Used ATV Buying Checklist

The all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or quad is one of the most popular vehicles for off-road recreation. Much cheaper than an off-road SUV and easier to handle than a dirt bike, ATV manufacturers have carved a piece of the market eager to experience off-roading in an inexpensive and exciting way. 

Brand-new ATVs will set you back several thousand dollars, making a purchase of a used model highly appealing. Aside from price, another thing going in favor of buying a used ATV is the number of owners who underutilize their ATVs, creating opportunities for you to buy a near-perfect model for a fraction of the price. 

To make the most out of a purchase, you need to know how to identify problems and potential causes for concern. ATVs have a few vehicle-specific things to look into, so if this is your very first purchase, we strongly advise following the checklist we have prepared in its entirety. 

Price

Buying an ATV is more likely a once-in-a-lifetime decision rather than a regular occurrence. ATVs do not follow the same price trends as cars or motorcycles, so they are in a market of their own. 

Before making any purchase decision, you will have to familiarize yourself with price trends by looking at online prices and dealership offers. Finding a dozen listings for the model you are interested in should be enough to form a price range and establish your budget.

Tires 

The easiest place to begin your inspection is with the tires. Locate the manufacturing date on the side of every tire. Even if they appear to be in solid condition, tires deform and wear out over time. Less than five years of age is ideal, but it can go as far as ten without any issues.

Cracks and worn-out treads mean that the tire is beyond the point of being safe, so it will need to be replaced. As an entire set will cost you upwards of $500 with mounting, try to negotiate the price down to offset the added expense. 

Joints and CV Boots

From tires, you can quickly move to check the wheel and suspension. Take the wheel at opposite ends, then push and pull the wheel. If the wheel moves, the integrity of the ball joints and bearings has likely been compromised. Another way to diagnose the issue is to turn sharply at low speeds and listen for a cracking or crunching noise.

Constant velocity (CV) boots are the plunger-looking rubber pads located on the inside of the wheel. They contain the grease that lubricates the rotating joint and keeps it running smoothly. Cracked or torn CV boots are not only expensive to replace but could also cause further joint damage. 

Brakes 

Aside from the rusted and worn brake disc, identifying brake system problems cannot be done without major disassembly. A responsible owner would have kept a service book listing dates and mileage when the brake pads and discs were swapped. 

Your best option is to test the brakes during a test ride and to look for signs of uneven braking. The brake lever should operate smoothly and evenly increase braking power accordingly. Aggressive braking should be met without resistance from the handlebar.

Suspension

Lean on each side of the ATV to check how shocks react to pressure. Another way of testing is to drive it over speed bumps, road imperfections, or off-road. Worn shocks cause excessive movement of the ATV, which is not only harmful to other components but is also considered a safety risk. 

Fluids

Oil, coolant, and fuel need to be in excellent condition. Otherwise, the ATV has been poorly maintained or has a significant fault to it. Gunky, brown, or watery oil is unacceptable, as is muddy coolant. 

Clear fuel will allow you to see into the gas tank and find signs of rust. If the tank has corroded, you will have to spend a significant sum on replacement or repair. Darker fuel means the ATV has been inactive for a long time and draws with it a series of engine problems. Unless you are confident in the cause, avoid bikes with fluid issues. 

Air Filter

The air filter is one of the cheapest maintenance parts that can be replaced without the help of a mechanic. Unscrew the air filter cover and take a look inside. If the filter and housing are dusty, seriously consider walking away from the purchase. Neglect at this level means that other maintenance tasks were likely ignored as well. 

Engine

Not much can be learned from a visual inspection of an engine, aside from signs of the leaky gasket and worn chain. A test ride is the best way to see how the engine operates and if it has retained its power. Listen for rattling or clunking noise while increasing the throttle. 

Miscellaneous

Functioning lights, dials, and buttons are essential for driving the ATV safely and legally. Look for signs of wear that have nothing to do with the ATV’s functionality, but you instinctively know they will bother you. These signs include cracked and torn seats, a broken storage box, and bent rear-view mirrors. 

Service Book

The previously mentioned service book is a highly desirable piece of documentation, as it can affect future resale. Given the overall simplicity of the ATV, owners don’t always keep an official service book but have some receipts for the DIY repairs, which is also acceptable.