Here are ten of what we feel are the most common ATV problems that could keep a rider from making his way back to camp after a long day’s ride. What exactly can the regular guy or gal do to prevent his or her quad from becoming stranded on the trail? Listen up, partners, and learn.

The most common problems that can leave any off-roader on foot require solutions that can be classified in two separate categories?preventative and reactive. The things you can do to your quad before you have a problem are obviously preventative. The things you can do after something has happened are reactive.

Our list of common ATV problems is divided equally between the two categories. The five preventative things you can do before trouble occurs on a typical ride are:

This is common-sense problem prevention. You want to be sure you have gone over all the nuts and bolts on your machine and that everything is secure and snug before you hit the trail. Amazingly, a lot of riders will invest hundreds of dollars in pipes, porting, and bolt-on goodies but not take the time to make sure they are mounted securely before a lengthy trail ride. Is the chain properly adjusted? Do you have the right tools with you to adjust it on the trail? Are there any problem nuts and bolts that loosen up regularly? Check the air pressure in all your tires and carry a tire pressure gauge with you all the time. Make sure you perform a detailed inspection of your quad before each and every ride. Stick to a regular maintenance routine that helps alert you to problems before they surface out on the trail. A little preventative maintenance now could spell the difference between walking and riding back home.

Probably the rudest shock any ATV rider can get is to go out to saddle up and find his prized possession missing in action. Did you know that the most common way an ATV is stolen is that they are simply “rolled away” from a campsite or parking area? Roll-off theft is more common than you might think. Sadly, some slime-like creations are still out there who think nothing of taking someone else?s multi-thousand dollar vehicle and disappearing forever. The good news is that roll-off thefts are relatively easy to prevent. Since this is more a crime of opportunity than precise planning, the thieves can be foiled by simply purchasing an inexpensive locking device, such as a wheel disc brake lock that bolts through your machine?s front or rear disc brakes. A good, theft-proof chain or cable and lock that you can link with another quad is a good idea as well. These will prevent 99 percent of all roll-away thefts. Maybe one percent of hardcore thieves will not necessarily be stopped, but if they want it bad enough, there is little you can to keep them from taking it?other than catching them in the act. You also might want to look into getting an insurance policy on your quad that covers it in case of theft. The policies are relatively inexpensive, and cheap insurance just in case the worst happens.

The life-blood of any quad is the air that goes into the engine. Suck enough dirty air into your motor and rings, seals, and bearings will eventually fail and cause all sorts of high-dollar problems to occur. The answer is to practice regular air filter maintenance on your ATV and keep the air flowing inside it as pure as possible. There are two schools of thought about air filters. One says that it?s best to always be able to flow at least some small amount of air into the engine; even if the filter is clogged shut with dirt, some air will still get through. The other philosophy is that no dirty air pass through the filter at all. It some cases this even causes the engine to stop running. Better to stop and replace the filter than let the contaminated air in. We lean toward a compromise between the two. By equipping all your air filters with some sort of Outerwear or PC-1 type filter wrap, we think you can still keep dirty air out without letting your stock filter clog up to where it stops running at all. These pre-filters give you an extra layer of protection from the elements. In some cases, such as on some of the Outerwear filter wraps, they even provide waterproofing. We recommend installing some sort of pre-filter wrap on your air filter before any ride. It is especially important if you run your airbox with the lid removed for better air-flow. Remember, in some cases, you might need to compensate by going rich on your carb jet settings when you install a pre-filter.

