PRE-PURCHASE CHECKLIST: 10 RULES WHEN BUYING USED
Tips to stretch your dollar By the staff of Dirt Wheels
Buying a used ATV or UTV is fast becoming a seller’s marketplace. As major manufacturers experience production-line slowdowns, the number of new machines has decreased. In turn, this has led to a boom in used vehicle purchases. While that is good news for existing OHV owners, making their own machines increases in value. It also means that you have to pay more attention to the mechanical condition of the vehicles out there. To do that, we have broken our information down to a list of what to look out for when purchasing a used ATV or UTV.
Determine what model you want first. Sport? Utility? Sport/Utility? ATV or UTV? Seating for one or up to six? Is performance the priority or is trail capability more important? Some folks simply shop for a good deal, but you should narrow down the machines you are looking for. Determine which brand, make or model you want, if possible, but at least decide on a type of machine. For example, if you are looking for a sport ATV, you may be willing to look at several brands. Beware of orphans—machines that are rare, vintage or have low production numbers. Those machines may be highly satisfying to own and ride, but they will typically be difficult to find parts for, and you may have a more limited field of machines to choose from.
Find out everything you can about that particular model, such as overall reliability, common mechanical problems and arm yourself with a bit of knowledge before you proceed. Why is the owner selling it? Say you are looking for a performance UTV, but you are willing to consider two or more brands to find a good machine. Check for parts prices on common items for all of the machines. If one brand has significantly higher parts prices, accept that or allow that information to limit your search. Do not underestimate the value of a good local dealer. We would prioritize a brand that has good local support over one with a nearest dealer over 100 miles away.
Check out Facebook’s Marketplace for machines in your area. eBay and Craigslist, as well as your local newspaper, are also good places to look. Even if you are not looking for a machine out of you area, looking at nationwide resources like eBay can help you get a better feel for actual values. Get the Kelly Blue Book for motorcycles/four-wheel ATVs (www.kbb
.com/motorcycles/4-wheel-atv/) so you know the approximate value of the machine beforehand. Also, know the value of the accessories included with the machine. That can, in some cases, make it an even better deal.
Decide if you are more comfortable checking out used machines at a dealership or if you are happy dealing with a private party selling machines. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Generally, a dealership’s price is higher than private parties (but not always). Some single-brand dealers may be willing to discount machines that are not their brand. They may be willing to take one in trade but don’t want to deal with it long-term. The downside is if you pick a lemon, you have no recourse. The upside of a dealership is that you have someone to complain to if there are problems. Be sure and ask about any extended warranties the seller might have. If at a dealership, ask about purchasing a warranty on the machine. Also ask for any maintenance receipts the owner or dealer might have on that model.
Always inspect the machine in the daylight. If that simply isn’t possible, insist on a well-lit area. Take a flashlight with you for checking out the vehicle in detail. Spotting potential problems ahead of time can save you considerable time and effort.
Go over the vehicle thoroughly. Ask the dealer/private party what the vehicle was primarily used for? Inspect the drive shafts, U-joints belts (or chains) and all the various engine parts. Look carefully at the engine-oil dipstick. Is it dark and dirty? If so, the owner clearly did not do regular maintenance on the machine. The same is true of the coolant. Check the electrics. Do all the switches work? Check the air filter? Ask if they have a service record for the machine? Did the owner perform common maintenance procedures? Does the engine smoke when starting up? Are the tires bald? Ask about any spare parts, belts or wheels and tires included in the deal.
If you can, bring a floor jack with you to lift the machine up (both in the front and back end) and check the wheel bearings, steering rack and rod ends. If there is a lot of play when you shake the wheel, odds are the bearings are shot and will need to be replaced. Those issues may or may not be a big deal if you do your own work. Problems grow rapidly at a dealer’s hourly rate. If you know what you are facing going in, it may not be a big deal if you have to do some maintenance.
Even if you are a talented home wrench, take a friend who is more mechanically inclined than yourself to look at it. An objective opinion of the machine is always appreciated, especially if you really want it. Take a notepad and a checklist with you. Your checklist should include all facets of mechanical performance. Personalize the list. A sport quad will have different things to look for than a 4×4 quad. If you are reluctant to overhaul an engine yourself, a sound engine should be high on the list. Accessories included?
Test ride. Actually, riding or driving the vehicle is not always a possibility. Some owners are wary of letting just anyone take their machine for a spin. Negotiate. If you are serious about buying, let them know and show your responsibility beforehand. Obviously, starting the machine is part of any deal. If it smokes or has low compression, that is a big deal on a multi-cylinder or turbocharged engine, but may not be for a single cylinder that is relatively easy to service. If you can negotiate a test ride, look for how the machine handles, feel if it vibrates, or if the clutch slips or feels out of alignment. Does it ride straight and feel in control? This also a chance to see how the brakes work.
Let the potential seller know you (or your friend) are technically savvy. This can help you get a better price by knowing about future issues with the machine you are considering. Again, negotiate all the details. Know what you will have to invest to make it a solid and reliable ride. A little knowledge is a valuable thing.
Don’t be afraid to walk away. If the machine looks thrashed and the owner doesn’t want to give you any details about its use, walk away. If you find a machine you want, don’t be afraid to offer less than what the asking price is either. All they can do is say no or make a counter offer. Consult your list, and point out any problems you found. Negotiate.
Make sure you get a clean title for the vehicle. Be aware that back registration might be your responsibility, and in some areas that may be a significant expense. There are still bargains to be found out there. Do your diligent research beforehand. Know what you’re looking for before you start. Have fun, and welcome to the world of off-road recreation.