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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is There a Used ATV In Your Future?

What To Do If You Can't Afford A New ATV —

Let’s face it, the economy just isn’t very good right now. And, as long as we’re facing it, I don’t think it’s going to improve very much for a while. Then, to make things worse, most knowledgeable types are forecasting that the price of gas is only going to go higher.

It’s all quite depressing news to everyone except folks like my friend, a UPS driver who continues to put in more hours each week than he prefers. More likely than not you are one of the 80% of able-bodied men that still have a job but continually wonder just how secure it is in our current state of affairs.

No matter who you are though, these are good times to keep your spending within the limits of your savings rather than the limits of your credit card. And even then it may be best to limit your spending to just a small percent of your savings.

But you want a (new?) ATV!

So what are we to do? I see three scenarios:
1) You bought a great ATV some time since 2005 or so and wonder if you should buy a new one or just keep this one and ride it.
2) You own an older, perhaps tired or too small ATV and you’d like to upgrade.
3) You don’t own an ATV at all and want one!

So here’s my advice – for what it’s worth!
1)  For those of you with your dream machine sitting in your garage, count your blessings! Need some help counting? Check out what a new ATV costs nowadays. And if that’s not enough you might also notice that nothing has really changed all that much, or improved, just gotten more complex and just maybe made more cheaply.
My advice for all of you is to use a portion of your savings to buy a good set of radial tires or a new winch (or just a synthetic rope). Then put the rest in gas and keep riding!

2) Owning an older, smaller, out-dated ATV may be the toughest dilemma of any. Is it something that you can live with? Is it something that a good set of radial tires and maybe a set of better shocks can change? Those are the items that just may make your current ATV ‘good to go’ for a while longer..
If not, here’s my suggestion. Clean it all up. Detail it. Change the oil and filter. Fix anything that’s wrong with it. Then you can sell it with a clean conscience to someone from group three. You will sleep well at night knowing that you have given someone an unregretable entry into our great sport.

3) So you don’t own an ATV or you’ve sold your old ATV and are ready to look for something better!
Here’s my advice. First, and perhaps most important, don’t get in a hurry. Have the amount you want to spend decided upon in advance and set aside. Now start looking. Where? Which ATVs should I look for? What do I look for in the ATV? Whoa! Slow down! Let’s go through this one item at a time.

Where to look? There are lots of good places to look. The local classifieds are the easiest simply because the ATVs to look at will most likely be closest to you. There are internet classifieds as well, but beware that as the distance that the ATV is away increases, the more time and money it will cost to look at it and the greater pressure you’ll be under to make a quick or hasty decision.

Which ATV should I buy? This is a very personal question, and one I’m always saying must fit what you plan to do with your ATV. But I will also say this. I have favorites and they are based on two things – how well they work for the recreational exploring that I love so much, and how well they hold up over the long haul. I like to ride ATVs a lot more than I like to work on ATVs.

The machines I’ve always fallen back on are the Suzuki King Quads. I’ve put many, many miles on them since the day they were introduced. I love how smooth they are. How quiet they are. And I love how reliable they are. I also love the Yamaha Grizzly. It’s a great machine, especially since its redesign in 2007. And the same goes for the Brute Force since it’s redesign in 2008.

Want something smaller? The King Quad 500 has all the features of the 700 and 750. Or look at the 400, which is basically a redesigned Eiger is a rock-solid and simple machine. As long as we’re talking rock-solid and simple, the Honda Rubicon, Foreman, and little Rancher fall into that category. So do the smaller Yamaha’s like the Kodiak and the Big Bear.

Reliability is a big issue as although I love hiking, I don’t like walking back from a ride! And yes, we’ve all heard stories of this and that, but I prefer to rely only on my own eyes. Spending so much time around the Paiute Trail in the busy summer months I get to see a lot of machines being used exactly how I use mine. I see many with lots of miles and I see some broken down along the trails.

The machines listed above are also the very same ones I see used for many years and many miles with little chance of major problems. But as with anything, your experience may vary. The good news is that you can lessen the chances of getting a bad machine by just paying attention.

Here’s what to look for – and how to look:

We’ll assume that you have narrowed your search down to one or two ATVs that fit your desires and purposes and it is now time to go look at the ATVs in person – well, so-to-speak.

The first thing to do is to talk to the owner for a while. Find a little of what’s he like. Ask him why he is selling the ATV. Ask him what he did with the ATV. I like to get a feel for the person that’s selling so I can get a first impression of the type of person they are. This gives me the first (and maybe best) idea of how it was taken care of.

