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Sooner or later you’re going to buy a second hand ATV/UTV. It might be your first ride in which case you’ll need something forgiving of beginner’s mistakes. Or, maybe you need another machine for a growing family or a spare up at the cottage for visitors to enjoy. For whatever the reason, you have found yourself standing in front of a used machine weighing the possibilities and fingering that roll of bills with Mackenzie King’s stern visage. Not all preowned machinery is the stuff of nightmares, and in fact a good many used machines prove to be sound investments giving reliable service. But also know, the rabbit hole of disaster awaits the unprepared, the unwary, and the unlucky.


Before burning gas to go and look at a potential machine a little prep work is in order. Check on line for any recalls or issues that occurred over its production life and try to speak to someone who has ridden that model. Don’t go with preconceived notions, and do treat every viewing as fresh and new with no idea of what’s going to happen. Remember, a seller is trying to sell, so their interpretation of any issues will be radically opposite to yours. Ask sensible questions that can be answered. Let the owner know you are serious; don’t argue or be combative. Conscientious owners have the receipts of any repairs or replaced parts as well as up keep records and are willing to volunteer them if asked. Plastic is prone to breaks but solid metal damage needs to be investigated before any money is exchanged. Don’t fixate on simple cosmetics as anyone who rides knows this is par for the course, but the frightening stuff, the really damaged or dangerous stuff may not be so obvious.

Everyone pulls the dip stick, but that’s not always a true indication of problems as most sellers put fresh oil in. Better to check a spark plug or examine the muffler looking for discolouration. Note how the ATV starts and listen for shifting noise that could be a warning of transmission damage. Crash guards indicate bumps or worse, a serious wreck. Get under things and really crawl around. Don’t ever kick the tires it makes you look like a rank amateur unsure of what really matters in a machine. Don’t be too proud to bring along a smart mechanic. Shade tree wrench spinners get a bad name but these guys (and gals!) can identify a problem you might overlook. Once an engine, drive train or transmission issue is identified, are you confident in your ability to fix it or is this a shop job? Will any repairs off set the asking price? Super low asking prices should be carefully critiqued and always be ready to walk at a moment’s notice.


Wear appropriate clothes you can crawl around in on the ground. Bring a pair of work gloves, some rags to wipe off a dirty greasy spot to access the seriousness of leaks and an old coat to put under you as you examine axles or the frame. A small hand mirror helps you to peek into hardtosee places. A tiny flash light or head lamp is useful for looking into the shadowy recesses of the prospective machine. Finally, listen to the owner. They often leak information as they run over the machine’s history. Listen for clues about the way the ATV was used like the big trip in the spring mud, hauling out 1000 lbs of moose or leaving the other fellow in the dust. An ATV/UTV is made for off road use but not off road abuse.


I love this guy. When the best thing the seller can find to point out is the brand new tire you’re in trouble. In the murky world of second hand ATVs a new tire is supposed to attract your eye and draw you away from noticing other more pressing issues. Yeah, she’s got some miles, but that tire is so new it’s still got the factory nubs, so you won’t need to replace it. Really? I went to check out a Suzuki once and for over an hour the owner waxed proud about his spanking new tire. He could swing the conversation smoothly back to the quality (actually it was a low priced tire) rubber gracing the otherwise rather dogeared looking machine. When confronted with the tantalizing charms of a new tire, check over the rim and axle it’s mounted on. Look for signs of rough use and other problems. Ask about the reason for the replacement; was it blown, an irreparable leak or dangerously worn when replaced? And who replaces a single tire and leaves three only slightly less worn tires? Generally a person replaces tires in pairs, or if the machine is working properly, all four skids should be roughly in the same condition. Carefully check all the tires are the same pattern and size. Don’t be surprised if the new tire is a different make, tread pattern or even incorrect size being too wide or too narrow.


This is a classic, and more common as the machines today are ever more difficult to repair. An overconfident owner can often get into some serious trouble by using too much ham fistedness and too little care. A supposed mint Foreman I stopped to look over one evening turned out to be strewn across two buildings! The owner had decided to stop his “fixin’ job” after dissembling much of the ATV in pursuit of the problem, which I never fully understood and strongly suspect neither did he. Should you be confronted with this kind of apocalyptic disaster think it over carefully. Is a reassembly job something you want to get mixed up with? Time spent in the garage is time you won’t be riding the trails. Remember, the faster the owner comes down in price the more likely there’s a fair bit of critical stuff missing, or worse, broken during the disassemble process. One of the most important things to remember, and one many people forget, is you don’t have to buy this machine or in fact any machine. It’s up to the owner to sell, not you to buy!

Ever see the ad where the owner claims to have one or more similar machines for parts? But if you discover the same parts are missing from the wrecks this should be a warning signal. How do you manage to wear out that many similar parts and where are the junked parts they replaced anyway? Most of us like to tinker a tad but there are those who feel the OEM stuff is for potters and adhere to the notion that if it fit that model back in ’95, well heck it ought to be the same in ‘15, eh? There was a gnarly old Suzuki on a farm I was privileged to view years ago and I swear it didn’t have two matched bolts! The beater even had fenders from another ATV of a similar displacement. Oh the horror!

Modifications are fine and in many cases really can improve both performance and handling. But if you find yourself standing beside the nightmare creation of some backyard Dr.

Frankenstein watch out. The sadistic mind of this truly deranged individual knows no limits and with access to a cutting torch plus an assortment of mismatched metal there’s no telling what can take place. Grinning they’ll look you in the face and say the mechanical mess is something they dreamed up while you stare open mouthed wondering exactly what it was supposed to improve. Better to leave the freaky circus side show stuff to a braver soul and look elsewhere for a machine.

No Battery? No Problem! Really, would you sell your Buick with no battery and try to preface it by saying, hey you can push start it. I mean it’s the 21st century and batteries are not that difficult to order. If the owner starts telling you it will start fine without a battery and he’s been doing so for years just walk away. Speaking of batteries when the seller shares this tidbit and says a garden tractor battery will work and to make it fit he had to build up, cut a hole or worse do some rewiring to get it to charge again, walk away! This kind of silliness will often be forgiven by many buyers, but do yourself a huge favour and get back on the highway and don’t look back!


Mechanically sound and ready to ride machines do exist. Spotless, well maintained and reasonably priced ATVs are like Sasquatch and when you see one it’s about the same reaction too. Holy smokes what is that! Good second hand ATVs turn up all the time, those dusty quietly regal examples that lurk under tarps and try to maintain their dignity among all the junk. If you do encounter the pristine dusty diamond keep calm and PAY the owner quickly! Chances are the next buyer is pulling up the drive. Be smart, do your homework and a ‘new to you’ used machine can be a great addition. Keep rolling on!. • 


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