How to Buy a Good Used ATV – 14 Things to Look Out For

If you are looking to buy a used ATV and want to get the best value for money but aren’t exactly sure about what exactly you need to look out for, you have come to the right place.

Shopping for any used product can be tiresome, and often people report having bad experiences when it comes to buying vehicles privately and, in some cases, buying from a dealership. This can most often be attributed to the fact that most people don’t know what to look out for when buying a used vehicle.

If a buyer doesn’t know how to do proper inspections and research, the buyer could end up spending more money doing fixes on the ATV, then the price the bought it for. Whether you are buying a used ATV as a project, to flip, or if it is for your own personal use, in this article, we will give you a thorough walk-through of things to look out for when purchasing a good used ATV.

Here is a comprehensive guide on buying a used ATV and 14 things to look out for.

Before we get started on what to look out for, it is important to note that buying from a dealer or buying privately both have their own pros and cons but when dealing with both, you should show that you have at least some knowledge on what you need to look out for.

Buying from a dealership

Buying from a dealership often means you will pay more, but they can offer you some forms of assurances. Dealers often do inspections and checks before they buy an ATV, some dealerships will fix all problems that a used ATV might have while others will fix major problems but neglect smaller ones.

Dealerships, more often than not, offer warranties, which is great and will give you peace of mind when purchasing your ATV. Always check the reputation of a dealership before going to look at their ATV’s, you can save yourself a lot of time by doing this.

Remember that most companies will always have a few negative reviews. What you want to look for is the negative to positive review ratio. Try to see if there are any patterns and frequency themes to the negative reviews.

Buying privately

Privately buying a used ATV will often mean you are paying less for a similar product, or you will get more value for your money. The problem with buying privately is, if you do not know what to look for, you might end up spending a lot more on repairs and fixes than you anticipated.

Buying private also means you probably won’t be able to return the ATV once you have paid for it. If you are using Facebook to shop around, always look at the profile of the person who is advertising, if you see any red flags, be very careful.

You also want to ask certain questions relating to the ATV and if you do go see the vehicle and it seems that they lied in their answers, this is a huge red flag.

Luckily, we will walk you through what you need to know when buying a used ATV so you can make informed decisions.

A few questions that you can ask

  • What is the mileage on the ATV
  • Has the owner replaced any parts with aftermarket parts
  • are there any dents or scratches on the body of the ATV
  • Does the ATV have any mechanical issues
  • Does the ATV have any electrical issues
  • What are the conditions of the tires
  • What was the ATV used for and what type of terrain was it mainly used on
  • Does the ATV have any type of service history
  • Is all the paperwork in order
  • Has the vehicle been in any accidents

These questions will not only save you time if the owner is truthful, but will also help you make better judgments of whether the ATV is a good deal and good value for your money.


When you do go looking at potential ATVs, I recommend taking a checklist, pen, and a torch with you. A list will help you make sure that you don’t forget anything, and a flashlight will help you inspect the cosmetics and the mechanical components a lot better.


There isn’t much to be said in terms of cosmetics and its importance depends entirely on you. Keep in mind that Cosmetics on an ATV is not an expensive fix as parts can be found relatively easily.

ATV’s are often bought to be used hard, and especially when used on the farm, scratches and dents are not uncommon. Hopefully, you asked about the cosmetics when you inquired about the ATV. This will be the quickest way to judge if the person or dealership was not truthful with you.


If you are able to take the ATV for a test ride, you will obviously get a feel for the brakes. If you hear any strange screeching noise coming from the tires when you brake, it is possible that the brake pads are worn or the owner has fitted the ATV with the wrong pads. Another way of knowing if the brakes are faulty is if you have to pull the brake lever back further than it should be.

To check the rotors of the brakes, check the brake fluid reservoir, a low brake fluid reservoir is also a clue that the rotors need replacing since the calipers use more fluid to get the pads to reach the worn down rotors. One thing that can end up costing you quite a bit of money is scored brake discs.

If you are able to get a look at the brake discs, check for any scratches. A scratched disc means that the brake pads are worn, or the previous brake pads were allowed to wear to a point where there was metal on metal contact between the disc and the brake caliper.

Check the fluids

Often when people check the oil of any vehicle, they forget to check if the oil is dirty. If you see any impurities in the oil, it could be minor such as dust or little bits of dirt, but if it is rust or bigger pieces of debris, it could severely damage your engine.

