UTV PROJECT: POLARIS RZR 800 BUILD

Having fun on a budget By Nick Serino and the staff of Dirt Wheels

Despite the larger-than-original tires and wheels, the RZR 800 is quite capable while crawling technical climbs and trails.

As much as he would like to be bombing off-road in a high-end UTV, that isn’t reality for Nick Serino. In spite of not being ready to step to a new and expensive machine, he did want to get off-road with his wife and ride around with his brother-in-law. He bought a 2008 Polaris RZR 800 in February of 2018. For most of his life, Nick found his dirt thrills on dirt bikes, and he still has one, but he admits it doesn’t leave the garage much: “I have a job and a wife, so when I choose my off-road fun, it is more likely that I will opt for the RZR and its roll cage.” Nick’s RZR started life as one of the early 50-inch track-width machines with short travel. He found it on Craigslist and brought it home for 6500 bucks. 

THE STARTING POINT

Fortunately, it was no longer the narrow-track little trail hopper it was when it left the factory. A previous owner had outfitted the car with Phantom long-travel A-arms that widened the car a whopping 12 inches! The difference between a 50-inch car and one with a 62-inch track width is no joke! In addition to growing 6 inches wider on each side, the A-arms also lengthened the wheelbase 4 inches. The increase is evenly spread: two inches in the front and 2 inches in the rear.

Quality Elka adjustable shocks had been paired with the long-travel kit. The stock axles would not have worked, so the car was equipped with longer Summers Brothers axles to make the kit work. A Dalton clutch kit was installed to allow the modest power to be at ease with stock RZR XP 1000 wheels and 29-inch tires. The RZR also had an aging exhaust system that was so blown out that it sounded pretty bad.

We found a spot to get the RZR 800 in the air. It took about everything that the motor could produce, but it landed fine.

SAFETY FIRST

Since he was getting a machine with a roll cage for safety, Nick first ordered a new set of four-point harnesses from PRP. Continuing with the safety theme, his next purchase was a pair of PRP doors that he had powdercoated.

As he was preparing the car, he made sure that it was trail-ready. A Tusk Racing rear bumper with an integrated spare tire carrier (with spare) and a cargo rack were installed. The cargo rack usually carries nothing more than a fire extinguisher and a 2-gallon Rotopax fuel jug.

At some point in the RZR’s busy life it gained some extra lighting, side mirrors, a soft top and a half windshield.

Find a fun trail and let the little RZR rip. With the chassis and suspension freshened up, it can easily handle full power.

After those initial upgrades, the lowly RZR was treated to regular maintenance. It deserved and received fluid changes for the front and rear differentials. Regular engine oil changes were routine as well. Nick also changed the transmission fluid and changed the air filter when needed. That was about all that Nick did to the car. That is far more than most people do for their UTVs.

Nick and his wife Megan used the little car quite a bit. It sees almost weekly trips to Parker, Arizona, during the fall, winter and spring with occasional trips to Ocotillo Wells with his brother-in-law Adam and his Polaris XP 1000 four-seater. In the summer, the Serinos use it behind the house to do runs to the top of the hills to catch a sunset. Considering that it is a 2008 push-rod 800cc engine, Nick feels the car does quite well on the trail. At least he thought it did.

Working the compact RZR through turns is a lot of fun. It is stable and capable. We didn’t miss having power steering.

THE NEXT LEVEL

His friend Jay Clark convinced him that a RZR with 12 years of hard use would benefit from more than fresh liquids, an air filter, and used tires and wheels. To make the point, Nick was persuaded to allow Race Tech to rebuild the Elka shocks with new suspension fluid and replace all of the worn internal parts. Nick immediately noticed that there was a night-and-day difference in ride quality!

That convinced him, so he used the well-priced kits from All Balls Racing to install new ball joints, a complete steering rack and a complete driveshaft. He and Clark also added all-new suspension bushings and CV boots to tighten up the suspension feel and keep those Summers Brothers quality axles alive for the long run.

It didn’t take long for a dirt bike guy like Nick to feel that the All Balls Racing parts install was another huge improvement: “The car was tight and stable after we did the installation.”

Fortunately, a previous owner had installed a long-travel suspension kit, strong axles and adjustable Elka shocks.

WHY STOP NOW?

Seeing no reason to stop at that point, he ordered a new exhaust from HMF. It sounds better, and it is quieter as well. It wasn’t just an improvement in sound, it also made a big improvement in power output. That is always welcome with a mild engine like the 800.

There had never been any indication that the fuel pump was heading for a failure, but a new All Balls fuel pump was great peace of mind. It is unlikely that he will have fuel-pump problems in the future.

The stock tires had been small diameter on 12-inch rims—basically 4×4 quad tires. Nick never drove with them. His RZR always had the RZR XP 1000 wheels with 14-inch rims and 29-inch tires. As the car had been clutched for the larger tires, it turned them just fine. But who knew how old the tires actually were? Nick wasn’t sure, but the new ITP Versa Cross 3 tires made a massive improvement in traction and stability on all different types of terrain. It should not have been a surprise. ITP is a good brand, and the tread pattern is quite aggressive. The five new tires were mounted on five ITP Cyclone wheels. With five wheels, the spare is a perfect match. He stayed with 14-inch wheels, and they were an attractive upgrade.

