If you’re thinking about buying a used ATV or UTV, it can be a great way to save some money on your next unit, but you have to be careful and make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. Before making the purchase, you should do your due diligence and conduct a thorough pre-purchase inspection so you fully understand the condition of the four-wheeler or side-by-side. To help guide you through this process, we’ve put together a list of the top 5 things every buyer must check before buying an off-road vehicle.
Start your inspection by doing a general walk around of the unit.
- Plastic: See if there are any cracks or signs that pieces of the plastic have been replaced from a crash.
- Seat: Check for cracks or tears in the upholstering. If you’re looking at an ATV, remove the seat to see if it feels waterlogged. On a UTV, you’ll have to push down on the seat to see if you can feel any trapped water. This could be a sign the unit’s been ridden in the mud or a river, or that it’s been left out in the rain.
- Handlebars: Look to see if they’re loose or bent.
- Levers & Lights: Make sure they all do what they’re supposed to do and turn on when they’re supposed to. If the unit has a wench, pull it out and inspect it.
- Odometer: A well maintained unit should have under 4,000 miles on it.
Tires & Rims
ATV tires can be expensive, easily costing $500 for a new set, so you want to make sure the tires are in good condition. When checking out a unit’s tires, grab a flashlight and shine it on the tread blocks and sidewalls on both the tire and the rim. You’re looking to see if there are any cracks or missing pieces.
For the tires specifically, make sure to compare the wear on the front and back tires. If the back tires are bald but the front tires are fine, it’s likely that the previous owner has been doing burnouts on the street, which may be a sign of wear in other places on the unit. Also, worn or faded tires could be a sign that the unit has been left out in the sun and not been well maintained. When you check the rims, make sure to double check that all the lugs are intact. It’s not uncommon to break off a lug, but that can make the unit dangerous for riding.
It’s no surprise that riders like to take these units off road or use them to perform fun stunts – but you want to make sure that there’s no damage from the prior owner’s adventures. Start by making sure you’re inspecting the unit on a level surface. This will allow you to see if it’s leaning to one side or the other, which could indicate issues with the shocks or damage to the frame from a belly shot along the way. From there, take time to see if there are any cracks, fractures, bends, or evidence of prior repairs. Take special time to examine the shock towers, which is one of the most obvious places you will see bent steel, and then inspect all of the joints for rust on the welds or cracks in the paint – both of which are good indicators there’s been prior damage. For UTVs, specifically, make sure to check out the roll cage for any damage that may have come from the prior owner rolling the unit.
During your inspection, you’re going to want to pull both the engine and the transmission dipsticks to see the condition of the oil. Look for any sign of metallic particles floating around in the oil. If you see any, it’s a red flag that the unit has serious mechanical issues. Also, make sure to ask the owner when the last time the oil filter was changed, because it can give you a good idea of how well it’s been maintained and how often it’s been serviced.
Next, you’re going to want to check the coolant, but only once the engine is completely cooled off. If you remove the radiator cap before the engine is cool, you could burn yourself. What you’re looking for here is oily coolant or any particles floating in the liquid, both of which can be a warning sign. Also, make sure to ask the owner:
- If they’ve used any tap water in place of a coolant. This is a major no-no because water can cause corrosion in the motor.
- If they’ve been consistent in the type of coolant they use. Mixing coolants can form a sludge that causes severe damage to the system and is expensive to fix.
Last, but not least, take time to give the gas a quick sniff. If the smell is off or rancid, it could be an indicator of issues with the carburetor or the fuel injection system.
Look for any moisture around the top of the shock. If the moisture is oily, that’s a sign that the shock is going back and will need to be replaced. Keep in mind that to replace and install each new shock costs about $150 per shock. From there, make sure to inspect the shock mounting points for rust. If you see any, it’s a sign that the shock mounts are overstressed, a clear indicator that the unit has been ridden hard.
Conclusion: Four-wheelers and side-by-sides are complicated machines, so these are just the top areas that buyers should inspect before making a used ATV or UTV purchase. If you feel that other elements of the off-road vehicle are important, be sure to inspect those too. Don’t forget, you can always also ask the seller if they’ll let you have the unit inspected by a certified mechanic or dealer for added peace of mind. As you search for your perfect unit, make sure to check out ATVTrader.com for the largest selection of new and used ATV and UTV units across the country.