CV joints

You want to inspect the CV joints, and all you need for this is your flashlight. Get underneath the ATV and grab the CV axle near the joint, pull it back and forth, if there is little or no play, that is a good sign.

If you are allowed to test drive the ATV, you want to drive the ATV to an empty open space where you can drive in a circle without endangering yourself or others. Grab hold of the steering wheel and turn it in one direction and drive in a circle.

Next, you want to do the same thing, but this time, in the opposite direction. If you do not hear a clicking or popping noise when traveling in a circle in either direction, then that is another good sign

The main cause of damaged CV joints is damaged CV boots. When a CV boot is worn or damaged, it will leak out the grease that is there to lubricate the CV joints. It also creates a gap for road debris and small stones to get into the CV joints, and this accelerates the damage.

Apart from taking a beating from heavy riding, one of the most common causes for damaged CV boots when it comes to ATVs and dirt bikes is mud. Mud traps moisture, so when it sticks to the CV boot, it actually rots the boot. While a damaged or torn CV boot is the most common cause for a damaged CV joint, it is not the only reason, CV joints can wear out over time.

As the joint ages and wears, it loses its tolerance and gives way to added space opening up between the moving parts of the joint. As space between the parts increases, the parts begin to bang against each other, and after a while, they give in.

Replacing a CV boot is not expensive, but replacing the entire shaft will cost you around $299 before labor.


Inspect the tires, and if they look like they are losing their tread, it could end up costing you quite a bit of money. Look for cracks, using your flashlight, check the condition of the tread block, and then you want to inspect the sidewalls to make sure that there are no cracks. Then try to see if there are any big pieces of rubber missing from the tire.

If the seller did not tell you beforehand that the tires were on their way out, you could try and negotiate the price down so that you can work the cost of new tires into your budget.

For all-terrain tires, you are looking at spending around $50–$150 per tire depending on brand and size. You will also have to pay installation costs, and in some countries or states, you will have to pay a disposal fee.

You should also use a jack to lift the tire and grab it with your hand, shake the tire around. If it feels loose in any way, that means that either wheel bearing has seen better days.


Look for any leakages from the shocks. The easiest way to look for moist areas around the top of the shock is by just using your finger. You can detect any wet patches by using your finger to feel the area. When you run your finger over the top of the shock, and you feel oil, that means that the shock has taken strain and has seen better days.

If the shocks are worn, they won’t dampen the spring oscillations anymore, so your tires spend more time in the air after each bounce. That dramatically reduces the machine’s stability. Leakage is a sure sign of wear.

Shocks cost $150 each with the installation.


Again, get underneath the ATV and have a look at the frame. Look for any kinks that are out of place or cracks, and in some cases, you could find entire pieces of the frame broken off. You should also check for rust and rot. Another thing to look for is if the frame has had some patchwork done or any out-of-place welding.

If an ATV has any of the frame problems that I listed above, it will end up costing a lot of time and money to fix. It might be worth your while to shop around for a different ATV.

Chain and sprocket

The correct tension on every drive train is when the suspension goes through the full range of travel, and the chain never becomes tight but just close to tight at the tightest position.

You often need help to pull the suspension down while checking chain tension. Also, check the tension at various positions of the chain to be sure you are checking when it is at the tightest position because when chain and sprockets wear, the wear is not always even. Tension needs to be checked and adjusted when the chain is clean and lubed.

When checking the chain and sprocket, use your fingers to pinch the chain in the middle, while doing that, feel the links that hook into the sprocket. If the links are still feeling a bit sloppy, it means the chain is worn. A worn-out chain will not grab onto all the teeth of a sprocket. It will usually only grab onto the first few teeth, and this will damage and wear down the sprocket.

A sprocket is a lot more expensive than a chain, so now would be a good time to ask the seller how long the chain has been worn-out for.


Talking about transmissions can be tricky as there are three different variants. I will talk a bit about each one.

The best way to tell if the ATV has a faulty transmission is to test drive the ATV. While out on your test drive, these are the symptoms you should look out for:

Strange clunking sounds

As obvious as it may seem, I thought it was an important point to bring up and a lot of people do tend to ignore this.

When you start the ATV, and it makes this type of noise, you might want to insist on having the transmission checked. The clunking sound, sometimes a humming or buzzing sound, is a sign that the transmission is faulty, and if it goes unchecked for long enough, it can cause significant mechanical damage.

