Best Tips for Buying a Used ATV or UTV

Rick Sosebee
by Rick Sosebee

Arm yourself with knowledge before handing over your money

One of the best days in an off-road enthusiast’s life is getting that new or used ATV. Whether it’s brand new or just new to you, you feel like you are on top of the world.

While used machines can offer a great value, before running out and spending your hard-earned money on a previously enjoyed ATV or UTV you should slow down and consider the purchase. I could list hundreds of quotes from readers who had carelessly bought ATVs or UTVs and then only weeks after the purchase disaster strikes.

To help you avoid the same pitfalls, I’ll take you through several things I look for when buying a used ATV or UTV, as well as small tells that might tip you off to a sour apple. First things first, know the machine you are going to potentially purchase. Research the off-road ride online and maybe even visit a dealership to get an idea of what to expect to see when you visit potential machines. Make some mental notes of how the machine looks new and compare that to what you see in the used market.

You will never really know what you are getting in the used market, but hopefully you can be a little better informed when buying just by taking a little time to research. Do not let the excitement of getting that new off-road vehicle cause you to lose your mind after the purchase!

Table of Contents

1. Where To Find a Used ATV or UTV

In a perfect world, you will find a used ATV or UTV fairly close by. But if your area is lacking ATVs that interest you, online classifieds are a great place to look. The "ATVs For Sale" section lets you search for the machine that you want.

It might mean you need to travel a couple of hours to see it, but it's a good idea to check out the machine in person before handing over your hard-earned money.

2. Flush Out a Deceptive Seller

Unfortunate as it may be, many people will hide issues with their machines to get a better price for them. If you look carefully you may be able to spot the cloaked problems, but some could come out in general conversation by accident.

The first thing I want to know from any used ATV or UTV owner is how long have they owned the machine and why are they selling it. Common responses include “I have outgrown it” or “I want something different” and maybe even just a simple “I need the money.” This is common and not unacceptable, but your goal is to build a little connection with the seller to hopefully allow him to slip and reveal any questionable tactics he may be putting on you.

This is not to say everyone selling a used machine is being deceptive, but I can guarantee you you’ll never hear an owner say he is selling “because I’ve worn it out and I need something dependable!”. Maybe the owner has a detailed list of service notes they can share with you, this would be a great start!

3. Check Engine Oil

Dirty engine oil is not necessarily a deal breaker, but should be a valid concern. When oil breaks down and starts to lose its effective lubricity and cooling properties, metal parts will begin to wear out quickly. Pull the dipstick and see what you’re buying.

Very clean engine oil in a machine that is old can also set off alarms in my head as it could mean the owner has flushed out potential issues. It’s a gamble either way, but worth looking at. If the engine has an oil filter search for it as well to see if it has been changed recently. You might ask the owner if it has been serviced, but you will want to see for yourself to prove the claim.

4. Watch for Low or Dirty Coolant

The liquid cooled engine is very popular in the ATV and UTV world, so be sure to check the condition of the coolant. Make sure the engine is cool before removing a radiator cap as it can be under pressure and cause severe burns if the engine is hot.

Since the radiator is subject to debris thrown up off the trail, inspect it for damage. You need to do this because if the engine has been overheated or ran with little effective cooling there could be hidden damage in the machine’s powerplant.

Coolant should be a consistent orange or green color unless an aftermarket coolant has been added. An oily look or any particles in the coolant will warn of potential problems. Coolant also acts as a lubricant and if replaced by tap water there will most likely be corrosion inside the motor.

5. Check the Driveline

ATV and UTV axles take a beating and wear if abused in the stock suspension setting, but when you add a lift to a machine the wear comes on harder and much faster.

Be very leery of lifted machines that have not had the stock axles replaced with extreme angle units made for lifted machines. The stock axle travels with the suspension and is designed to only drop out at stock travel length. When you lift a machine the stock axle can no longer drop far enough during down travel and this results in premature wear. This also puts tremendous stress on the bearings of the CV joint.

Inspect the boots on each axle of a use ATV or UTV both against the differential gear box and on the outside near the wheel. Busted CV boots invite trail terrorists and this is a potentially devastating problem. Any crunching or grinding in the driveline should be immediately noted as you head to your truck and leave.

6. Use Worn Tires to Get Better Price

If you are looking for a used ATV, you may have already set a budget. A machine with worn out tires means a substantial expense is coming your way. It may not be a deal breaker, but consider bargaining power when it comes to worn out tires. If the fronts look new and the rears are bald also consider that the owner may like to do smoky burnouts in the street on this ride!

7. Inspect the Frame

This may seem like a long shot, but some who own ATVs and UTVs may have crashed them at one time or another. Looking closely at the frame of the used machine could reveal this stunt’s results.

Obvious signs of bent steel will most likely be found around shock towers or where the shocks attach to the frame. Providing the frame has not been painted, the cracks in factory paint or rust forming on the welds may be an indication of foul play.

Search underneath the machine for obvious slams the belly has taken during the driver’s escapades. Get the used ATV or UTV on a level surface and look at it from the front as well as the rear. Is it sitting crooked or does one side lean over farther than the other? Busted shocks will cause this appearance as well.

8. Overall Appearance Matters

First impressions last a lifetime and when you see the machine you might want to buy for the first time you can immediately get a feel for how it has been cared for.

Broken plastics and plastics discolored by the weather are common in the off-road industry, but look closely to see if the fractured fender is not hiding additional damage from the collision.

Taking pride in your machine sets you apart from the rest of the crowd at the trailhead. A clean and nice looking machine doesn’t mean there is nothing wrong, but it makes it less likely that it has been abused. You can always put make-up on a pig, but if you’re not blind you will know it’s a pig!

Recent Updates

May 3, 2021: Updated some information on used ATV and UTV shopping.

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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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