I also like to look around a bit and see what else the seller has and how well he takes care of those things. I like to look around and see if his garage is clean. Is there an old truck being restored or perhaps a clean Miata sitting under a car cover? How’s his daily driver look? Clean? Are there supplies laying around like he would do his own oil changes? Is there a compressor for blowing air filters out?

Okay, now let’s take a closer look at what you came here for:

Take a look at what the ATV looks like externally. Are there any obvious scratches on the fenders like it’s been abused? How does the seat look? Is it faded from sitting outside? Is the seat ripped? Is there obvious rust? What about the handlebars and controls? Are they all clean and straight? Is it pretty obvious that the ATV has not been rolled? Good!

Next, look under the ATV. Are the skid plates beat badly or merely a few scratches? How about the CV joint covers? Are they clean and not ripped or leaking? How are the tires? Are they stock or are they new radials with little wear? Stand at the front of the ATV and look at the front tires. Are they lined up – pointing in the same direction? Are they worn fairly even?

Now let’s look a little closer. What’s the mileage? Hopefully you already knew the answer to this but look anyway. Pull off the seat and take a look at the air filter. Clean? Look at the battery and the cables. Clean? No corrosion hopefully. Pull the oil dipstick and check the oil level and cleanliness. No foam in the oil hopefully. Ask the seller when he last changed the oil and how often he changed it? What oil does he use? Ask him if he uses any additives? And ask if he ran regular or premium fuel as well.

Look closely at each side of the ATV. Are the little plastic fasteners all there? Are they in good shape or do they appear to have been removed and replaced roughly? Look at the bolts you see. Do they look like they’ve been removed? If it has a winch take a close look and see if it’s been used. If it has, the cable will be worn at the end where you should be able to easily notice it even without spooling out the cable. Look again for rust to see if the ATV was run in the mud or snow and not cleaned properly.

Now it’s time to start the ATV. Does it crank right up and idle smoothly? This is rather easy on a machine with EFI and a bit more challenging on an ATV with a carburetor. But a good seller would have previously started the machine so it would already be warm when you went to start it. Put it in gear. Does it shift into gear cleanly? Does it start to move easily or does it seem to take what seems like too many revs to get it going?

While the machine is running pull in the brake handle(s). Does the lever travel too far? Does it fully engage? Do the same with the foot pedal. Check if the parking brake actually holds the ATV at a standstill. Turn on the headlights and see if they work correctly.

Now it’s decision time. I have seen some used ATVs that are so clean you wonder if they were ever used at all, some with less than 1000 miles so the real decision will only be if the price is fair. Remember, you will more often than not get what you pay for. Super clean will cost you more than beat hard and put away wet – almost every time.

Let’s assume that the ATV has been used but not beat. If it’s been beat you should have been able to spot that rather quickly and turn around and drive off without looking back, perhaps not even needing to look the machine over closely to see it’s not what you want.

A machine that’s neither unbelievably clean and yet not beat is the category where the vast majority of used ATVs will fall. This is where you’ll need to use the suggestions above for looking over the machine. This is also where you’ll be weighing the price to the condition. This is where you are on your own. Does the cost of the ATV fit your budget? If there are some small items like worn tires, is your budget enough to fix these items?

My advice is to find as clean of a machine as you can afford. The cleaner and lower the mileage, the more trouble-free use you’ll get out of the ATV. I also always plan to make some repairs on anything I buy. So you may need to replace the tires. You may also need to replace the drive belt. If the ATV has never had the belt replaced it is something I would just plan on doing no matter what. The same with changing the oil and air filter. It’s all just good preventative practice.

So there you have it. Find a clean machine being sold by a nice person that either can’t ride it any more or has simply decided to move on to another hobby and you’ll live happy ever after.

On a side note: I have recently sold several newer, higher dollar vehicles and replaced them with older, simpler, and less expensive, or simply different machines. In every case I felt comfortable with the decision being made – the selling based on my knowledge of the cleanliness of the vehicle being sold, and buying based on both the condition of the machine, and perhaps more importantly, the obvious moral character of the seller.

In one case I was so confident of the seller of the car I purchased (a Flyin’ Miata MazdaSpeed if your interested) that a deal was made sight-unseen. My son-in-law made the comment that it was like buying a car from myself. I’m not sure where the resting place for that compliment was directed, but I think it fell on everyone involved! What a great way to buy (or sell) a vehicle. I wish you the same luck.