One of the most overlooked areas on any quad is the final drive system?a chain, in most cases. It takes the most abuse of any part of your machine and without it, all the power in the world is not going to get you back to camp. Here again, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. When it?s time to replace your quad?s chain, you will generally also need to replace your sprockets. While crooked and missing teeth might be the norm for your cousin Cletus, they are not good things on your sprockets. A worn-out sprocket will destroy a new chain and vice versa. Don?t do a half-step and do just one or the other. You must use the proper chain lube as well. A lot of chains on the market now use rubber O-ring seals. You don?t want to use a conventional solvent-like chain lube on these chains. SideWinder Products makes a special chain lube for O-ring chains called P-51. It is designed to lubricate the O-rings without attracting dust or dirt inside the links. Maxima also carries their own O-ring chain lube called Chain Guard Crystal clear chain lubricant. There are also several other companies marketing O-ring chain lubes. Take the time to inspect, lube and properly adjust your chain before every ride. Team Honda?s Bruce Ogilvie gave us a hot tip on chains. He recommends D.I.D.?s ERV-2 series X-ring chains if you race your quad in long distance events. Bruce says this is the best chain ever made and they have yet to have a failure using it. It is an endless chain, with no masterlink, and you will need a special shop tool to install it (available for around $30 at any dealer). Another hot new idea for long life chains is the all new stainless steel chain that SideWinder Products is coming out with. Look for a test of this all new chain system in a future issue of DW.

On the trail is no time to have to deal with an engine seizure. Sure, if you have a mild engine seizure while riding, you can shut the machine off, let it cool down, and limp back home, but a mild seizure is like a mild heart attack. They should always be taken seriously. Again, a little prevention is better than any cure. If you run a two-stroke that uses pre-mix, make sure you are running the correct oil ratio the manufacturer recommends. Stay away from exotic 100:1 oil mixtures and other lean mixtures of oil to gas. A good rule of thumb for most two-strokes is 32:1 (or 32 parts gasoline to one part oil). You should, though, always run the mixture at the manufacturer?s recommended ratios (don?t run a 100:1 mix at 32:1). Invest in a Ratio Right or other measuring cup that shows the proper mix of oil to gas. If you ride a four-stroke, while you don?t have to worry about mixing oil with your gas you do need to pay attention to changing the oil regularly.
Since four-strokes use mostly dry sump lubrication systems (where the engine oil is held in a separate oil reservoir) it is critical that the oil remain clear and clean at all times. Change your thumper?s engine oil at frequent intervals (once a month for heavy day-in/day-out use). Replace engine oil filters as per the manufacturers recommendations and if your machine does not have an oil cooler, think about installing an accessory unit if possible. Like we said earlier, a little prevention here can save you a whole lot of grief and expense later on. Four-strokes are also more prone to seizures whenever they become overheated. Be aware of how hot your engine is running and whether there is enough air flowing across the fins to cool it down. Serious mud bogging and big wheel kits will tax your engine to the max. If the motor starts slowing down, shut it off and wait for it to cool down.


If, in spite of all the preventative options outlined above, your quad suddenly quits and refuses to restart, don?t panic. Surprisingly, it could be as simple a matter as water in your fuel, a fouled spark plug or a faulty engine kill switch. We?ve even known full-on pro riders who coasted to a stop only to discover they accidentally switched the fuel petcock off with their knee while riding. You should follow a general rule of thumb when investigating a dead engine. Start with the spark plug and work your way back from there. Is there any spark? Is it weak? Is the spark plug wet or dirty? Are you using the right heat range and type of plug for your machine and the conditions? Once you find out if you?ve got a healthy spark, then it?s time to move on to the next possible culprit: fuel. Is the gas on? If you are using pre-mix is it mixed properly? Is there water in the gas? In cold climes water seeping into the fuel system is more of problem than in warmer temps. Some companies, like Outerwears, sell fuel funnels that have a mesh screen that helps keep water from entering the gas tank. If the fuel is okay and mixed properly, then start to look for electrical problems with your quad?s engine cut-off switches. Maybe one is grounding somewhere and shorting the system out? Investigate each area, one step at time, and be thorough. Always carry extra sparkplugs and a compact electrical connection tester. Have a copy of your owners manual with you for reference and keep it in a well stocked toolkit. You don?t have to be McGyver to get your machine up and running on the trail, but with a few tools and a little knowledge you might surprise yourself with a newfound sense of mechanical competence. Besides, it sure beats sitting beside the road waiting for someone to come along and help you out.

