So you have decided to buy a used ATV and realize that asking the seller the right questions may be what separates a great deal from a disaster. In this post, we provide the answers you should ask the seller to learn as much as possible about the ATV’s condition.
As a bonus, I have made these questions into a free checklist you can print or download to your phone to bring along.
By searching for such information, I assume you’re a buyer that cares a great deal about the history and the condition of the bike and that you won’t accept any flaws without knowing or getting a suitable discount to compensate.
Any time you buy a used vehicle, you take on a big responsibility to make sure you do not pay top dollar for junk.
Sure, depending on where you live, there may be laws protecting you to some degree if you make a deal with a dishonest seller, and hidden flaws start showing up one after one as soon as you start using it.
Maybe you’ve even bought buyers protection insurance from your insurance company.
But regardless of how well protected you think you are, it is always best to learn all there is to know about the bike before making the final decision and sign the deal.
I like dividing the different actions you need to take during the process of buying a used ATV into three different categories:
- Physical inspection. You should never buy a used ATV without a physical inspection of the machine. You can either perform this yourself, bring a mechanically skilled friend or leave the job to a local dealer for a small fee. In this category, I include all the inspections that should be performed as a minimum, regardless of who is performing the inspection.
- Questions to ask the seller. You can learn a lot about the bike’s condition by performing a thorough inspection of the bike. But there is also a lot of useful knowledge you can only get from asking the seller the right questions. This is done to learn about the history of the bike and learn if you are dealing with an honest seller or not. This is the category I cover in this article.
- Things to consider and remember. In this category, I include the decisions you need to make whenever buying a used ATV. Like should you buy from a dealer or private? Where do you find the best deals? What to do to make sure the bike isn’t stolen? And all other things you need to remember that are not covered by questions asked to the seller or physically inspected by yourself.
Your goal by asking questions to the seller should be to engage the seller in the conversation so you can learn as much as possible about the bike and its history. At the same time, you want to get a feel for what type of seller you are dealing with.
Because whether you like it or not, the world is full of people that will not give you the full and whole truth unless you ask precise questions.
Even then, some will shy away from honest answers. Some do this simply because they assume a buyer not asking questions does require more information about the bike.
They are not necessarily withholding information about the history of the bike because they intend to be dishonest.
But the buyer didn’t ask any questions, so they don’t tell all they know.
With these sellers, your goal will be to ask them questions to make them tell you as much as possible about the history of the bike.
You can tell a lot about physically inspecting the ATV yourself, but you can also learn a lot if you know how it’s been used and, maybe even more important, how it’s been maintained.
Then you have the type of seller that intentionally holds back important information because they feel it may scare away potential buyers, or they want to achieve a better price for the bike than it’s worth.
However not always easy; your goal with the questions you ask these sellers will be to make them reveal their true intentions so that you can decide to leave the deal if you feel you are being lied to or if important information is being held back.
1. How long time have you owned the machine?
It is usually preferable if the seller had the bike for as much as possible of its lifetime. This usually means the seller has a better record of the history of the bike. Ideally, it would be best to look for an owner who has had the bike all of its years.
2. How many owners have the bike had?
It may be a good idea to stay clear of bikes that have had many previous owners as this may indicate that there is an issue with the bike that leads people to sell it quickly.
If you consider buying a bike with more than two-three owners, at least you want to make sure you are being told truthfully about the reason why the seller wants to sell it again. This happens to be our next question.
3. Why are you selling the bike?
There are a lot of totally legit reasons why people want to sell their bikes.
Fair answers will be things like when the owner wants to step up to a bigger (or smaller) model, needs a different type of bike for a different use, or even when they do not wish to deal with some of the issues that may start showing up when the bike reaches a certain age, and wish to trade it for something newer.
ATVs are also considered toys for many owners, and they may wish or maybe even need to free up the money for other uses.
Usually, you will have the upper hand when it’s time to negotiate the price if you meet a seller that needs to sell because of the money. It’s up to your own morals how hard you want to push when you are in a situation like this.
You want to make sure that the seller is not selling because he has discovered a major issue with the bike or that it’s worn so badly that it has lost a lot of value or become too unreliable.
Maybe the first owner submerged the bike without taking the necessary precautions or maybe neglected maintenance completely so that the engine is worn out. You can be quite sure you will not get an honest answer to causes like this right away.
Your goal with asking and conversing about the different questions in this list will be building some rapport with the seller, getting on the same level, so to speak.
Hopefully, this will be enough for him to reveal (intentionally or not) the honest answer to why he is selling the bike.
