Avoid These Mistakes: 15 Surefire Ways to Ruin Your ATV

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An ATV is a rugged machine with the potential for years of service if you treat it right. However, with poor maintenance or misuse, you will soon discover the many ways to ruin your investment. 

This post has the 15 most common ways to ruin your ATV so you can avoid making these mistakes. 

Leaving the ATV Outside Fully Exposed

Although ATVs are built rugged, they deteriorate when exposed to the elements. 

  • UV radiation from the sun will cause the paints, plastics, and rubbers to fade or become brittle. 
  • Water, snow, or humid air will cause corrosion and damage electronics. 
  • Dirt, debris, and algae cause stains and speed up material deterioration. 
  • Critters and rodents can damage wire insulation and seat covers and build nests that can catch fire.

Whether it be day-to-day or long-term storage through the winter season, keeping your ATV in good condition calls for a cool, dark, and dry place to keep it. 

Check this post for nine ideas on where to store your ATV.

Using the ATV as a Submarine

While there are many videos of ATVs driving in several feet of water or mud, it is essential to know that these are heavily modified machines, and doing this to a stock ATV may ruin it. 

ATVs are designed to cross small rivers and streams no deeper than up to the footrests. 

Riding in deep water with a stock ATV can cause severe engine damage by hydro-locking if water enters the engine through the air intake.

Other things that can go wrong if you use your ATV as a submarine are getting water in the gas or oil, corroding and failing electronics, and belt damage from belt slippage. 

Neglecting Scheduled Maintenance

Maintenance is undoubtedly not the most fun part of owning an ATV, but skipping out on scheduled service and upkeep will drastically reduce the life expectancy of your ATV.

  • Oil loses its lubricating properties over time as it gets used. The engine, transmission, and differentials will wear out much faster without regular oil changes.
  • Not adding grease to greaseable a-arm fittings and shaft yokes will cause premature wear and corrosion.
  • Not cleaning or replacing the air filter will lead to poor engine performance, and if the filter has become damaged or unseated, dirt may enter the engine, causing premature engine wear.  
  • Low coolant levels may cause the ATV to overheat.
  • Not replacing worn-out brake pads will damage the brake calipers and rotors.
  • Failing to address mechanical issues such as loose bolts or misaligned wheels will lead to consequential damage down the line.

And the list goes on and on. 

Besides sending your ATV over a cliff, skipping critical maintenance is the safest way to ruin your ATV.

Skipping Daily Maintenance

While keeping up with scheduled maintenance once or twice a year is essential, the daily care as part of your pre-ride checklist is just as critical. 

  1. Monitor Oil Levels: Make it a daily habit to check your ATV’s oil levels. Low oil levels may signal oil leaks or the engine burning oil. Rising oil levels could indicate condensation at the bottom of the oil tank. Both of these issues could lead to significant engine damage.
  2. Maintain the Air Filter: Ensure the air filter is clean and properly seated to prevent debris from entering the engine. Some ATVs have an airbox sediment tube that should be emptied as well.
  3. Check Coolant Levels: Before each ride, check the coolant levels. This practice can help you detect coolant leaks early, preventing the engine from overheating.

Using Incorrect Fluids

When servicing your ATV, it is important to use oils and fluids of quality as specified by the manufacturer. 

Voiding the warranty by using the wrong products is one thing, but using improper fluids could potentially cause severe damage and reduce the life expectancy of your ATV. 

Incorrect types and weights of oil may offer insufficient lubrication, causing increased friction and wear from metal-on-metal.

Related: The Important Difference Between ATV Oil and Car Oil

It is also important not to mix different types and brands of fluids like coolant and brake fluid unless you’re confident they are compatible. 

Leaving the ATV Always Dirty

Keeping your ATV clean helps prevent corrosion and fading paint or plastics. 

Dirt and mud sticking to your ATV retain moisture and keep the parts humid for longer, creating optimal conditions for corrosion in any exposed metal. Dirt also tends to stain paint and other surfaces if left sitting too long. 

Related: How to Keep Your ATV Clean and Looking Like New

Exposing the ATV to Salt

If you live up north, where they put salt on the roads to keep them free of snow and ice in the winter, you want to avoid exposing your ATV to the salt as much as possible. 

And if you live near a beach, keep the ATV away from the salty ocean water. 

Whether you’re hauling the ATV on an open deck trailer or you can legally ride on roads, you want to clean off the salt as soon as possible. 

