Whether you race ATVs, ride them for fun or use one for good use around the farm it's always best practice to incorporate a pre-ride checklist and include it as part of routine maintenance.
ATV owners are notorious for neglecting their quads, for whatever reason. But, an ATV's maintenance needs closely resemble that of a dirt bike, not an automobile. The life of engine oil, coolant, and other lubricants get replaced based on the hour of usage rather than miles.
Racers typically stay on top of the maintenance intervals as required by the manufacturers but remembering to double-check the ATV is ready for action is something easily forgotten. When the fun is mere moments away the last thing most of us want to do is throw a wrench into our plans and spend 15 minutes checking over the bike.
But that's why a pre-ride checklist is so important. Riding with a low oil level or damaged suspension can ruin the day's ride or worse, sideline your quad with expensive repairs.
So before heading out to the track, trails or hitching up a trailer for yard work perform a pre-ride check and use the following as a guide.
1. Check Oil Level
Don't wait for the "long trip" as you do on your car, check the oil every time before you ride. It's also an easy way to find a leak or other issue that burns oil. In between oil changes, if the oil level keeps dropping, you've got problems.
2. Check Air Filter
It's an easy check and every time you do, you'll know when it's time for a fresh filter. Have a pre-oiled filter ready in a bag so you can ride now and clean later.
3. Check Coolant Level
These little engines run hard and hot. Low coolant even for a short period of time can do serious damage to the internal parts of the ATV's engine.
4. Check Brake Fluid Level
Top off if necessary and if it keeps requiring a top off you'll know there's an issue with the brake lines.
5. Check Chain and Sprocket for Wear
Look for tooth wear, cupping or bent teeth on the sprockets, and on the chain check for rust or other signs of corrosion, a flat wear pattern on the top or bottom, and easy side to side play. Replace all of the drive components if just one needs replacing.
6. Check Chain Slack and Lube
While you're checking for wear get your hands dirty and double-check the chain slack then add a coat of lubrication. The rule of thumb on chain sag is two to three fingers of slack.
7. Tighten All Nuts and Bolts
See those bolts holding the wheels to the A-arm? Always check those and while you're at it give a quick wrench check to all the other nuts and bolts keeping your quad in one piece.
8. Check and Adjust Control Levers
Tightening all the nuts and bolts before every ride reduces the chances that the levers and controls get bumped out of whack when riding. Most drivers check their mirrors before driving off so check your controls before riding off.
9. Check Air Pressure
Air pressure changes with elevation so leave this one just before you climb aboard. If you're heading out to the track or riding trails wait until reaching your destination to check the air pressure and add or subtract as necessary.
10. Check Suspension
Check the tie rods and ball joints for any damage or wear and tear. Riding on a damaged suspension, especially when racing or traveling at a high rate of speed, is dangerous and can result in serious injury. Think header into the ground.
11. Don't Forget the Gas
Yes, even owners using ATVs for work around the farm tend to forget this most important aspect until they sputter to a stop in the middle of a job. Just top your tank off before every ride.
Now you're ready to ride. This pre-ride check only takes about 15 minutes so always incorporate it into your preparation. We've created a simplified version below (complete with checkboxes - just click on it) you can print out or keep open on your smartphone or tablet.