While the RZR was being refreshed, a Tusk street kit was installed. During the winter the car remains in Arizona, and it was licensed there. Having the plate adds even more motivation to get out and do some driving. While in Arizona, simply drive to the trailhead. No messing with trailers.

The luggage rack is a good place for the small fuel container, a fire extinguisher and the soft roof.

HE THOUGHT IT WAS GOOD

Nick commented, “I was convinced that my car had always handled great and had a comfortable ride. After we installed all the new parts, I realized how wrong I had been. Now I know that everything was somewhat loose, sloppy and imprecise. Without a doubt, the old tires contributed to that feeling through wear and age.”

Making sure that critical mechanical parts of the RZR were returned to like-new tolerances was important to the project. Having All Balls offer the parts at a significant reduction in price compared to stock ensured the project made financial sense while gaining performance.

Some of the parts, like the driveshaft, could have been rebuilt, but the job was made easier and cleaner by replacing the entire assembly. Once we were done, the RZR felt like a whole new car. Nick admitted, “I would never have thought of replacing parts like the driveshaft, steering rack and fuel pump. None of the parts were acting up or making noise that we could notice. It seems obvious now that 12 years of hard use, and aging seals, bearings and U-joints with literally millions of revolutions and hundreds of heat cycles would take a toll.”

Race Tech has parts for almost all suspension, and they fully serviced the Elka shocks. The improvement was substantial.

TRYING THE RIDE

We met up with Nick to photograph and hit some trails in his nimble little RZR. We had actually spent a lot of trail time recently in a 60-inch RZR 800 Sport, so we knew the capabilities of a stock machine. Actually, a RZR 800 Sport was a major upgrade from what the normal RZR 800 had been.

Tusk makes a reasonably priced rear bumper that includes a spare-tire carrier and a luggage rack. The ITP spare matches.

We remembered that the car was a tight fit for a tall guy, but it was a more relaxed driving compartment than we expected. Part of the reason is that Nick (and the former owners) had stuck with the somewhat ordinary and thinly padded stock buckets. By modern standards, the stock seats aren’t impressively supportive. Despite that, the car is comfortable and impressively easy to drive. We worried that the large tires and wheels would make the car sluggish, but that wasn’t the case. The stock RZR 1000 wheels and tires were 11 inches wide in the rear. The ITP set is “square,” meaning all four wheels and the spare are the same diameter and width, so the rears are likely lighter than they were before.

While the RZR had been running 29-inch tires, the ITP tires are listed at 28 inches. Nick measured both sets of tires, and he said the height difference is insignificant.

At some time in the RZR’s history it gained some added lighting, a half windshield and two side mirrors.

We drove the car on chattery, rocky trails, tight and twisty trails, and on some fast dirt roads. It is pleasantly nimble, and we didn’t miss the electric power steering. The freshened Elka shocks from Race Tech and the new bushings and ball joints for the suspension made for a very nice ride. It has reasonable bottoming resistance while still soaking up little bumps and chop. Some long-travel kits leave a car with some odd handling traits, but we had no complaints.

CONCLUSION

Nick and family have kept their RZR running on a tight budget by making sure that everything on the car is lubricated and has fresh fluids. Now, any wear part for the chassis and suspension that might have caused problems has been replaced or refreshed. They are still having fun and don’t have any trouble staying with the in-law’s RZR XP 4 1000. The Serinos may upgrade to a newer, more powerful sport UTV, but Nick will remember the lessons learned with this 800 about keeping a machine fresh instead of simply lubricated and serviced. For the hours of run-time that it has, this is an amazingly crisp, accurate and fun machine that is a very nice value for the overall investment.

Even though this is a budget buy and a budget build, the car is well-equipped for the trail. It has about everything you need.

 

PARTS LIST

ALL BALLS RACING: www.allballsracing.com

Steering rack: $129.99

Electric radiator fan: $185.60

Drive shaft: $184.95

Heavy-duty ball joints: $35.72 x4

Rear-wheel bearings: $33.40 x2

Front-wheel bearings: $27.59 x2

CV boots: $14.17 each x 8

Rear A-arm bushings: $60.02 x2

Front A-arm bushings: $18.15 x4

Fuel pump: $199.95

UNI FILTER: www.unifilter.com

Two-stage air filter: $38.95

TUSK OFF-ROAD: www.tuskoffroad.com

Street kit: $120

HMF RACING: www.hmfracing.com

Full exhaust system: $829.95

Defender font bumper: $299.95

ITP WHEEL AND TIRES: www.itptires.com

Versa Cross 3 tires 28×10 R14: $197.14 ea.

Cyclone wheels: $149.14

RACE TECH: www.racetech.com

Suspension rebuild and Elka shocks set up: $760.56 (all four with parts)

DECAL WORKS: www.decalmx.com

Custom stickers: Price varies

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