Responsiveness or lack thereof

If at any time during your test drive, the ATV hesitates to go into gear or completely refuses to do so, then there is definitely something wrong. As soon as you shift from park to drive, the ATV should immediately change to the right gear.

When it comes to manual transmissions, you can have the same lacking response issue, but after shifting into gear, the engine’s RPMs will shoot up. This is usually caused by a clutch that needs to be replaced but could sometimes indicate a much more severe problem.

Burning smell

If there is a burning smell, it is never a good sign, and it could mean that the transmission fluid is overheating.

Leaking fluids

Leaking fluids is one of the easiest symptoms to spot. Place cardboard on the ground where your ATV is parked. Give it around an hour before inspecting the cardboard to see exactly where your ATV is leaking.

Gears grinding

Gears are grinding or shifting hard: These symptoms can be very different for manual and automatic transmissions.

When it comes to manual transmissions, if you feel a sensation of grinding when you change gears, it is possible that your clutch is worn out and it needs replacing.

For automatic transmissions, a rough shift rather than an unnoticeable one could be caused by a few things. The most common cause is due to low fluid levels in the transmission system.

Air filter

A dirty air filter is a red flag, as it is a sign of poor maintenance. Luckily, the air filter isn’t expensive to replace. You want to remove the cover of the filter and inspect it for dirt. If there is a buildup of gunk and dirt, it is a sign that the ATV is poorly maintained.


To check the electronics is very simple, you can just run through this checklist.

  • Check electric starter
  • Check indicators
  • Check horn
  • Check front lights
  • Check brake lights

If you notice any problems, it may be one of many reasons. The main fuse may have blown, especially if the battery is connected the wrong way round. Check all the fuses. A fuse is a cheap and easy fix. A wire might be exposed, and again this is a cheap fix. It might be as simple as a wire that’s just not connected properly.


In this article, we have discussed, in detail, things you should look out for when purchasing a used ATV. Hopefully, with the information you have learned here, you can shop with confidence.

It always helps if you have a plan to help you keep within your budget in terms of initial cost and maintenance. Do not be shy to try and bargain with the seller, more often than not, a seller will know what he wants for the ATV and will mark it up in anticipation of a haggle. Haggling is actually a very fun part of buying any vehicle.

Be confident when talking with the seller, you want to give the impression that you sort of know what you are looking for and that you know what to look for in a used ATV.

Here is a quick summary of what we discussed. Feel free to write it down, create your own checklist, or click here to download our free checklist that you can print out.

  • If you are buying from a dealership, familiarise yourself with them and their reputation, look for any patterns in the complaints, and any good patterns in their positive reviews.
  • If you are buying privately, look at their profile, and ask questions. Asking questions is a fast way of finding out how trustworthy the seller is.
  • Take a checklist, pen, and torch with you when going to inspect the ATV.
  • Ask the seller if you can take the ATV for a test drive. If you do manage to get a test drive, make sure you listen for any abnormal noises and try to feel if the ATV feels off at all.
  • Cosmetics are inexpensive and should not be a deal-breaker unless the damage is significant, like panels completely falling off.
  • Tires are expensive, check the tread, and make sure the tires are in good condition, not balding. Look for cracks around each tread block and around both sidewalls.
  • Brake discs that are scored can cost you a lot of money. When testing the brakes, listen for any abnormal noises, look at the fluid levels of the brake fluid reservoir, a reservoir that is not full, it could mean trouble.
  • Grab the CV axle close to the joint, give it a wiggle, and there should be very little or no play. CV boots are the leading cause of CV joint issues, and while the boots are not expensive, having to replace the entire shaft could be.
  • If the frame of the ATV has significant damage, it might be a good idea to consider a different ATV. Significant damage does not only mean cracks and breaks. Rot means it is only a matter of time before the frame gives in.
  • ATVs have different types of transmissions, but generally, what you are looking for is any type of clunking, grinding, or humming sound.
  • Electrical problems are often not serious, be sure to run the checklist when testing the electrical components of the ATV. If something is not working, check the fuses first and then check the wiring for any breaks or kinks.
  • Check to see if the chain is worn. A worn chain, if left unattended, could cause damage to the sprocket.


Louis Pretorius

As an amateur off-road enthusiast, I have always been drawn to outdoor adventure. I have decided to share all of my learning experiences with you as I dig a little deeper into my new-found passion and wonderful world of off-roading. My mission is to create the Ultimate Off-roading space on the internet in the process. Stay safe and happy Off-Roading!

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