By Joe Kosch


The sounds ATVs make are just some of the things that make me like them so much, and I think most ATVers are moved by what they hear from their machines. The sounds your machine puts out, and the sounds it doesn’t, are a big part of the mixture of things that make riding so enjoyable and so memorable.

Even the sounds of ATVs you don’t have anymore can get your attention. Have you ever been at a riding area and caught the sound of the first ATV you ever rode? Even if you don’t see the machine, it stands out like the familiar voice of an old friend.

There’s nothing like the ripping exhaust note of a quick-revving 450 race quad, but I appreciate the healthy tone of a completely stock, big twin-cylinder 4×4, or a classic two-stroke just as much. ATV manufacturers put a ton of development time into getting just the right intake and exhaust sound quality to give their machines the voice they want, and I consider it time well-spent.

Sound is a major selling point for aftermarket exhaust systems, and the leading companies like FMF, CT Racing, Duncan Racing, Yoshimura, HMF, and others, tune their systems so you hear and feel the increased performance.

Of course, not all the sounds our machines make is music to our ears. A mechanically minded friend of mine bought a non-running Honda Rancher, at an unbelievably low price, not long ago. The seller said it had been sitting for a long time, so my friend thought he was looking at a little make-run labor and a sweet deal on a decent 4×4.

Once he got the Rancher fired up, he found it would only run for about 20 seconds before the motor began knocking horribly, at which point the engine would shut down suddenly like it was starved for oil and seizing. My friend was crushed, thinking he had just bought a large, expensive paperweight on wheels when he decided to start the machine up a few more times before taking the engine apart to find the problem.

I could barely stand to hear the motor knocking and locking up again when he started it for another test. This time it ran a bit longer and—pow!—something shot from the exhaust and landed in pieces a good 10 feet behind the quad. The blackened item was hard to identify, but it looked to be a mouse nest made of feathers, hair, hay, pet food, and, perhaps, livestock feed.

There was some evidence as well, a mummified mouse may have been part of the unintended exhaust plug. My friend and I were both so shocked, it took a minute to notice the Honda was idling contentedly. All the while we studied the fragments of the organic muffler cork.

At one time or another, we’ve all been troubled by a noise we noticed our machines making. It could be as subtle as a faint tick or squeak.  But noises like that can gnaw at your peace of mind, until you go on a mechanical witch hunt and disassemble your machine, sometimes needlessly, in search of the irritating sound. Take my advice, don’t do that until you’ve found a few other riders with the same ATV as yours. In most cases, you’ll find their machines make the very same sound yours does, only louder!  

Tearing apart a perfectly good ATV to silence an annoying sound can backfire, too. The only thing you can be sure of is, you’ll spend some hours in the garage. It could have been used for riding. You might silence the noise—or not—but you could create another! If you can’t find other riders with the same machine like yours, take heart. It may be worth your sanity to have a dealer’s service department listen to your machine.

In most cases, the professional mechanics there can separate the typical noises from the sounds of serious problems in seconds. If you can describe the noise accurately, and you’re prepared to provide adequate background information on your machine that is always a plus. That, along with pertinent facts on how and where you ride. Then you might want to ask our shop foreman, and technical editor, Winston “Boss” McKannick, about the noise.

Be warned that missing details may earn you harshly-worded advice from Boss. That will necessitate some remarks on more than your machine’s shortcomings.

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