ATVs require care and maintenance like any other machine in the garage. Tires need to have proper air pressure, dirt and debris need to be flushed from the body and joints, and oil needs to be changed. Fortunately, ATVs are easily maintained and don’t require a degree in vehicle maintenance. Save major repairs for the pros; learn basic repair and maintenance so you won’t be stranded in the desert. We found a few tools that every ATV rider should keep in their toolboxes.
Check all four tires before each ride. Most experts suggest inflation from 2 to 6 psi. Low pressure can make the ATV pull to the right or left and make steering difficult. Too much air can cause premature wear on the tires. Gauges come in a variety of styles and range in price from $7 to $70. The pros use the higher end gadgets because of their durability and ability to reach into tight spaces. A $7 model like the one your dad has in his car’s glove box will probably do the trick. An article about ATV tires by BikeBandit points out that tools like these are one-time costs and will probably outlive your machine.
There is a debate among mechanics on whether to use a chain tensioner or cut off links to tighten loose chains. The risk with removing links is breaking the chain. This video shows how changing the chain tensioner helps to tighten the chain without removing links. The key is making the chain as tight as possible, because when it is on the ground with full weight, it will loosen the chain again from the weight of the vehicle. The hot tool you need for chain tension is a simple crescent wrench.
While we’re talking chain maintenance, add a couple bottles of lubrication to your tool kit. Because ATVs are exposed to off-road conditions, which can be dry and dusty, lubrication oil will protect the chain from binding and from debris build-up. With the rear tires off the ground so you can spin them freely, use a cleaning solution (soap and water will do, or something like Simple Green) and a plastic brush to remove accumulated dirt. Manually spin the wheels to dry the chain. Once dry, apply a fresh coat of lubricant spray, slowly rotating the tires to evenly coat it. Wipe away excess oil. Look for a lubricant that is made specifically for ATV chains. Bel-Ray makes a solution that is suitable for O-, X- and Z-ring units, and it’s about $8 to $12.
Speaking of grease, the chain is not the only part that needs to be lubricated. ATVs take a lot of abuse and are pushed through all sorts of conditions, from dry deserts to muddy bogs. The rides have a lot of hard-to-reach places, so a grease gun kit with a flexible hose is a nice addition to your toolbox. These sell for around $40 (and they make great gifts for hard-to-buy-for guys who love four-wheeling).
Use your owner’s manual to help locate the spark-plug wire and cap. Before you head out, do an Internet search to watch a video on how to change a spark plug. It’s not difficult, and most manuals recommend that they be changed at the 100-hour marks. Spark plugs cost only a few dollars and are inexpensive do-it-yourself routine maintenance tools.
Here’s where you can be creative. The contents of your survival kit will depend on where you ride. Duct tape, zip ties, gloves, bungee cords and tire plugs are a few basics that are inexpensive and can serve multiple functions if you are stranded in the wilderness or just trying to get out of the garage. For cold-weather riders, hand warmers, body warmers and foot warmers are air-activated heating pads that easily tuck away and can be used for emergencies or while enjoying the view of a freshly snow-dusted forest. Grabber sells these in bulk, and you can pick them up in most sporting goods stores.