USED QUADS: Inspecting your new machine

Craigslist is a jungle. It has wonderful plums ripe for picking and poisonous berries that are impossible to digest. And you really have to beware of the pythons that can squeeze every dime out of your wallet. But, like they say: if you don‘t play, you can‘t win. In these days of economic turmoil, opportunities are everywhere.

The trick is to take your time and get to know the market. Don’t buy the first good deal that appears. It’s OK to let a few bargains get away while you educate yourself. And when you’re ready to buy, use a checklist to inspect your prospective new-to-you quad. We asked the service department at Malcolm Smith Motorsports in Riverside, California, to educate us on this subject. Any quad taken on trade goes through a thorough inspection. Here are some of the highlights.


1. Johnny Russell is one of the technicians in Malcolm Smith’s service department. He gave us a tour of a well-worn Polaris 330 that would be a typical used-quad offering.


2. The test ride comes first. If the quad doesn’t run, it better be cheap. It’s easy to spend more than a vehicle’s value in repairs. When you ride the machine, think of the seven S’s: starting, smoke, sound (from the motor or suspension), slippage (of the belt or clutch), speed (or power output), stability (track) and stopping.


3. Take a look inside the gas tank and use your nose. If the gas has gone bad, it’s not the end of the world, but it can be a tedious job to clean out the carb.


4. Some quads have a odometer or an hour meter that shows total mileage or time. Often, these are easy to replace, so the numbers aren’t meaningful. Check the mileage against the wear on the tires and brakes to make sure everything is on the up and up.


5. If the oil is dirty or low, that’s a bad sign. If it looks clean but smells bad, it was probably changed just before you arrived.


6. If you can get it off the ground, check the wheel bearings for side-to-side play. Also, take a good look at the tires. Tread is important, but also look for cracking and signs of age.


7. A-arms and tie rods can take a terrible beating. Check for play and damage.


8. Go ahead, take the wheel off while the seller is nervously waiting. You‘re the guy in charge, and he should know it. Look at the brake pads and disc (or drum) for scores. Check the hoses for cracking.


9. Now, you might as well check out the brake fluid. It will be old—it’s always old.


10. You probably already know if the battery is good or bad, but inspect it anyway. Look for corrosion. And an amp meter can tell you if the generator is in good shape.


11. The next stop is the filter. Don‘t just check to see if it‘s clean; take it all the way off.


12. Now look down the intake with a flashlight. You’re looking for dirt or signs of backfiring, which could indicate a bad valve.


13. One of the most troubling aspects of dealing with used quads is the jury-rig factor. Beware of odd things that homegrown mechanics have done to solve problems. This bolt blocking a vent hose must have a story to tell.


14. If you really want to torture the seller, you can take off the primary cover and check out the belt. If it’s burnt, no big deal—they’re cheap—but it can tell you what kind of use the machine has had.


15. A compression check is a good idea. An auto gauge can tell you part of the story, but if you really want to know what’s going on in the motor, you can perform a leak-down. For some, that might be over the top. For others, it’s just being thorough. Of course, there are no guarantees. Buying a used quad is a gamble, no matter how careful you are. But somehow, that makes the thrill of the hunt just a little more exciting.

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