Regular oil changes are an essential part of your ATV maintenance schedule that helps maintain engine health and performance and can prevent costly repairs down the line.
However, how often do you need to change the oil, and what could happen if you exceed the recommended oil change interval?
This guide covers everything you need to know about oil change intervals on your ATV.
Factors that Determine the Oil Change Interval
- Manufacturer’s recommendations. The primary guideline for how often you should change the oil on your ATV is what the manufacturer recommends.
- Type of ATV usage. Oils break down faster under rough use and should be changed more frequently.
- Environmental conditions. Extremely dusty, hot, or cold riding conditions can speed up oil deterioration.
- Type of oil used. Not all oils are of the same quality, and some maintain their quality longer than others.
Recommended Oil Change Intervals for ATVs
ATVs need an oil change more often than most cars and trucks. This is because ATV engines are physically much smaller and hold less oil while running hotter and at higher engine speeds. The more taxing operating conditions cause the oil to break down faster, which calls for more frequent oil changes.
For most ATVs, the engine oil and filter should be changed every 6 months, and the gearcase and differential oils every 12 months. The manufacturer specifies Model-specific oil change intervals in a periodic maintenance chart in the owner’s manual or the service manual.
Check out eManual Online to get factory workshop service and repair manuals for your ATV.
A typical maintenance chart schedules different maintenance tasks, including oil changes, as periodic intervals based on months, distance traveled, or hours of runtime. The specified maintenance task should be performed depending on which interval comes first.
For example, a typical ATV engine oil and filter change interval may look like this:
6 Months or 1600km (1000miles) or 100 Hours
Most riders don’t ride as much as 100 hours or 1600km/1000 miles in 6 months, so the 6-month interval becomes the deciding factor.
If you ride more than average and reach 100h or 1600km of riding after just three months, that will determine your oil-change interval.
Rougher Use Requires More Frequent Oil Changes
The oil change intervals in the maintenance charts provided by the ATV manufacturers are typically based on average riding conditions.
Most Manufacturers recommend that ATVs subject to rougher and more taxing use should be serviced more frequently.
Examples of use where more frequent oil changes and oil-level inspections are required (From the Plaris Spormans owners manual):
- Frequent immersion in mud, water, or sand.
- Racing or race-style high RPM use.
- Prolonged low-speed, heavy-load operation.
- Extended idle.
- Short trip cold weather operation.
Similarly, Can-Am specifies different intervals for trail riding conditions and severe riding conditions (dusty or muddy) or carrying heavy loads.
While not all manufacturers specify such requirements in their maintenance schedules, it is good practice to shorten the oil change intervals on machines that are used harder.
How to Know When the Next Oil Change is Due?
Knowing the oil change interval is not enough to know when the next oil change is scheduled. You also need to know when was the last oil change.
There are several ways to keep track of oil changes.
- Conventional maintenance log book. Most come with a paper-format maintenance log book to document each service. Look up the last oil change’s date, hour, and distance and compare it with the specified intervals. Whichever of the specified intervals is triggered first is the time for your next oil change.
- Online maintenance log book. Some manufacturers offer an online portal to register the VIN to keep track of your ATV’s service history and schedule. I recommend checking if this option applies you your bike.
- Instrument panel. Modern ATVs typically have a programmable service interval mode on the instrument cluster to help determine when the next service and oil change is due.
- Check the oil filter. It is good practice to write the date for the oil change on the oil filter cartridge.
Why Are Regular Oil Changes Important?
Regular oil changes remove contaminations in the oil, which helps prevent engine damage, extend its lifespan, and maintain optimal engine performance.
The engine oil and other oils in your ATV serve two primary purposes; lubrication and cooling.
Lubrication. The lubricating properties of oil help reduce friction and wear between moving parts inside the engine and transmission.
Cooling. The oil helps keep the engine and transmission cool by transferring heat away from where the heat is generated.
Over time, the oil begins to break down due to chemical changes and becomes contaminated with dirt, fuel, soot, carbon, water, metal particles, and other contaminants. The combined effect of these contaminants increases engine wear and reduces engine performance.
Increased Engine Wear
Fuel slipping past the piston rings and entering the oil circulation dilutes the oil and reduces its viscosity.
Fuel-diluted oil has a decreased oil film strength that does not lubricate the engine internals and may lead to increased oil consumption.
Fuel in the oil can also cause sludge and varnish to form, which can harm the engine.
Tiny metal particles from normal engine wear and dust slipping by the air filters enter the oil and increase engine wear rates.
Too much contamination could lead to a snowball effect where the smaller particles generate larger and more abrasive metal particles that enter the oil circulation.
Increased friction between moving parts from poor oil can cause a decrease in engine performance and efficiency.
A poorly lubricated engine or gearbox does not operate as smoothly and efficiently as it should.
Water from condensation inside the engine mixed with acidic byproducts from the combustion process causes internal engine corrosion.
Increased Risk of Overheating
Poor oil does not transfer heat as efficiently, causing the engine and gearbox to run hotter, with an increased risk of overheating.
Voiding the Warranty
Most, if not all, ATV manufacturers’ warranty does not include damage caused by neglect or improper maintenance.
If you don’t apply the recommended maintenance schedule, you risk standing without or only partial warranty coverage if something breaks.
Please refer to your owner’s manual to read the specific maintenance requirements for your vehicle.
Signs that it’s Time for an Oil Change
If you completely lost track of the last time you changed the oil on your ATV, here are some signs to look for that indicate it’s time for an immediate oil change.
- It’s been more than a year since the last oil change. In this case, the exact date is no longer critical. It is better to change the oil immediately and reset the maintenance timer.
- Engine performance issues. An oil change is an excellent place to start when troubleshooting problems with engine performance and behavior.
- Increased engine noise. Increased engine noise or ticking sounds when the engine is cold indicates that an oil change is well overdue.
- Oil level and appearance changes. Rising oil levels during cold weather can indicate contaminants collecting in the oil sump or crankcase. Change oil immediately if the oil level begins to rise.
- Engine warning lights. Relevant engine lights are low oil warnings, check engine lights and other oil-related error codes.
Note: If any of the above issues, such as rising oil levels or engine performance issues, persists after an oil change, you should stop using the ATV and see a dealer to determine the cause.
Can You Extend the Oil Change Interval on Your ATV?
Not all ATV owners use their machines all year. If you’re one of those leaving your machine sitting for several months each year, you may wonder whether the specified oil change intervals are necessary.
As long as your ATV is under warranty, it is recommended to keep up with the scheduled oil changes whether the vehicle needs it or not. Keeping the vehicle serviced prevents voiding the warranty.
After the warranty has run out, you are more free to decide for yourself.
If you change the oils before putting your ATV in storage for the winter season and won’t be using it until next spring, 4 to 6 months later, you probably will be okay with just one oil change each year.
That being said, an extra oil change is an inexpensive insurance against what can happen from running poor oil.
Longer oil change intervals than one year should be avoided regardless of usage as oil deterioration and dilution from fuel begin to come into play.
As each situation is different, I can’t vouch for anything other than what the manufacturer recommends. Ultimately it will be up to you to decide.