Whether you’re using your ATV for work or play, we’d be willing to bet that you’re not treating it with kid gloves when you ride. That’s not what these units are meant for and, honestly, where would be the fun in that? However, one of the unfortunate side effects of taking your off-road vehicle for a rougher ride is that you could throw your wheels out of alignment. Luckily, misaligned wheels are normally pretty easy to identify. Common signs of misalignment include:
- pulling to one side,
- degree of turning not matching handlebar movement (turning more or less than you are moving the handlebars),
- unsteady handlebars, and
- uneven tire tread wear.
It’s important to look out for signs of misaligned wheels and fix them immediately. Operating an ATV that is unexpectedly darty, wobbly, or sluggish can make for dangerous riding. Plus, misaligned wheels lead to uneven wear on tire treads, which is also a riding risk. Even if your unit seems fine, it’s a good idea to realign your wheels at least twice a year. Aligning your ATV wheels is relatively straightforward and something you can likely do on your own by following these seven steps:
Step 1: Put the ATV on Level Ground
Start by parking your off-road vehicle on a smooth and completely level surface; your garage or driveway should work. You want to make sure that any unevenness you see is coming from an issue with your alignment, not because of where you’re parked.
Step 2: Properly Inflate the Tires
Similarly, you want to make sure that all your tires have the same air pressure to ensure you’re starting your realignment with everything else as even as possible. Having even tire pressure across all four of your tires is also just good practice when making sure your unit drives straight once you’ve realigned your wheels.
Step 3: Straighten the Handlebars
Next, grab your ratchet straps. You’re going to use them to center up your handlebars and lock them in place. Loop one ratchet strap around each handlebar and then hook them to the back of your unit. Be careful not to make the straps too tight, though, because you could cause some unintentional damage. You just want enough tension to keep your handlebars even and in place while you work.
Step 4: Make Your Measurements
To fix an alignment issue, you have to figure out if you have a toe-in or toe-out situation. Toe-in means that your tread blocks are pointing towards the frame of your unit. Toe-out means that your tread blocks are pointing outwards from the frame. It’s actually recommended that ATV wheels be toe-in by ¼ inch. To figure out what you’re dealing with, grab a tape measure and follow these simple steps:
- Using the front of the tires, measure the distance from the middle of the left tire to the middle of the right tire.
- Then measure the same distance, but use the back of the tires.
- Subtract the front measurement from the back measurement.
- If the resulting number is positive, your wheels are toe-in.
- If it’s negative, your wheels are toe-out.
- If it’s zero, your wheels are not angled in either direction.
Step 5: Loosen the Tie-Rod End Nuts
There are a couple of tricks to remember when loosening tie-rod end nuts. First, you’re going to need two wrenches: one for the nut and one for the rod. If you try to do this with only one wrench, you could end up doing serious damage. Find the dimple on your tie-rod where you can put one of your wrenches while you work on the nut with the other. This will let you get a solid grip on the rod, making it easier to loosen the nuts. Keep in mind that one of your tie-rods has left-facing threads, so when you’re working on that side, make sure to adjust your direction or you’ll strip the nut.
Step 6: Adjust the Tie-Rods
Once you’ve loosened the end nut, adjusting your tie-rod is as simple as turning it either clockwise or counterclockwise until you get the right toe measurement. However, this can be a tedious process, because you’ll probably want to re-measure as you work to make sure you don’t overshoot your adjustment. Remember that ATV wheels should be slightly toe-in. Aim to get your front tire measurement ¼ inch less than your back tire measurement.
Step 7: Tighten your tie-rod end nuts
Once everything is aligned, retighten everything to lock in your work. Don’t forget to use two wrenches as you do this, just like you did when loosening things up. You’ve worked this hard, you don’t want to hurt your machine now. We’d also recommend taking one final alignment measurement before you finish tightening, just to make sure nothing shifted while you were working.
Conclusion: Checking and adjusting your alignment should be common maintenance for any ATV owner, so we recommend getting comfortable with it. Familiarizing yourself with these seven steps will help you be ready and able to realign your unit whenever it’s needed. And if you’re looking for your next ATV, UTV, or other off-road vehicle, be sure to check out the nationwide selection at ATVTrader.com.