4. Has the bike has been involved in an accident, potentially damaging the frame or undercarriage?
If so, it should be included in your written sales contract.
You’d want to know about this for obvious reasons. A bent frame is no good and should be a deal-breaker unless you get a substantial discount.
Give the seller a chance to be honest about this up-front. Because if you do your physical inspections thoroughly, you will likely find out anyhow.
An honest answer here will indicate a seller that is being honest and not holding back.
You want to know about the severity of the accident and how it was repaired. A bent A-arm from hitting a rock or a stump is quite common on these machines and does not necessarily mean you need to step away from the deal.
Even a bike that has been flipped over may be fine as long as it was recovered the correct way.
Depending on the severity of the accident the bike was involved in, you should consider having a professional taking a better look at it, ruling out any hidden issues that may be of trouble later on.
If a workshop made the repairs, it’s a good idea to give them a call to know more about what you are getting yourself into.
Be aware that a previous accident may also cause insurance issues. Your insurance company may not want anything to do with the bike if that’s the case.
I learned this the hard way after buying a snowmobile that had hit a tree at some point, bending the A-arm slightly.
It did not affect the machine’s rideability, and the seller even gave me a decent refund when I confronted him about it.
However, the brand-specific insurance company did not want to give insurance to the machine because of this. As a result, I had to buy much more expensive insurance from another company.
When I eventually sold the machine, I was up-front with this issue to the new seller.
5. Where has the bike been stored?
No one is perfect, and even the most prudent ATV owner will at some time or another leave the bike outdoors exposed to the elements.
The sun will fade the paint and will break down any non-UV-resistant materials. Leaving it out in the rain will eventually lead to unwanted rust.
To prevent this, you ideally want to find that the ATV has been stored indoors in a dry, cold well-ventilated garage, or at least under a cover made of waterproof, breathable material.
6. What type of riding has the ATV been used for?
Casual trail riding and light utility-work are what you ideally should be looking for. This, combined with proper maintenance, will be the best starting point for an ATV that will work well for years to come.
However, if the bike has been used for racing, I recommend steering clear unless you are mechanically skilled and wish to continue using it for the same purpose.
And if the bike has been swimming in mud every weekend, submerged in skeg without regular fluid changes, or full-throttle riding in deep snow with tracks, this may reduce the bike’s life expectancy dramatically.
Some riders manage to trash their bikes in just a few thousand miles.
7. Who is the primary user of the machine?
This may or may not be important, but based on pure statistics (ask any insurance company), you may assume that teenagers and riders below the age of thirty are a bit harder on their machines than the older riders.
Again, this may not be true for all as you surely will find young riders that are very gentle with their machines, and on the other hand, you may find older riders who ride the crap out of their bikes without giving them the maintenance they need.
Ideally, you do not want answers such as “Well, I bought the machine mainly for my 16-year-old, so he could go bashing with his buddies; I have never really used it much myself.”
Although this is not necessarily a deal-breaker, it means the seller does not know as much about how the machine has been used and handled. You need to investigate a bit further to ensure the bike has not been misused and neglected.
8. How powerful is the winch?
With this question, your goal is not necessary to learn about the winch’s condition but rather to find out how often the seller submerges the bike in deep mud.
Situations, where the winch needs to be used to get unstuck will generally put a lot of stress and wear on the bike, so you want to make sure this has not happened too often.
If the seller starts telling a great story about some massive mudhole he managed to winch himself out of, this would not be an ideal sign to you.
You are looking for a seller that will reply something in the lines of: “Well, I have used it only a couple of times to test it, and it seems to work just fine.”
9. How many hours has the bike been used?
This is usually stated in the sales ad, but make sure you have the correct numbers. ATVs don’t last forever, and it’s best to stay clear from the bikes with the most hours. Even as soon as around 100 hours, you may start seeing worn bushings, tires, etc.
10. Has the bike been used regularly all season, or just periodically and seasonal?
This matters because you want to make sure a bike that has been sitting large parts of the year has been stored right and the necessary precautions have been made to prevent decay while it’s been sitting. Look for a battery with bad capacity or dried-out seals.
11. Where was the ATV serviced?
If a dealer serviced the ATV, ask to see the service booklet or any other documentation like dealer receipts that the seller can provide.
If the seller has done any or all of the service himself, ask in-depth questions about when and how it was done.
Ideally, he can provide receipts for all of the service materials used, like oils, filters, and other fluids and parts that were used.
