Picture this: You’re cruising down the trail on your quad. You’re blasting the latest Swift jams and loving the freedom of the outdoors. Then, kablammo! Your ATV stops and your chain is laying on the ground. You really should’ve learned how to tighten the chain on your ATV before you blew it. At least you’ve still got Taylor.
That hasn’t happened to you yet (we hope), and we’re here to make sure it doesn’t. We’ll also give you a few extra pointers to make sure your ATV’s chain is off the chain and running smooth.
First of all, are you even sure you need to tighten your ATV chain? Overtightening your chain can cause just as many problems as undertightening.
Let’s look at the symptoms of a loose chain:
If you notice any of these things happening while you ride, you need to tighten your chain ASAP. In fact, you shouldn’t let your chain get this bad in the first place.
Instead, you should compare the slack in your chain to your manuals guidelines before it gets bad. Once you start noticing these issues, you’ve already subjected your drivetrain and sprockets to excessive wear and tear.
You might be experiencing some issues that you’re pretty sure are chain related, but it might be because your chain is too tight.
Having a too-tight chain can cause:
So don’t just assume your chain problems are due to a loose chain. Improper maintenance and overtightening can cause similar drivetrain issues. Check your manual and measure your slack to see what your chain needs.
In order to tighten the chain on an ATV, you just need a few wrenches or sockets, a measuring tape, and, for some ATVs, a screwdriver.
Here is how to tighten the chain on your ATV.
Now that you know how much slack is in your chain, you know if it’s actually too loose or if you’ve got some other issues going on.
If you don’t have adjuster bolts, the process is a little bit different:
That’s it. Easy peasy. Your first time should only take you a few minutes as long as there’s not too much dirt or rust keeping your bolts tight. After doing it a few times, you’ll be a chain tightening master.
Sometimes tightening your ATV chain isn’t enough. Sometimes that chain is kaput and it’s time to say, “see ya!” and toss it in the trash. But how can you tell?
There are a couple telltale signs: rust and stretching.
Rust is the enemy of your chain. If your chain is rocking that dusty red patina, don’t bother cleaning it up. You need to replace it. It means your chain is weak, and it likely has some damage to it already. Sooner or later, your rusty chain is gonna break. Ditch it for a new one.
Stretching is natural and happens to every chain eventually. This can be difficult to check, though. You can check to make sure the links are resting nicely on the sprocket. If you have a new chain to compare it to, you can measure the new chain (as long as it has the same number of links) and compare to the old one. Too much stretching causes wear and so a stretched chain should be replaced.
Changing an ATV chain is a piece of cake. The only complication is if you have a rivet-style master link on your chain. If you do, you’ll need a master link rivet tool. Be sure to follow the instructions included with the tool to remove your chain.
Clip-style master links are much more common on ATVs, and they make removing and replacing the chain simple.
Here’s how to remove a chain with a clip-style master link:
And that’s all it takes. There’s no reason to put it off, so get it done today.
Changing your chain won’t necessarily solve all your problems. One of the persistent issues some people have with ATV chains is that the dang things keep falling off. Don’t worry—if you can identify the cause, you’ll be able to solve this problem, too.
There are three reasons your ATV chain might be falling off:
You’ve let it go too long without tightening it up again. Tighten it up right away to avoid other damage.
An old stretched out chain might get booted off the sprocket if it doesn’t fit quite right. No amount of tightening will fix this and it’s likely to brake soon. Replace it.
Do you have a skid plate or chain guard? If not, sticks, rocks, and bumps can knock your chain off at any time! Not to mention, they can permanently damage your sprockets and other drivetrain components. Do not ride again without adding a skid plate or chain guard.
If you need more information about the bits and bobs that make your ATV purr, check out some of our other articles. Keeping your ball joints in working order is key to making your suspension run smooth. Another central part of any ATV’s reliability is the winch. If you don’t have one, you should get one and then check out these 5 ways to use an ATV winch—they’re not just for getting unstuck.
Feel better about this whole chain thing? You should. Maintaining your ATV chain is easier than changing your oil and should be checked just as regularly. Just remember: happy chain, happy life! Yeah, we know it doesn’t rhyme.