Hunting ATV Maintenance

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Must Know ATV Maintenance

I see it every year before hunting season, hunters bringing ATV/UTV’s in to my husband’s shop for repair. For 95% of those brought in the problem is the same, the ATV/UTV won’t start, and the carburetor is why. Most likely you cleaned your guns before storing them for the off season; the ATV/UTV also requires a little care before storing to ensure its operation in the fall.

The culprit is ethanol, which breaks down into water, and under the right conditions in can occur in just a few days. Left in your ATV/UTV motor for much of the year it can rust metal parts and eats away gaskets, diaphragms, O-rings, synthetic gas lines and the like. It also turns into gel and can cause a white varnish on the carb. Needless to say these are all detrimental to a carburetors service.

There are two things you can do to prevent it from occurring, ensuring the ATV/UTV is ready to go on the hunt when you are.

First, use an ethanol/fuel stabilizer treatment product in fresh fuel, and after it’s in the fuel crank it up and allow to run a minute or two to ensure the treated fuel gets into the carburetor.

Second, crank the ATV/UTV up at least once a month when it is not in use, and preferably every week or two. It doesn’t have to run long, 5 minutes will suffice, and while it’s running engage the transmission forward and backward to promote lubrication in the transmission.

Those two tips can be the difference between potentially expensive small engine carburetor repair or even replacement of a carburetor.

Here is an extra tip for you that will prevent the small engine carburetor from having to be rebuilt-do NOT drain the carburetor and store it dry. That is asking for trouble pure and simple. The carburetor contains gaskets, seals and a diaphragm that will turn hard once it dries out. Once dried it often calls for a small engine carburetor rebuild. That tip comes from a mechanic with 40 years of experience that has built his reputation on honesty.

If this is an “uh-oh” moment for you, meaning your ATV/UTV has been sitting in the barn for a month now with a drained and dry carb go fuel it up, fresh gas with ethanol/fuel stabilizer treatment in it. Bump the starter several times to get gas to enter the dry carburetor. Give it a moment then bump again and then try to crank the engine. If it doesn’t crank don’t panic just yet. It hasn’t been sitting too terribly long in a dry state and it may soften up with fresh fuel in contact with the parts that should never be allowed to dry out. You may have to do this for days on end until the dried out diaphragm has time to soften.

If a “spare” ATV has been sitting for a year or more with a dry carb this just may work, but it can take months for an extremely dried out diaphragm to soften, and it may never do so. If this is the case the carb will have to be rebuilt.

If the carb has white varnish on in it, take it off and carry it to a small engine shop. Request an ultrasonic clean. Unless the varnish has been present for years it will probably clean up, though you may still have to have a new diaphragm, O-rings etc…

The manufacturers will say if it has white varnish replace it, but I can say from experience this may or may not be the case. I have seen 2 year dry and white carbs be cleaned, rebuilt and run like a top. Cleaning time will vary from 15 minutes to 2 hours in the ultrasonic cleaner.

If a shop tells you that it is going to take a new carb don’t take their word for it. Let’s just say they aren’t all scrupulous business men. My husband has repaired thousands of carburetors that weren’t “worth repair”.

The ultrasonic cleaner works wonders on carbs that “are not worth repair”. Even a can of carb cleaner and air from a compressor stands a fair chance of cleaning a carb up to where it will run, just let it soak. It may take multiple cleans and weeks of fresh cleaner applied but if the alternative is a $150 carb its worth trying, though the ultrasound will accomplish quickly in 15-20 minutes what may take a whole can of carb cleaner.

The simplest prevention is to use fresh fuel with ethanol treatment/fuel stabilizer in your machine and crank it routinely in the off season.

My next tip deals with the other 5 percent whose pro blem was not the carburetor. Of that 5 percent the problem is going to be the spark plug in 3 percent. Spark plugs are not all created equally, and just because it will fit does not mean it is okay to use it.

There is a science to engine combustion and it requires a particular spark plug to ignite that combustion for your particular engine. Sure, you may get away with using the wrong spark plug and it may work for a while, but it is highly discouraged. A spark plug that doesn’t fire hot enough or that fires too hot is going to cause problems in the engine eventually. Use the recommended spark plug for your engine.

Spark plugs experience wear every time you start the engine, and over time the spark grows weaker. Performance as well as cranking will suffer from worn plugs. If your engine seems to not have the get up and go it once did it may be a worn sparkplug. Each engine will have its own required plug gap, and they are not always the same between engines. The parts store guy may claim it is pre-gapped, keep in mind he is not a mechanic. Check the gap and set it to your engines specification if needed.

ATV/UTV’s are often used in dusty conditions so clean the air filter often, and replace as necessary. Think of it as your engines lungs, it has to breathe and a dirty air filter will negatively impact performance and gas mileage.

The last tip is to check your oil each and every time you are going to use the ATV/UTV. Do not overfill, this can be as damaging to an engine as being low on oil. Change that oil using the manufacturer’s specified weight of oil, minimum each year. Worn out oil will not protect the engine. Small engines are notoriously neglected, from lawn mowers to ATV/UTV’s. Treat them kindly with a little ATV maintenance and they will serve you well for many years to come.

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