HOW-TO: Expert Maintenance Tips

The snow is beginning to melt, the flowers are blooming, and the birds are chirping. Spring is finally here, and, for most Dirt Wheels readers, it couldn’t have come faster! The harsh winter months had you cooped up in front of a fire and your ATV in storage. It’s time to get off your lazy bum, thaw out, throw on some gloves and get your quad prepped and ready to ride.

If you rode your quad at all during the winter, the onset of spring is even more important in terms of maintenance, because winter riding is usually hard on a machine—with salt, muck, ice, mud and who knows what else getting into all of the parts of your ATV. Plus, cold weather can be very hard on hoses and other items. To help you in your preparation, we put together a to-do list for not only spring servicing, but also year-round maintenance tips that will extend the life of your ATV. After a thorough cleaning, go over the following categories.

If you didn’t ride your ATV during the winter, hopefully you topped off the gas tank before storing it. This saves your fuel system from oxidation and will also displace any water that may currently be in the system. Take a look in the tank. If you see anything out of the ordinary, like rust particles or other floaters, drain the tank, inspect it, clean it if necessary and then refill.

Spring is also a great time to do a complete fluid refreshening. Start by draining, correctly disposing and replacing your engine coolant, hydraulic brake-fluid clutch, and transmission and engine oil.

Used motor oil is contaminated with acids, which you don’t want sitting in your engine for long periods of time, so change it out. If you were using a lower-weight engine oil for the winter months, consider putting in a high-viscosity oil for the warmer months. During the season, change the oil in a sport quad every five to 10 hours of ride time depending on how hard the quad was ridden. For a 4×4 or utility ATV, changing the oil every couple of months is adequate, but we suggest an oil change after every long weekend of trail riding. Once your oil is changed, make sure you run the engine briefly to ensure that the oil circulates completely through the system.


Your ATV’s air filter should be cleaned after every wash and before every ride. Once a year is also a good estimate on replacing your ATV’s air filter. Washing it can cause rips and tears and doesn’t always clean the muck your filter collects. Filters are cheap and easy insurance against bad things getting into your engine. We have had much success with aftermarket companies like Twin Air ( and Uni ( for their foam replacements. Velocity ( and K&N ([800] 858-3333) offer great pleated, gauze-style filters as well.

Does it start? Disconnect your battery and clean all the acid buildup off the connections. Mix baking soda and water, then use an old toothbrush to scrub it clean. Next, return the battery and tighten and lube the terminals. Follow up by connecting the battery to an appropriate charger and allowing enough time for a complete charge. Most batteries do not weather well in winter. All batteries discharge over time, so you must ensure that your battery did not discharge too much. If your ATV struggles to start, you may need a new battery. You can pick up a Yuasa or OEM battery at most local dealers. Check out CV4’s lithium-battery replacement on page 66 of this issue.

If you have a chain-drive ATV, check the slack in the chain and adjust it according to your owner’s manual. Take a wire brush and scrub your chain and sprockets. While you’re scrubbing, take a look at your sprocket’s teeth and make sure all of them are intact. Aftermarket companies such as Sunstar (937) 743-9049 or Renthal sell new chains and sprockets. Once the chain is clean, or the new chain and sprockets are installed, pull out that dusty can of chain lube and give it a couple coats. We suggest lubing your chain after every wash and before every ride session. Finally, see if the clutch is adjusted correctly. If the cable is frayed or looks weak, don’t wait to replace it.

After a yearlong battle with the track or trail, your aftermarket exhaust will get louder and louder before you finally repack the muffler. Simply remove your muffler’s canister and replace the core material.

As your four-stroke motor runs, the valves wear and need to be adjusted. You will want to adjust the valves to the guidelines of your ATV’s service manual. If the valves are adjusted too tight and there is no play, the valves could leak. If the valves have too much play, it can cause bending. If you do not feel comfortable doing this on your own, contact your local ATV repair shop.

Carburetor; what the heck is that?! Well, if you still have one of those, remove it and clean it thoroughly. Go through and blow out all the vent hoses and jets. When your machine sits for a while, it might cause buildup in the float bowl, so remove the bowl and spray it out with a carburetor cleaner. Before reinstalling the carburetor, make sure there is no dirt or debris in the intake boot.

