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Tips for buying and selling a used ATV

April 02, 2014

Not everyone can afford to buy a new quad. Or maybe you’d like to sell your used machine so you can buy another one.

Here are some helpful tips to consider when shopping for a used ATV.  You may want to take this list along with you to avoid any surprises after you buy. If the seller has a good quad for sale, he or she should not object to you going through this checklist.

Remember that you are buying a used machine, so don’t expect it to be like new.

  • You will need help for this from either a friend or the ATV’s owner. Raise the ATV up and stand it on the rear grab bar. This will allow you to inspect the undercarriage for any serious dents or damage.
  • Inspect the frame closely, especially around the shock mounts, A-arm mounts and intersections of frame components for any signs of rust. This is normally a sign of a stress crack and would require welding and repainting.
  • On 4x4 ATVs, inspect the CV joint boots. They should be in excellent condition. Any crack or tears will allow water and dirt to enter and cause costly repairs.
  • If possible, remove the front and rear differential inspection plugs on 4x4 ATVs. If the gear lube looks something like chocolate milk, it’s an indication that the oil is contaminated with water and there could be damage to the bearings.
  • Check the engine oil to see if it looks contaminated.
  • Shine a flashlight into the gas tank to look for rust. Rust can cause carburetor problems.
  • Raise the ATV and support the front of it with jack stands. Then try to move each front wheel in and out from top to bottom and side to side to check for worn wheel bearings and ball joints. Do the same for the rear.
  • With the ATV on the ground, move the handlebars back and forth. This will identify worn tie-rod ends.
  • Remove the seat and take the air box lid off. An air box can collect water and damage an engine. A clean air box and filter is a good sign.
  • Check all headlights, tail lights, the engine shut off switch and key switch for proper operation.
  • Check the hand, foot and parking brakes. Do they operate smoothly or stick? Check for damaged or cracked cables.
  • Check the exhaust. Has the spark arrester been removed?  State and national forest regulations usually require a spark arrester.
  • Check for worn out tires or tires full of plugs. Worn tires or plugs should be a price-negotiating point. Any worn or damaged tires should be replaced with new ones immediately after purchase.
  • Look at the front and rear sprockets. Each point should be uniform. If they are worn more on one side or have a hooked appearance, a new chain and sprocket set is needed.
  • After you buy a used machine, it’s a good idea to change all the fluids so that you know that you have fresh oil, etc.


People buy a lot of stuff online these days. While there are legitimate buyers and sellers on the internet, there are also scammers.

One scam involves ATVs advertised at too-good-to-be-true prices. In this scam, the seller often claims to be living in Europe, while the quad is in the United States. The seller then asks for payment to be sent to an online escrow company while the ATV is shipped.

In theory, the escrow company would hold the funds until the buyer has received the machine. But the problem is that the online escrow company is actually part of the scam. Once money is deposited into escrow, the seller and the escrow company vanish, leaving the buyer with nothing.

Another scam involves a buyer offering to pay you your full asking price for the ATV you have listed for sale, with a generous amount above that to cover the cost of shipping it overseas. The buyer pays in full up front with a cashier’s check.

The problem is that the cashier’s check is a forgery. Your local bank may tell you that it will put a hold of at least five days on funds from a foreign check. But that doesn’t mean the check is good. It can take weeks for a foreign check to clear, and when it bounces you have no money.

You also need to be aware of your state’s laws regarding titling and registering an ATV for riding on public lands. Some states require titles to register an ATV while others do not. If you purchase an ATV from a state that doesn’t require a title but you live in a state that does, you could encounter a lot of red tape getting your ATV registered—if it’s even possible to do so.

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