust can easily be scoured with an abrasive pad. If it penetrates deeper, however, you’ll want a strong cleaning solution and a scouring pad. Wash the residue, dry the surface, and apply a protective coating once you’ve worn away the rust. It’s a good idea to touch this up with a protective preventative coat every 6-12 months.

Bolts are another area rust likes to linger. Where possible, unscrew and remove rust with a wire brush. Once clean, pierce bolts through a sheet of cardboard, separating the head from the tread. Spray paint the heads silver, dry and screw back on. If you had stuck bolts, you’ll want to apply some anti-seize before replacing.

After you’ve removed rust and fixed the cracks, you may want to refresh your plastics. Instead of replacing the plastic, we’ve got restoration tips

Plastic Renewal

A cheaper way to boost the appearance of your quad is to utilize plastic restoration kits. A Plastic Renew Kit has 3 types of sandpaper, some steel wool, and a colored liquid solution. The process takes 5-6 hours due to attention to detail but will leave your quad looking sleek.

Thoroughly clean the ATV and dry. Surface scuffs will use the finest grit, and deeper scratches will require rougher sandpaper. Wet the surface and scuff with wet sandpaper. Having a hose on hand keeps continuous water flow which is crucial as the surface must stay wet. Sand until smooth and even. Be patient during this step. Too much pressure can cause more damage. Keep pressure even and lighter to start and build, slowly working away the scratches.

Wash the plastic again to remove debris and dust. Allow to dry, and then apply the solution with a paper towel, noting that it will require multiple coats. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the solution. After the first few coats, steel wool can be used and again before the final coat. Apply straight lines with smooth strokes, and avoid forming bubbles. Allow to dry.

Graphics

Glam it up with some decals! If you can’t repair scratches, cover with a sticker. If you’ve got old graphics you’re ready to swap out, rubbing alcohol on a clean rag should make removal a breeze. Before applying the new sticker, spray glass cleaner on the sticky side; this allows you to slide the sticker into place and forms a thin shield, delaying the activation of the adhesive, so you have time to move it around if it’s not positioned quite right.

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