Leaving the ATV covered in salt can take years off the bike’s appearance in just a few days.

Ignoring the Break-in Period

The break-in period is typically the first 20 hours of operating an ATV when it is new. No single action on your part for the vehicle’s performance and longevity is as critical as following the manufacturer’s specified procedures for a proper break-in. 

Treating the ATV carefully throughout the break-in period allows the engine and drive train internals to settle in and prepares the drive belt and clutches for pulling higher loads. 

Excessive engine speeds ( RPM), sustained idling, or high-speed riding during the break-in period may cause excessive heat build-up, damaging close-fitted engine parts and drive components.

Not Using the Low Gear Range

Many ATVs come with a low gear range (L) and a high gear range (H). 

While high gear can make your ATV go from a standstill to full speed, that doesn’t mean it’s the optimal choice in every situation. The low gear range is there for a reason.

Only using the high gear range is a common mistake that can cause belt slippage and unnecessarily strain the engine and transmission.

These are some scenarios where your ATV is typically better off using the low gear range:

  • Any time you operate at speeds below 7 mph (11kph).
  • When towing heavy loads.
  • When operating in rough or rugged terrain.
  • When plowing snow.
  • When you’re stuck in the mud. 

Similarly, using the low gear range at high speeds is not good either. 

Any time you dive at speeds greater than 7mpg (11kph) and are not towing a heavy load, the transmission and engine do a better job in the high gear range. 

Ignoring Early Warning Signs

Any time your ATV displays strange behavior like making weird noises, engine stalling, misfires, running irregularly, creating smoke, or overheating for no apparent reason, it can be an early warning sign that something is not quite right.

Ignoring these signs and hoping they will pass is not a viable strategy to prevent a potentially small problem from developing into a serious one that can ruin your bike. 

Check out troubleshooting guides to identify the cause behind the signs and symptoms of the most common ATV issues early on. 

Improper Modifications

Many like to modify their ATVs to enhance performance in specific riding applications, while others do it primarily for looks.

Modifying an ATV is not inherently bad if you do it correctly. Any time you make alterations to your machine, there is a chance of messing up and potentially ruining the vehicle. 

For example, if you install oversized wheels, you might also need wide-angle cv-joints, lift kits and wheels pacers for clearance, gear reduction kits to gain some of the torque back, and a clutch kit to prevent prematurely burning out the drive belt. 

Related: Putting Bigger Tires on an ATV: All You Need to Know

Similarly, modifying the exhaust without considering things like engine back pressure or how it affects the engine running too rich or too lean can cause damage to the engine. 

Ignoring Fault Codes or Warning Lights

If you own a newer ATV with a digital display, it can likely display fault codes any time it senses something is off. 

In addition, most ATVs have warning lights like a check engine light, high temp light, low oil light, or a low batt light.

While these lights and warnings rarely come at a good time, ignoring them and hoping they will go away is not a good strategy.

When a warning light or fault code comes on, refer to your owner’s manual to learn the proper next steps to take to address the issue before it gets a chance to evolve into something more serious. 

Not Allowing the Engine to Heat Up

Before putting too much strain on the engine and drive belt, bringing them up to operating temperature is a good idea. Allowing the ATV to heat up before hitting the throttle too hard is particularly important in cold weather conditions. 

A cold drive belt is likelier to slip, causing it to wear out faster.

Pushing a cold engine before it’s had time to heat up can cause premature wear from the oils not yet providing optimal lubrication. 

Extreme Riding Applications

Extreme forms of ATV riding, like racing, jumping, hill-climbing, mudding, or rock crawling, put a lot of strain on your ATV and can cause premature wear, require more frequent servicing and repairs, and may reduce the bike’s life expectancy.

Most who are into these forms of riding are aware of and accept the adverse effects it can have on their vehicles.

The Bottom Line

Like most vehicles, ATVs can last for years if you treat them properly, but if you misuse them, you can quickly ruin your investment. Proper maintenance and care combined with sensible riding come a long way in ensuring your bike stays in good shape for years.  

Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok is an ATV and off-road enthusiast with a rich background spanning two decades in owning, maintaining, repairing, and utilizing ATVs for farming, logging, and hunting. Outside his professional life as an engineer and project manager, he cherishes recreational trail riding and is the creative force behind BoostATV.com, serving as its owner, editor, and content creator.

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