25 September 1998

Tips for best used buy

Annual sales of ATVs now

exceeds 5500 new

machines, a market worth

£22m. Hand in hand with

such demand is a strong

second-hand market. We

begin our ATVSpecial with

advice from Edward Newman

on the points to look for

when buying a used machine

AS ATVs have grown in complexity and size, prices of new machines have risen accordingly.

Used ATVs can offer significant price savings over new, but some basic points should be checked to make sure the vehicle will be an investment rather than a liability.

First indication of whether a used ATV has been cared for is its general appearance. Broken load racks and damaged plastic fenders may be the result of accident damage, or general abuse. Bent handlebars are usually caused by overturning, and the main frame should be checked for damage.

Park the vehicle on flat ground and with your eyes at load rack height look along it. If the frame is badly twisted or bent then this will usually be apparent. Also, the machine may pull to one side or have a tendency to crab steer when driven on a paved surface. A new frame will cost about £1000 plus fitting, so check it thoroughly.

The underside and suspension components should be checked, and special attention given to the trailer hitch. If it is bent or twisted this will be due to overloading or misuse, while a hitch which has been strengthened indicates abnormally hard work.

If it has been cared for an old machine which has worked thousands of hours may look better than many one year olds. Until recently, few ATVs were fitted with hour-meters as standard equipment; indications that a machine has worked long hours are worn foot rests and handlebar grips, shiny hand controls, and paint rubbed from the sides of the fuel tank.

Check the steering and suspension for wear. Joints are vulnerable to dust and dirt, and steering play can usually be seen and felt by turning the handlebars with the machine stationary on a hard surface. Shock-absorbers tend to be durable, but they are expensive to replace and should be checked for weakness. Press down on the machine and the suspension should feel springy, returning to its original position immediately the weight is released. Uneven tyre wear may be the result of faulty steering or suspension, or simply neglect by the operator in checking pressures. Tyres usually cost about £50 + VAT from a specialist dealer, but the same tyre bought via the makers spare parts system may cost up to four times this amount, so shop around.

Brakes can be disc or drum type. If discs are fitted these should be inspected for damage such as scoring caused by stones and grit having become trapped, as this will adversely affect braking performance and increase brake-pad wear.

Before test riding the machine apply the front and rear brakes ensuring they feel connected, and then check their operation while riding slowly. It should pull up in a straight line and the brakes should feel positive and should not snatch.

ATV starter motors are expensive, typically £200 to £300 and most cannot be effectively reconditioned. A good one will operate instantly and crisply while a worn unit will sound rough and its operation is likely to be sluggish.

ATVs enjoy a reputation for low running costs and superb reliability, but neglect and abuse can damage their small engines in a relatively short time. Before starting the engine check the oil level, colour and smell.

If the oil is low, then damage may have been caused, but may not yet be apparent. The oil may smell burned if the engine has been overheated, and will look thin and watery if the recommended change intervals have not been observed.

From cold, the engine should start quickly and run smoothly. A ticking noise from the top end of the engine signifies a worn camshaft or badly adjusted valves and a rattle at low revs could indicate a worn cam chain, which if ignored could be the cause of big engine repairs. Worn big end or crankshaft bearings, usually the result of poor maintenance or lack of oil, will generate a distinct, expensive knock, and a damaged clutch or worn gearbox shafts or bearings will produce more of a vague rattle.

Excessive black exhaust smoke, uneven running and poor idling may be caused by a worn carburettor or blocked air filter. Some carburettor components can be replaced quite cheaply, but if a complete unit is required this is likely to cost upwards of £180.

Drive to the axles from the gearbox is by shaft or chain. Exposed drive chains and sprockets are prone to wear and should be checked for damage. Shaft driven machines are more popular, as the shafts require little maintenance and are extremely durable, often being fitted with sealed-for-life bearings and enclosed within protective covers.

Most 4 x 4 drives have a universal joint at each end of the front axle and these can be vulnerable to dirt, or damage caused by bale string becoming wrapped around. Some manufacturers fit protective rubber gaiters and these should be checked for splits as if dirt has entered replacement bearings will probably be needed.

Lastly, before parting with your money check the machine is genuine. ATV theft is rife, and if it is stolen there may be a number of indications. Those more obvious include defaced or altered chassis and engine identification numbers, a missing or damaged ignition switch and deep scratches in the plastic fenders where security identification marks have been erased.

If in doubt, ask to see the invoice for the machine, or bills for parts or service work. A genuine seller is unlikely to object. &#42