  1. I've been looking at used 2008 bruteforce 750's and grizzly 700's. Which of your project build-ups would you keep if you could only have one, the bruteforce 750 or the grizzly 700? Which would be the better longterm, say 10,000 miles, machine using them the way you do?

  2. The thing that worries me most about these newer quads is the more bells and whistles they have, the more there is to go wrong. They're probably far more reliable than I give them credit for, but it still makes me leery.

    It looks like I'm becoming more and more qualified to take over for you when you retire as I already have a miata, though it is not turbocharged as of yet :) Do you have a personal blog or anything to I can check out your car?

  3. Thanks for all the great advice Doug, now no one is going to want to buy mine. ;-)

    When buying used if it is at all possible check out as many of the same ATV that you want so you have something to compare them to.

  4. I'd agree with Dan on the too many bells and whistles but like trucks and Jeeps I don't think they will become less reliable due to the advanced bells and whistles.

    I think over the years trucks have become less capable off road vehicles while Jeeps have improved.

    For those of us that live on a budget something like a $400 fuel pump for an injected ATV could be a setback.

  5. Nowadays things seem to run longer without any attention required, but once they stop it's getting harder and harder to just poke something with a screwdriver or hit it with a hammer to get it going - although I'm still a believer in mechanical healing! Well sometimes maybe ;-)

    Simple minds need simple stimulation. Maybe. I'm confused ;-)

  6. Dan. No personal blog. Sorry. Maybe soon I'll get some pics of the car here. Just have to figure out how to make it relate - just like Turbo Dog eh?

  7. Your MazdaSpeed is a sideXside ;-)

  8. Doug

    Great words of advice; with so many great ATV’s to choose from, selecting the good ATV won’t be hard at all.

    To me condition says it all; look for broken plastic, gages, bent handle bars, but do expect to see some scratches, scrapes and dings on the machine. The plastic ATV’s are made out of is very soft and easily scratched.

    Look for low miles, and how often the machine has been serviced, receipts will provide the documentation (this works for the do-it-your-self folks too).
    Ride the machine,
    how does it feel? Solid and firm or soggy and squishy. Also see if the steering is tight, does not pull to the left or right and that the handlebars are straight.

    Check out the sellers other items, like the car or truck he or she drives, how it looks, this will tell you a lot about the seller.

    If you know the seller, then you know much more about the machine most people.

    Just my advice.

  9. Hey djd. I apologize that your comment got past me. If I have an excuse it's that Google was 'working' on the blogs. Maybe they had something against conservatives ;-)

    I would prefer the Brute Force over the Griz simply because of a few items like the parking brake rather than park position in the tranny, the more instantaneous power, and the pull lever for the locker. Oddly enough, when we projected them the Grizzly turned out way better, but I think it was all due to the shocks being tuned better on the Griz than the BF.

    But you didn't mention the Suzuki King Quad. Although we never really covered it as a project like we did with the Griz and the BF, it is the unit I actually chose to keep as a personal unit.

    Any of those three would prove a great machine and a reliable one. First, add radial tires, my favorites being the Carlisle ACTs. Then add a winch, the best value being the KFI. And if you can swing it, add a set of the Works Performance shocks - they are really worth the money.

  10. I agree I should have mentioned the Kingquad, I thought that maybe I shouldn't go for the Kingquad unless I could find a newer one with EPS. I hear so much about twitchy steering, but if some ACT's clear that up I for sure should add it to the list as well. I have heard some say the Kingquads clutching bogs the motor a little at higher elevation, have you experienced any of that?

    I've talked with some Grizzly 700 owners that have had oil burning issues, but I wonder if that is more of an abuse issue than manufacturing defect. The grizzly's draw is the EPS.

    The Bruteforce has that amazing v-twin, and is way fun to ride. I think some good radials would fix the only glaring problem I see with it.

    I guess I'll hope for a bruteforce, but watch the others as well in case I come across an amazing deal.

    No worries on getting back to me, I too noticed that the blog was being screwy for a bit there. Thanks for the comments.

  11. is the kawasaki bayou 250 as good as the honda rancher? or the new 2012 foreman? see im looking for my first fourwheeler and dont get me wrong im 16 yrs old and know a lot about them but am seeking someones information in the (actually has used them catagory) so anytime you can get back with info i would be grateful

    dude raised in
    shreveport louisiana

  12. You'd be much better off looking for a clean Recon or Ozark as a reliable and fun first ATV. Next up would be the Rancher and maybe even a Big Bear.

  13. thank you very much you have been helpful

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