Buying a used ATV is a pretty big investment. Depending on your specific needs, there are a lot of different things to consider. We know it can get overwhelming at times, but we've got four simple tips to help you stay on track to getting a great deal. (Five, if you count that the first thing we recommend is to read our post on how to avoid purchasing a stolen ATV. Seriously, purchasing a stolen ATV is NOT something you want to do.)
If you take your time and follow these steps, you will be well on your way to getting a great deal. (Although we'll warn you now, the hardest part is not getting excited and buying the first ATV you look at.)
Ask Questions BEFORE Meeting with the SellerWhen you’re talking with the seller via email, text, or on the phone, make sure you ask for everything they know about it. Since every situation is different, there really is no right or wrong questions, but here's a few to get you started:
- How long has the owner had the ATV? And what was it's primary use?; i.e., leisure, farm use, racing, etc.
- What kind of maintenance has the owner performed?
- Are there any major maintenance issues that they know of?
- How about any minor maintenance issues?
- How does it run? And if it doesn't run, will it at least turn over?
- Also, how are the tires? Is there any dry rot?
This list could go on forever but trust me, it's better to make a 20-minute phone call ahead of time than to spend an hour driving to look at an ATV that's not what you expected. I have made many trips based on great looking photos only to find that there were maintenance issues that I wasn't willing to deal with at the time.
BYOB - Bring Your Own Battery
It's not uncommon for us to drive out to look at an ATV and find out that the battery is dead. Since I want to at least verify that the electrical system is working, we always have jumper cables and a battery with us. Even a small battery from your lawn mower would be great to take along with you. I have a small gel type battery that I have found works very well when I need to jump start an ATV.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Now before you and this ATV fall in love and ride off into the sunset, you'll want to apply some of the same principals that you would when buying a used car. Make sure you look it over. I don't know about you, but nothing makes me more upset then going on a test drive and getting a ticket, seeing your life flash before your eyes, and/or finding that there is a major mechanical issue and now I have to walk back. Ok, off the soapbox (can you tell I have had some bad test drives). You'll want to have a flashlight and be ready to get your hands dirty. The first thing I always look at is the steering. Nothing will tell you more about an ATV then the steering system. Grab the handle bar and move it back and forth looking at the wheels. Does the handlebar move without turning the wheels? If so, how much does it move and why? Next look at the tire rod ends - are they moving? If not, get a little deeper and look at the steering stem bushings and mount. Is there play there? All of these components are common wear items but should be replaced once you start noticing any play in them. This is a great way to get an idea of how often the owner performs regular PMCS. While you are down in the front end, if the ATV is a 4x4, look at the CV shafts - Are the boots in good shape? Do the joints seem loose with up and down movement? Grab the tire and wiggle it at the eight o'clock and two o'clock position; this will test the wheel bearing. Now grab the tire at nine and three and try moving it again; this will test the tire rod ends and the control arm bushings.
If you can see it, look at the front of the engine. Are there any leaks? What about any silicone? (In case you're not familiar with the backstory, check out this post about how we used aluminum welding to repair a thread on this valve cover.)
Next, grab the rear axle try to move it side to side or forward and backward. If there are issues with anything I've mentioned above, they are all fixable BUT, they are going to cost you and it's something you need to consider when you're about to make an offer.
Start it UpIf you've gotten through our first three tips and haven't been scared off, then grab the rear grab bar or rack and give it a good push down and see how the suspension feels. Walk around to the front and do the same. These are things you want to know before going on a test drive. Once you know how everything feels, you're ready to get on the ATV. While you're up there, get a good look at all the controls. Do they look intact or rigged up?
The photo above is NOT how the controls on a sport quad should look. This ATV had been wrecked HARD - the owner was forced to replace the front plastic and modify it to hold some of the controls. Does it mean this was a bad deal? Not necessarily. Just something you should be aware of before you make your purchase.
Go ahead and start it. Does it have any funny noises that you cannot explain? When you rev the engine, does it sound louder then you think it should be? Do you hear any rattles or knocks? Before you start your test drive, grab the front brakes and notice how they feel. They should be stiff and not too easy to grab. Same for the foot brake. Your test drive will depend on both the area you have available and the type of ATV you are considering. On a manual transmission or a semi-automatic, you will want to shift through all of the gears. Then stop, and try to take off in a high gear to see if the clutch is slipping. With an automatic, I like to stop on a hill if possible and then take off in the high gear to see if it slips. The other thing I like to do is cut hard to the left and right, doing a complete circle. I do this both going forward and in reverse. It's a great opportunity to pick up on noises, bindings, and other weird things you might otherwise not notice. You'd be surprised what kind of things you can find this way. I have had ATVs that accelerated when turned hard to the left. Then I had one that engaged the starter when you turned hard to one side. You could actually start the ATV when it was off just by turning the handle bars. It was a neat party trick, but not so neat when I was looking to buy one. If you get a chance, you will want to go up and down a hill a few times also. When you are going down, try to go down using just the front brakes. Then try it again using just the rear brakes. We've covered so many aspects that I am not going to get into looking at the plastic. Whether or not you consider the shape of the plastic before buying is up to you. It's something to look at because it can give you a good idea of how the ATV was cared for, but it all depends on what you plan on using your ATV for. When you're considering buying a used ATV, the tips above should help you to weed out most lemons. Since every situation is different, you should always use your best judgment. But whatever you decide, make sure that you go in armed with a Bill of Sale.
What is the worst ATV you have looked at? Have you gotten a really great deal or a really horrible deal on a used ATV? Have you ever tried to sell an ATV and had someone look at it this close? We wanna know!