Mud or water can get into your electrical connections and cause shorts. These connections can even come loose, so go through and check your ATV’s electrical system. Make sure no wiring is touching any metal. Clean out all the dirt from the connectors and double-check the connections. On the web, check out for replacement electrical connectors for all sport and utility ATVs.

Start from one side of your ATV and work your way to the other checking and tightening nuts and bolts. There are many aftermarket companies, such as Cycra ([740] 929-0188) and Motion Pro, that sell complete nut and bolt kits, so you don’t have to keep going back to your local hardware store.

Take a good, hard look at your brakes. Check and fill the brake fluid. If you have disc brakes, you will want to take a look at your pads. There are indicator marks on most pads, so if you don’t see them, it is time to replace the pads. The same goes with brake rotors. While you have the calipers off to check the brake pads, take a Brillo pad and scrub the rotors. Remove all excess dirt and debris. Check out our latest story, “How To: Braking,” for step-by-step instructions on

If you rode your ATV during the winter, take a good look at your tires. Freezing temps can make your treads brittle and prone to damage. If there are cracks and small tears in the sidewall, you should invest in some new tires. You may also find some broken or torn knobs. It’s up to you to replace them, but a worn, damaged tire adds danger and could make for a long walk back to the truck. ITP, Maxxis, GBC and Sedona are all brands we know and trust.

Every once in a while, just like on your pickup truck, you’ll need to check your front-end alignment. After every jump you case or tree stump you hit, the alignment could shift. The proper way to check your alignment is by parking on a flat surface. Use a tape measure to check the distance between the center of the right front tire to the center of the front left tire, then compare that number with a measurement taken at the rear of the tires. Check with your ATV’s shop manual for correct measurements. If you have an aftermarket front end, check with that company’s manual.

Inspect your grips, seat latches, headlights, nerf-bar webbing, handlebars and shocks for damages or problems, and replace as necessary. We often use Renthal for their huge selection of handlebars, sprockets, chains and grips. They have a great online store at, or you can find them and other control product options at your local ride shop. For discounted deals, you can try or (800) 336-5437, or go to for new product releases throughout the year.

You can do all of these things after work on Friday and have your ride ready to go for a fun-filled weekend. The Dirt Wheels crew is just like you; we’re eager to fly the coop and onto the track or trail. Freshening up your ATV now will ensure another great season of riding. Follow these tips regularly and your machine will last for many great riding seasons with little downtime for repairs and replacements. Have fun, and we’ll see you out there!



Changing your oil should be a regular habit throughout the season. Drain the oil completely, check or replace the oil filter and add fresh oil by following your ATV’s service manual for appropriate measurements.

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Remove the airbox lid and carefully remove the air filter. Remove the airbox to clean, or use brake cleaner and a rag to speed up the process. Use an air filter cleaner or solvent to loosen the dirt, debris and grease from the filter. Then, use warm water and soap to finish the cleanup. Make sure the filter is dry, thoroughly rub in air filter oil, return the inner cone and use waterproof grease to seal the filter back into the airbox.

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Disconnect your battery and clean all the acid buildup off the connections. After the battery is clean, connect your battery to an appropriate charger and allow enough time for a complete charge. When you return your battery to the ATV, use a touch of petroleum jelly to keep the connections buildup-free throughout the year.

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Remove your carburetor and clean it thoroughly. Go through and blow out all the vent hoses and jets. When your ATV sits unused long enough, it might cause buildup in the float bowl, so remove the float bowl and spray it out with carb cleaner. Before reinstalling the carb, make sure there is no dirt or debris in the intake of the airbox boot.


Although electrical connections are secure, mud and water can easily cause a disturbance in the connections. These connections can even come loose, so go through and check your ATV’s electrical system.


Check and fill your ATV’s brake fluid. Whether you have disc brakes or shoes, the pads will have integrated tell lines. If you don’t see these, you will want to replace them. Before returning your brake calipers to the rotors, scrub the rotors with a Brillo pad.


Just like you would with your pickup truck, your ATV’s alignment needs to be checked during spring maintenance and throughout the year.


Take a wire brush and scrub your chains and sprockets. Once the chains and sprockets are clean, pull out that dusty can of chain lube and give it a couple coats.

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