10 Things To Check Before Riding Your ATV

Rick Sosebee
by Rick Sosebee
A pre-ride checklist can keep you on the trail and out of trouble

Getting out on the trail is a concern for many this summer and with weekends not being nearly long enough for us it seems we will just have to ride all summer and into the fall to get our ATV fix. But before squeezing the throttle you’ll want to make sure your ATV is as ready to ride as you are.

Without proper maintenance your ATV will turn from trusted friend to a ticked off nuisance. We want to take just a brief look at some things to consider before heading out on the trail.


ATV Pre-Ride Checklist - Fuel

If your gas has been sitting in the tank for months or even worse, since last season, you need to drain the tank and carburetor. Then refill the beast with fresh fuel. Getting the old gas out means a happy engine can run like it is supposed to instead of struggling just to sputter along.


ATV Pre-Ride Checklist - Tires

Tires are often overlooked due to the fact that many of us, if they hold air we don’t care. But what you may not see is the nail in the sidewall that can break loose and flatten the tire. You could also lose control if this happens at just the wrong time. Be sure to check the tires of your ATV/UTV for wear as well as air pressure. Trying to steer a half flat tire can make your ride day a miserable one.


ATV Pre-Ride Checklist - Brakes

Being able to stop your ATV/UTV is certainly a plus in our book and knowing you have good brakes is confidence inspiring. The brake pads should never be metal to metal and even though some of you may like to see the fireworks coming out of the wheels it’s far from a good thing. Checking pad wear is something many will overlook but it is as easy as getting eye to eye with the caliper and simply looking. The pad needs to be at very minimum 1/8th inch thick for a light day of riding. Neglecting your brake pads can ruin the caliper and many other expensive parts before you know it.


ATV Pre-Ride Checklist - Oil

The oil in your ATV/UTV is the life-blood of the motor and transmission. You should check the oil level before each ride. Simply looking at the fluid on the dipstick can tell you how much oil you’ve got and if it is fit for use or not. With water-cooled engines the oil may turn milky brown, which indicates water in the oil. This is a serious red flag. If you ride with contaminated oil like this you will eventually ruin the entire engine.


ATV Pre-Ride Checklist - Steering

Be sure to look over the steering connections to the wheels. The tie rods are a wear item and if one should break loose you’ll be left with just one wheel controlling your fate. While you are in the area give the ball joints a look as they too can wear without much notice and that’s another bad crash waiting to happen.

Wheel Lugs

ATV Pre-Ride Checklist - Wheel Lugs

Making sure that the wheel is attached to the machine is a good way to avoid crashing. Some lugs are meant to be installed a certain direction and if installed incorrectly you can have problems. Tapered lugs can work themselves loose if not properly tightened, so don’t fool yourself into thinking it won’t happen to you. Quit procrastinating and just check it out.


ATV Pre-Ride Checklist - Chain

Sport quads have chains and these need maintenance as well. Oiling a chain is part of the duty of an ATV owner, but making sure it is tight and not stretched out of specification is another. Chains can become stretched from excessive jumping of the machine. Rough trails are not easy on chains either, so open your factory service manual and check the limits of your chain and adjust accordingly.


ATV Pre-Ride Checklist - Battery

If your ATV/UTV has an electric start then it has a battery. This can play a vital role in the safe return to the trailer. Keeping a gentle trickle charge on the battery during the year keeps the electrical system happy, so be sure to invest in a small charger as well. Pushing a 1200lb UTV isn’t an option when you’ve let the battery go bad.


ATV Pre-Ride Checklist - Radiator

Keeping your ride cool is key in the hottest months of summer. Extracting debris from the radiator is as simple as pointing a water hose at it. Check the level of coolant regularly to be sure you don’t fry your ride. Remember to check the fluid when it’s cold and not hot. You could burn the skin off your digits and everywhere else it touches trying to check it after you have already ridden the machine.


ATV Pre-Ride Checklist - Grips

Having control of your ATV is obviously essential. Keeping the grips in place is as simple as using grip glue or safety wire. If the grips are falling apart then just replace them. You should be able to find plenty of grip options for under $10. The last thing you want is to be wishing you had changed or secured the grips when you’re flat of your back in the middle of the trail because one came off?

These tips are just brushing the surface of what needs to be checked on any ATV or UTV before a good day’s riding. You can check most of these things very quickly and be on the trail in no time.

Get a good factory service manual to keep handy should you need to service anything or check to see if items are in spec according to the maker of the ride. You’ll never regret having a well-maintained ATV.

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Rick Sosebee
Rick Sosebee

Whether he is in Mexico covering the Baja 1000, building ATVs for local racers, or out enjoying the trails, Rick’s passion shows in his stories. Learning to wrench his own machines from his grandfather, Rick also has an undying appreciation for the mechanics of off-road vehicles. Do not let the dirt and mud fool you, though, as Rick also has a deep love for street cars.

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