He should also have a checked-out checklist listing all the stuff that should be done on each service interval. These lists can be found in the bike service manual, and any serious owner that does the service on his own will follow these lists.
Also, ask to see any previous owners’ documentation if the seller is not the only owner of the bike.
Unless the bike is still under warranty, the latter option where the owner himself performs the service does not necessarily need to be a reason to shy away from the bike.
However, if the seller cannot provide any documentation, you should steer clear.
12. If the ATV has been serviced or repaired by a dealer or a repair shop, ask for their phone number.
Give them a call!
I always do this when buying any used vehicle. Usually, I get honest answers from the dealer.
They will tell more in-depth about repairs that have been done, recall work that has been done, etc. They have many similar bikes to compare with and usually have a good idea of the bike’s general condition when it visited their shop.
If you are lucky, you get to talk with the service mechanic who did the work on the bike.
You may run into the occasional dealer who is unwilling to give you this information, but it is worth a try regardless.
I find that it is also a good opportunity to test if the seller is honest.
If he doesn’t want you to call the dealer, he is likely hiding something. It may be things like deviations from the service schedule, backstories behind repair made not holding water, or maybe it’s not true that an authorized dealer performed repairs, upgrades, or services—some even fake documentation of such work.
13. Can I see your grease-press?
No ATV will last for long without regular dates with the grease-press. Regular greasing will prevent premature wear and displace any water trapped in bushing and bearing after running in wet conditions, preventing rust.
If the owner does not own a grease press, move on to the next bike.
14. Has there been any oil leaks or other fluid leaks, and what was done to stop the leaks?
Ask to see the exact place where the bike usually is being stored. Hopefully, there won’t be any sign of oil leaking all over the place.
If there was a leak at some point, you want to know whether it was fixed properly by repairing the cause of the leak or just by using an oil additive.
While the latter does not necessarily mean you should step away from the deal, it’s one of those things that is good to know and may tell if the seller is a “quick-fix” kind of person.
15. Have any parts been replaced and why?
You want to know about what repairs have been made and why they needed to be done. Usually, when a bike gets a couple of years old, you can find information about common issues with your specific model on forums, etc. If you know the wheel bearings on a model are weak and will likely break; it’s best if they are already replaced.
If a dealer made the repairs, ask the seller to show you the maintenance records. If not, any receipt documenting the purchase of parts will be of good help to get an overview of the history of the bike.
16. Has there been performed modifications to the ATV?
Unless you know what you are looking at, I generally advise against buying bikes with too many modifications done to them.
If a modification was not done properly, it might lessen the life expectancy of other components. In some cases, it may even make the bike dangerous to use.
For example, if you install a lift-kit without taking into account the extra stress this will inflict on the ball joints, CV-joints, and more, you may be looking at a lot of expensive repairs sooner than you can say “lifted.”
And sometimes, you will not always need to make alterations to the fuel/air ratio of the bike’s carburetor if you install an aftermarket exhaust, or else the engine will run too lean.
17. Has there been performed a pre-sale inspection by an authorized dealer?
If so, it provides great insurance for anyone buying a used ATV, especially for those with mechanical experience below average.
If the seller has not had one done yet, ask to take it to a dealer yourself. This will be well worth the 50-100 bucks the dealer will charge for this procedure.
18. Have the tires have been patched or repaired in any way, and do they hold air well?
Punctures on ATV tires are quite common. You want to make sure they are repaired properly, or it should give you a small discount.
19. What was the condition of the bike when the previous owner bought it?
If the ATV was bought new, this should be easy to answer. But if the owner bought it second-hand, you want to know what inspections he made when buying it, if he bought it from a dealer. What mileage it had etc.
If the owner didn’t inspect or somehow ensured the bike’s condition, or if he didn’t ask the previous owner any of the questions listed in this article, he likely didn’t care too much about the condition of the machine in his ownership either.
This leaves a lot more on your hands to find any issues or neglected maintenance.
Unless my own inspections find that the machine is in excellent condition, I usually steer clear of sellers like these.
While you can get away with using a car for years without proper maintenance and being conscious of the vehicle’s condition, this kind of neglect will likely have a severe impact on the condition of an ATV.
20. Has there been issued any TSB (technical service bulletins) for the bike, and if so, have the repairs been made to the bike?
You can compare the answer to the information you get from the dealer. Most manufacturers will also list the relevant service bulletins for any given model on their web-pages. It’s good to know that all issues like this have been taken care of properly.
Neglecting these may even affect any remaining warranty on the bike.