Taking time to winterize your ATV is going to make it easy to get back on the trails in the spring and save you a bundle of bucks!

By Andy Lightbody

Yep, it’s official… its winter! And for a lot of us, it’s finally time to watch the sunset on all the fun we’ve had all this past year with our ATVs. And yes, I know there are some die-hards out there that keep their machines up and running all winter for everything from late season hunts and ice fishing trips, to going out and plowing the driveway.

If you are planning on riding your ATV in the cold weather, one of the best investments you can make is in purchasing a quality fuel antifreeze for your tank. These inexpensive fuel additives prevent the gas lines from freezing up and help ensure that your machine is going to start better in cold conditions. If you’re going to be riding through the heavy snows, or plowing, make sure you don’t let ice and snow buildup around the radiator and brakes. If they get backed up, the ATV can overheat, and you may find that the brakes aren’t working properly.

For the rest of us who finally concede that its time to pack up the Quads and dig out the snowmobiles, there are a host of simple, and easy do-it-yourself tips that are going to ensure that when the snows melt and springtime arrives, you’re ready to hit the trails without a lot of big buck repairs.

Clean the machine from top to bottom. Take it to the car wash and spray it clean. Taking an old scrub brush and even a toothbrush to clean out the grim is a good idea. Mild grease cutting soap solution and other cleaning agents are going to be a must for making it clean and shiny. As the ATV is drying, spray WD40 or an equivalent on everything. This will help displace those tiny drops of water that are hiding in nooks and crannies, and prevent rust spots from forming.
Once it’s dry, hand wax painted surfaces. And think about using a good vinyl, leather and plastic conditioner on the seat, grips, gun case/rod holders, bags, etc. While your doing that, get a pen and paper out to note anything that looks worn, broken or in need of repair. Look for cracks in the CV boots, and the frame. Trust me, it’s easier to do the repairs now, rather then in the spring when you have completely forgotten that you needed a new headlight or replace a worn cable or lever. Or if you don’t want to do all the fixes right now, tie that “to do” list to the handlebars. And while you’re doing your store-for-the winter inspection, lube up the chain and check the sprockets for excessive wear.

Next on your checklist is a stop to the gas station, and fill it up. Leave enough room in your tank to add the right amount of fuel stabilizer. Instructions on how much to add will depend on how many gallons your tank holds. Follow those instructions to the letter or add a little extra. If you don’t you are going to find that gas deteriorates when setting for months, attracts water condensation, and will gum up your carburetor(s) with a sticky varnish by springtime!

If you have a boat, a lawnmower, weed trimmer or anything gas powered that is heading for winter storage, use the left over fuel stabilizer in everything!

Once you got the fuel additive in the tank and it’s all topped off, start your engine and let it run for a couple of minutes to mix thoroughly with the gas.  Some mechanics suggest that you try and drain the carb or carbs, but I’ve found that after running for a few minutes to mix everything together, you can turn off the fuel valve or petcock and let the vehicle run until it starts to sputter. Then quickly engage the ATV’s choke and you’ll burn out the last drops of remaining fuel.

While at the gas station, check the tires for wear, nicks and gouges. Fill the tires to the maximum air pressure. As we all know, tires loose air pressure in cold weather. Topping them off before going into storage will help them from going deflating and causing flat spots and tire sidewall damage. If you really want to protect the tires, think about having a buddy help you lift the ATV up on cement blocks to get them off the ground.

Check the fluids in the differentials. If the oil looks like coffee with cream, it’s contaminated with water and needs changing. How’s your coolant system and fluid? Check your oil as well. If you can’t remember the last time you changed the oil and filter, its time to do it now!

Believe it or not, you’re almost done!

In the mechanical department, turn your attention to the vehicle’s electrical system. Here is where you need to find the battery (usually located under the seat), and you are going to have two choices. You can either pull the battery and store in a heated garage or hook up a “trickle charge” battery system to keep the amps/volts up. Easiest of course is to simple disconnect the cables and put it inside for the season. Do keep in mind that storing the battery in an ice-cold garage doesn’t do any more good than leaving it in the ATV for the winter. Either way, the battery is going freeze up. And once its gone dead, you may find that it can’t be recharged, and ATV replacement batteries are expensive.

With your ATV ready for its long winter nap, I like to take duct or electrical tape and cover the exhaust pile. That little hole can look mighty inviting as a nesting hole. Finally, if your vehicle is not going to be stored in an enclosed garage or shed, invest in a good quality, tight fitting all-weather tarp and a bunch of bungee cords.

Spend a few hours now, and you are going to reap the benefits of being able to ride and rip come spring time, along with saving yourself a lot of time and money at the shop.