If after all your preventative maintenance you still manage to break a chain out on the trail, all is not lost. You can easily carry a chain breaker, spare master link and a couple of extra links of chain with you in a tool belt or on the quad itself. Always make sure the extra links and master clip are the right ones for your machine?s chain. This will allow you the luxury of repairing this vital link on your machine. Make sure you get a sturdy, reliable chain breaker. Several companies, such as Motion Pro and SideWinder Sprockets, carry decent models that will bust just about any chain. Know in advance the proper procedure for tightening and loosening the chain on your quad and all the tools needed to perform the job. If you are really dedicated, you can practice breaking a chain link apart before you have to do it on the trail. That way, you?ll already know the drill and what?s required to get it done.

Murphy?s law about flat tires states that you will usually get one right about the time you blurt out to a friend how long it?s been since you?ve had a flat tire. Forewarned is forearmed, right? You should always carry a tire repair plug kit on your ATV for any extended riding session that takes you out of range of your pickup truck or ATV transporter. Since almost all ATV tires are tubeless, the plug kits are essential for repairs on the trail as they simply can be pushed through the outerwall of the tire and “plug” the leak. You don?t want a “patch” type tire repair kit on the trail as you will most likely not be able to remove the tire and patch it from the inside. Take along several CO2 cartridges and an air nozzle adaptor to reinflate your tire after plugging it. Several companies sell complete plug kits that include the CO2, tire plugs, and tool and nozzle all in one kit. Tire puncture sealants are also quite popular but should be included in your preventative maintenance rather than as an on-the-trail fix. Another acceptable quick fix is to purchase several Fix-a-flat bottles that can be duct-taped to your quad. In an emergency, you can simply screw the air nozzle onto your deflated tire and it will automatically reinflate with a sealant to seal up any minor punctures. This will not always work, especially for a severe sidewall leak or tear, and should not be a substitute for carrying a good tire plug kit with you at all times, though. Be creative, as well. If the stock tire plugs are not large enough to fit the hole, then don?t be afraid to use sticks, pieces of rope or even used carpet to come up with plugs to stop the leak.

When crossing deep water you might occasionally find yourself with a drowned-out ATV. The first thing you should do is turn your motor off immediately. Any water that gets into the engine?s cylinder will not compress and instead will bend your ATV?s crankshaft. Float your machine to shore and pull the drain plug located at the bottom of the machine?s airbox and let any water that got into it out. In severe immersion cases, you might want to turn the quad upside down, remove the spark plug and use either the electric starter or kickstart to blow any remaining water out of the cylinder. Be sure there isn?t any gas flowing out of the cylinder that could be sparked into a fire. You don?t want to deal with an on fire quad as well as a drown-out on the trail. Remove the stock air filter and let it dry out thoroughly. If your vehicle uses a paper filter element, be sure and allow it extra time to dry out in the sun. Wring out any excess water from a foam filter and let it dry out as well. It would be a good idea to drain the engine oil once you get back from your journey as well, as water contamination can also occur here. Pop in a fresh sparkplug, reinstall the air-filter, re-fill the oil and be on your way.

Should you encounter that nemesis of all ATV riders?an actual crash?then there are several things you should do to make sure you make it back to camp safely. Inspect yourself and your machine for any obvious damage or injury. If your handlebars are tweaked, simply loosen them up and readjust. Make sure all your tires are holding air and properly inflated (you did bring an air gauge with you, didn?t you?). In some cases a broken clutch lever can be replaced with a front brake lever if your quad does not have a hydraulically operated front brake. Some aftermarket mufflers extend well past the rear grab and will be easily damaged in a crash. Check out your muffler?s clearance beforehand if you want to avoid unexpected crash damage in case you flip your quad over. Last, but not least, always carry a tow-rope with you and only ride with a buddy when exploring any new trails. They don?t call them accidents for nothing, since not many folks carefully plan their crashes. Be prepared for the worst, and odds are Murphy ?s Law will kick in and you won?t have any problems whatsoever. Or you could not prepare at all and leave everything up to fate. That, my friend, would be tempting Murphy way too much!

Comments are closed.