Protect Yourself and Your Investment
The adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" could have been written about Utility Vehicles (UTV). Good maintenance habits will keep you out of the repair shop and allow you more time on the road for work or play. In addition to saving money, a maintenance checklist may save your life.
A comprehensive maintenance checklist doesn't have to be complicated. There are only two parts for consideration: safety and performance. First, safety must be the primary concern. A well-maintained machine provides maximum responsiveness should the need arise. Secondly, when you maximize performance, long-term costs are minimized. Consequently, routine UTV maintenance is a win-win.
The four-part safety check before each ride is the essential maintenance checklist. While you may question if a pre-ride inspection counts as maintenance, rest assured, it is. Ensuring maximum performance of the following four mechanical aspects of your UTV allows preemptive preventive measures to avoid potential mechanical failure or accidents.
1. Tires and Wheels
There are two tire quick checks before heading out on a ride. First, notice the tread. The tread is the surface of the tire that meets the road. A thinner tread means less tire traction.
The second is air pressure. A simple check with a pressure gauge ensures a safe ride. Check the service guide for recommended tire pressures.
The time to check the brakes is before coming to the edge of a cliff.
3. Steering and Suspension
Run the steering wheel to ensure complete control before taking off. A glance at how the tires are wearing will help assess the suspension. Bounce in the seat; does it feel tight?
Check five fluid levels: Gasoline, engine oil, transmission oil, brake fluid, and coolant. It seems intuitive, but topping off fluids in a controlled setting with adequate light seems advantageous to stick out in the woods.
Oil Check and Change
2-stroke vs. 4-stroke engines. Most UTVs are 4-stroke because of the additional power gradient. A 2-stroke engine gets a mixture of oil and gas with every fill-up. Consequently, the motor receives clean oil with every gasoline fill. A 4-stroke engine uses the same oil repeatedly and must be changed periodically.
Routine user upkeep is required to ensure optimal UTV performance and safety. Because of the high demand workload often required of a UTV, engine oil must be diligently monitored and changed. Once the engine is "broken in," an oil and an oil filter change should be considered after every 100 hours of use, after 1,000 miles of use, or every six months, whichever is first.
Because youth models run "hotter," an oil change is done more frequently. At the end of the first month, mechanics recommend a " break-in" oil change. Then, replace the oil and oil filter after every 30 hours of use, six months, or 300 miles of use, whichever comes first.
Always refer to your UTV operating manual for model-specific oil choices; however, the literature recommends synthetic 5W 30 SAE 4-stroke ATV/UTV oil. If running the UTV in colder weather, consider the more viscous 10W 30.
When checking the engine oil level or performing an oil and filter change, be sure the UTV is on a level surface. Let the engine run for ten minutes to warm the old engine oil. The oil becomes thinner when warm and easier to drain. To avoid being burned, do not overheat the UTV.
When checking the oil level with the dipstick, take notice each time of the condition of the oil. If the oil appears "muddy," it may be time for an oil change. You should never see any water mixed in with the oil. If you notice any water, do not attempt to start the vehicle; take it to a certified repair shop immediately.
Locate the drain underneath the UTV and place an oil pan below before removing the drain plug. After you have drained the oil and appropriately discarded it, replace the plug and then the oil filter with a new, clean unit using a wrench.
After replacing the oil with new, clean oil (the operator's manual will clarify how much oil is required), run the engine for ten minutes before checking the oil level with the dipstick. Add oil if necessary but do not overfill.
Most UTVs run on combustion engines. Optimal ignition requires both clean gasoline and air. Mechanics recommend that operators change the air filter every 50 hours, but more often if running in muddy or sandy environments. A good habit is to replace the air filter when doing an oil and oil filter change.
Often, how the UTV is running will indicate the need to change the air filter. Five signs that you need to replace the air filter include:
- Decreased fuel efficiency.
- Not starting on the first or second try could indicate a compromised fuel-to-airflow ratio.
- Uneven idle in the park is often an airflow issue.
- Your UTVs get up and go, got up and went. An easy air filter replacement might improve performance if you're no longer keeping up with your running buddies.
- You smell gasoline fumes. A compromised air filter leads to incomplete combustion, and flooding can occur.
As the name suggests, a spark plug delivers an electrical charge, a "spark" that sets the cam pistons in motion, starting an engine. A spark generates across a space with a specified distance called a" gap."
After repeated firings, ignition residue forms and" fouls" the plug. It is no longer able to generate an adequate charge. Professionals recommend that UTV spark plugs be checked once a year, every 1,000 miles or 100 hours of use, and replaced as needed.
Symptoms of a fouled spark plug are similar to a dirty air filter. Irregular idle, poor acceleration, difficulty starting, and lack of power can signal an airflow or spark plug issue. Routine maintenance should prevent any potential performance issues.
The drivetrain is a series of events that transfers power from gears to wheels. Synthetic transmission fluid and differential ATV/UTV fluids are designed for the heavy demands of off-road vehicles.
