Summer is the time for long days, warm nights, good vacations, and great rides. For many, summer is the off season - a time to reap the rewards of all the chores and maintenance you did to bring your machine back to life in the spring and just have fun. Now you can focus purely on enjoying those riding trips you've been planning and testing out all the upgrades you made.
Unfortunately, you're setting yourself up for a world of hurt if you totally dismiss some basic maintenance on your ATV or UTV while you're out playing. Unlike your regular seasonal maintenance where you can do a one-and-done check of fluids, fuel, corrosion, and whatnot (you're doing that, right?), summer maintenance needs are less predictable. Just because you checked your ball joints in the morning doesn't mean they're in good shape in the evening after you ride.
What you should be focused on throughout your riding season are your wear items. We're talking about wheel bearings, ball joints, bushings, belts, tie rod ends, and anything else subjected to constant abuse through normal use.
Most of these things are easy to check and your machine will generally let you know that somethings going bad even if you're not checking it yourself. Although once your machine starts complaining you're already doing extra damage.
Tie rod ends
Let's start with tie rod ends. These little guys can ruin your day if you let them get away from you. And by "let them get away from you" I mean letting them loosen up until the shock from a bump finally snaps it off your tie rod and sends you careening out of control into a tree.
Instead of doing that just jack your machine in the air a little bit, grab your tire and try turning it gently. If you feel some slack before the rack engages and the other wheel starts turning, then it may be time to get some new tie rod ends.
Wheel bearings can have a similar feel to tie rod ends when they start going bad. The difference is that a bad wheel bearing will cause your wheel to have play no matter how you shake it whereas a tie rod end will only have play in the direction the wheels actually turn. If your wheel is flopping all over the place just get a new wheel bearing.
Next let's talk about ball joints. Like any key part of your suspension, catastrophic failure of your ball joints can be a lot of fun when it happens to someone else. Who doesn't appreciate watching someone's wheel fly off and catapult their car end over end?
You. That's who. That's why you check your ball joints before every ride. Give the rubber boot a quick look before you do anything else. If it's damaged there's a good chance you've got dirt and mud working it's way in there and it will seize up soon.
If it's already starting to seize for any reason, or it's just getting a lot of use, the stud and housing can start to wear down and loosen in the spindle or A arm. You should check for that looseness.
The uppers are easy; just take the shock off and stick a pry bar between your upper A arm and axle and do a little prying (but don't go crazy. You can do this test just by grabbing it but it's a little easier to keep your eyes on the ball joint if you use a pry bar). The A arm, ball joint, and spindle should move as a single unit. In fact, you shouldn't even be able to move the A arm when you pry. If the ball joint moves in the spindle or the A arm then it's time to replace it.
For the lowers you can use a similar technique; just jack your machine up so your front tires are barely off the ground. Stick a pry bar under the tire and pry up against it so you move the whole spindle slightly. Again, make sure the A arm, ball joint, and spindle all act as one solid piece.
SuperATV has heavy duty ball joints for all sorts of vehicles if you find out your ball joint is shot.
Bushings are another easy one to check. Just take your wheel off and check for play in your pivot joints. If your A arms or trailing arms shake then get some new bushings. We offer UHMW bushings for many vehicles which last quite a bit longer than OEM bushings.
The main thing to remember about all these suspension parts is that if one starts going bad, it's going to affect the wear on all the rest. That's why you want to stay on top of it. If you catch a tie rod as soon as it starts going bad you could save yourself a couple hundred dollars by not replacing your ball joints and bushings as well. Not to mention that crashing into a tree situation I mentioned earlier.
When it comes to belts you have to be a little more observant and it takes a little more work to check. What makes things worse is that you don't even get a spectacular wreck if you lose a belt. You kind of just slow down and stop (maybe that's better than wrecking).
Most of the time, your first clue that your belt is going bad is that it slips - in the middle of giving it throttle your RPMs spike and you feel the machine lurch a bit before the belt catches and you start accelerating again. You might also notice the smell of burning rubber as well or you might smell it and not notice a loss of power. The point is, you need to be aware of what your machine is telling you, and if you feel your belt slip or smell it burning, you should get a spare on there as quickly as possible so you don't get yourself stranded.
You can avoid putting a damper on your day by visually inspecting your belt before you go out riding. Take your clutch cover off and check your belt for cracks and loose fibers sticking out of the side. Your main culprit, though, is glazing. Glazing is caused by belt slippage and looks like smooth shiny spots on the side of belts (the friction and heat caused by slipping polishes a smooth spot onto the belt). Your clutch can't grip these glazed spots and your belt will end up slipping more and more until your not having any fun anymore.
Even if you think your belt is good you might as well bring a spare along. SuperATV belts are relatively inexpensive, they're not hard to change out, and they only require a simple toolkit. Just make sure you don't burn yourself if you change out a belt that's already smoking.
So the moral of the story is to make sure you pay attention to your machine. Your seasonal checks may be one-and-done for the most part but your machine needs a little TLC throughout the riding season. It will tell you when it's hurting but if your proactive to check your machine before every ride, you can save yourself a bundle of cash and keep cruising without issues year after year. We've got a large selection of parts over at SuperATV so there's no excuse. Keep your ride happy!