It’s the time of year when many ranchers are preparing their ATVs, side-by-sides and other off-road vehicles for the winter. Your owner’s manual includes a complete maintenance schedule, but some owners don’t follow it closely, and there are other tips that can help keep your riding experience pleasurable and safe for a long time to come.
Phil Toole of Majestic Powersports in Hindsville, Ark., told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, owners can lengthen the life of their ATVs by understanding their limitations. “A lot of your ATVs, for example, aren’t made for the riding that a lot of people like – jumping, and trying to do hard stuff that it’s not really made for,” he said. “Taking a utility vehicle and trying to make it go as fast as it can, it might have a strong suspension, but it might not be made for racing or trail riding. You’ve got to get the right machine for the riding you’re interested in.”
Toole said he advises owners to keep an eye on their pressures and tire wear. “Look for weather cracking and things like that,” he said. “And really be observant about stuff working loose; they probably save some wear and tear on chains and sprockets if they could spray some lube on there, and look in their owner’s manual for proper adjustment on their chains. You don’t want them too tight; it wears out the chain. It can break and really do some damage.” He also recommended that owners lubricate control cables, saying it will save a lot of problems later on.
Wayne Crosby of Lebanon Suzuki in Lebanon, Mo., told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor most of his customers come in twice a year. “I see them in the spring when they get ready to go,” Crosby said, “and then I see them in the fall when they get ready for winter.  Usually, for most guys, that’s about right; then we can check it over and take care of all the maintenance items they needed to do.”
Not that an off-road vehicle owner should avoid the shop the rest of the year. “If one’s been out on a farm for five or six years, and a guy’s been using it and he really hasn’t done a lot of maintenance, then there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be done all at once,” Crosby said. “Something quits and they bring it in, and maybe the valves have tightened up and need adjusting to get it going again; it’s lost compression, or something like that. But at the same time, it’s probably got a lot of wear on the clutch and a lot of wear on the brakes, and the ball joint’s getting kind of bad and the U-joint’s getting kind of bad.” But if the owner follows the book and conducts scheduled maintenance, “it doesn’t hurt them quite as bad when the bill comes through.”
Crosby says some of the problems that can crop up with your vehicle that are caused by your usage; for instance, the fuel can deteriorate. “Most of the fuel will have a shelf life of about 30 days,” Crosby said. “If you’re using it every day and using a tank a week, that’s fine. But a lot of guys with ATVs, especially guys that hunt, may not run three tanks of fuel within a year.” As a result, carburetors and injectors get stopped up, and fuel pumps get ruined. Crosby recommended owners use a fuel stabilizer if their vehicles often sit idle.
With batteries, on the other hand, the problem is overuse. Crosby said, “They’ll start it, ride to the mailbox, and shut it off; then start it again, and ride back to the house. Every time they start it, it takes 15 minutes or more to put back into the battery what they’ve taken out, so the battery is losing ground all the time. If you’re not running for fairly long periods of time, then you really ought to have a maintainer charger of some sort and hook it up to that.” The same goes for ATVs that are ridden only once or twice a week.
Side-by-sides have the same problems, and Crosby noted they tend to get ridden a little further. “They’ve got a lot of U-joints and constant velocity joints, and most of those have a rubber boot,” he said. “Guys kind of use them as bulldozers over the brush and thorns; you need to check those rubber boots occasionally and make sure they’re not torn. Because if they do get torn, the grease can get out and dirt can get in; it doesn’t take much dirt to destroy a constant velocity joint.”


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