Transmission fluid is also checked and replaced if necessary every 100 hours of use, 1,000 miles, or yearly, whichever is first. Differential fluid recommendations are every 4,000 miles or 200 hours of use.
The drive belt is like the hamster's wheel. There are belt upgrades that increase workforce and torque. Many mechanics replace their own UTV drive belts every year. Weekend riders can wait every three years.
You can visually inspect the Constant Velocity Joints (CV joints) and axles. The most common inspection is of the rubber boot that covers the CV joint. If you notice any disruption to the rubber lining, you should only operate the UTV when repaired.
Battery replacement depends on the type of battery in use. For example, a flooded lead battery may last two to three years. An AGM battery may last three to five years. The longest-lasting battery is a lithium iron phosphate battery which may last up to ten years.
An unused battery leaks charge. So, if you ride the UTV infrequently, start it up every two weeks and charge the battery for 10 to 20 minutes. Another alternative is a battery tender. This is a trickle charger that plugs into a 110v household electrical source. A battery tender ensures your UTV is good to go whenever you are.
Occasionally, the same bumpy ride that delivers the thrills in an off-road experience can loosen wires. Carry a roll of electrical tape just in case.
Check the terminals for dirt, debris, or corrosion. Clean with baking soda and water with a wire brush if necessary. Ensure the terminals are tight and the battery is secure in the UTV casing. Apply Vaseline or waterproof grease to the terminals to prevent corrosion. Level off a lead acid battery solution with distilled water and check the exhaust tube for patency.
Charge the battery fully after each use. Clean the terminals after a muddy or wet ride.
Keep the battery charging on a battery tender. If you store the UTV below freezing temperatures, remove the battery and keep it from freezing. Freezing can buckle the plates or crack the casing.
Chassis and Body Maintenance
There will always be evidence of use on the chassis and frame of an enjoyed UTV. However, routine cleaning and repair of scratches and dings can prevent long-term stability problems. The roll cage is the rider's protection in a roll-over. There should be no asymmetry, buckling, or apparent damage to the chassis or cage for safe operation.
The best maintenance for fuel injectors is good quality gasoline. General recommendations are to service fuel injectors every 30,000 miles or yearly.
Propylene glycol doesn't burn off like engine oils, so, theoretically, it lasts longer without maintenance. The coolant can, however, pick up rust, sludge, and other debris as the water circulates the engine.
It is easy to visually inspect the coolant when topping off before each time you ride. If it looks cloudy or dirty, it's time for a flush. The general recommendation is every 60 months (5 years).
Storing a UTV
Common sense precautions should prevail when storing a UTV. Clean the exterior. Plug the exhaust pipe to prevent infestation (be sure to remove it before use). Cover to protect from sun and debris. Drain the fuel. Keep the battery charged.
Keep Your Rig Ready for Years of Safe Adventure
Taking your UTV out of storage should be as simple as hooking up the battery and filling it with fresh gasoline if you put it away correctly. But, even if you did, recheck everything once again from the top. Remember, "an ounce of prevention…"
Refer to the instruction manual for specific maintenance recommendations for your UTV and modify them if necessary. Someone doing too much preventative maintenance has never done damage, only not doing enough.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the recommended maintenance schedule for my UTV?
Check the service manual that came with your UTV; it will be detailed there.
Can I perform most of the maintenance tasks myself, or should I consult a professional?
That is dependent on your level of skill and comfort. Anyone can do most routine maintenance with basic mechanical abilities.
How do I choose the right fluids and parts for my UTV?
Check with the service department where you purchased your UTV. You can also search online.
Are there any additional maintenance tasks specific to my UTV model?
Check the service manual that came with your UTV; it will be detailed there. You can also ask the service department of the dealership.
How can I keep track of my maintenance schedule and records?
There are a variety of Android and Apple apps for keeping track of maintenance schedules and records. Keep a written document in a waterproof envelope inside the UTV.
Printable Checklist: Download Checklist
UTV Maintenance Checklist for Off-Road Enthusiasts
Oil Check and Change
Storing a UTV
Chassis and Body Maintenance
Taking Your UTV Out of Storage
Always refer to your UTV's instruction manual for specific maintenance recommendations and modify them if necessary. Remember, proper preventative maintenance can help prevent damage and ensure your UTV's longevity.
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- Transmission Fluid vs Differential Fluid
- When to Change ATV/UTV Trans & Differential Oil
- How CVT Transmission in Your ATV Works
- CVT Transmission Explained (Video)
- Why ATV Belts Often Fail
- Troubleshooting ATV CV Boot Failure
- ATV Battery Maintenance
- ATV &UTV Maintenance: 7 Tips
- Top 5 Ways to Maintain Your ATV or Side-by-Side
- ORV Maintenance Guide
- Do Fuel Injectors Need Periodic Cleaning?
- Used UTV Buying Checklist
- ATV/UTV Winter Storage Tips
- Storing Your ATV for Winter
- UTV Winter Storage Tips
- Winterizing Your ATV/UTV (Video)