Tips for Buying a Used ATV

So you’re in the market for a new all-terrain vehicle (ATV) – or at least one that’s new to you. When buying any used vehicle, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of what you might think is a bargain. But before you spend your hard-earned cash, check out these tips for navigating your purchase and getting the most out of your pre-owned ATV.

What Kind of ATV Should I Buy?

There’s a number of different ATVs on the market, built for all types of usage, driving modes and terrain. Before you start your search, establish some parameters:

Price. First, consider setting a maximum amount of money you’re able to spend. Stick to your budget and avoid being upsold on a pricy ATV that’ll set your bank account back more than it can handle.

Mileage. Set a maximum number of miles that a machine could have for you to be willing to buy it. More mileage means the potential for more wear and tear, so be careful with a high-mileage ATV that isn’t priced in accordance with its usage.

Condition. Although you might have visions of hauling away a pristinely-taken-care-of four-wheeler, not all ATV owners wash, shine and service their vehicles regularly. While we’ll address the functional aspects of ATV condition later, set a limit for more how much cosmetic wear you’re willing to accept on your potential purchase.

Condition and mileage will inform the price of a used ATV, so keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to get a low-mileage Yamaha Grizzly 700 for your pocket change. Set realistic limits, do your research, and don’t expect to find your dream ATV in one day.

Where Can I Buy a Used ATV?

Thanks to the Internet, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding places to buy a used ATV. Buying from a dealership can be much different than buying from a private seller — read on to find your preferred avenue to ATV ownership.

Dealerships. If you’re lucky enough to be within driving range of an ATV dealership, check out its website and/or peruse the lot with the company of an ATV-savvy friend. Don’t be afraid to wave down a salesperson and let them know your previously established budget and parameters.

Dealerships may also include a warranty with your purchase, providing some relief that you won’t be stuck with a lemon if the machine malfunctions in the future.

Online listings. There’s almost always a plethora of ATVs for sale on websites like Craigslist and in for-sale groups on Facebook. When looking through online listings, understand that the seller may not be including all aspects of the machine’s condition in the listing or the accompanying photos — rarely will you see an ad promoting a muddy, dinged-up ATV for sale. Be wary of deals that may seem too good to be true! If an ATV is posted for a price well below its value without an explanation, don’t assume that it’s a steal.

Before getting on the road to go take a look at an ATV, ask the seller for photos, vehicle specifications, mileage, and information on the vehicle’s condition.

Scoping Out an ATV

Once you’ve got an ATV in your sights, there are a few things you can look at to determine its quality. Don’t worry — you don’t need to be an expert to look for imperfections in the following areas:

Tires. For starters, you’ll want to ask the seller if the tires on the vehicle are the originals, or if they have been replaced since the ATV left its original lot. Take into consideration the age of the tires, as well as their cosmetic condition, as older tires will have more potential for breakdown in the future.

When examining an ATV’s tires, make sure they all have the same amount of pressure. If a tire has a different amount of pressure than the others, it could mean that the tire is leaking or has been improperly filled. Riding with mismatched tire pressure can be hard on the vehicle and could lead to other problems. Look for any holes or cracks that might indicate the end of a tire’s lifespan and lead to an additional cost for a buyer.

Oil. Remove the ATV’s dipstick and check the oil level and quality. A low oil level could indicate a lack of care by the vehicle’s current owner or other issues. Clean oil will have a dark brown color, while dirty oil could have a white-like or milky color.

Coolant. Make sure the ATV’s coolant level is above the minimum and look for any floating contaminants that might indicate any imperfections within the engine.

Frame. Look for any bent, twisted or broken metal on the ATV’s frame, as well as any rust or loose pieces of equipment.

What Other Questions Should I Ask?

Unfortunately, you can’t get all the information you’ll need by examining the vehicle with your eyes. Be sure to ask the current owner these questions in order to paint an accurate picture of the ATV’s life, condition, and future:

How many owners has this ATV had? If the ATV has had more than one owner, it can be tough to determine how the ATV has been treated over the course of its life.

Does it have a title? Not all states require titles for ATVs, but it’s worth asking as a title can ensure that the vehicle you’re purchasing was obtained legally. Check your state’s ATV title laws to see if a title is necessary.

Has it been in any accidents? For obvious reasons, you’ll want to know what kind of damage the ATV took on if it has been in any accidents. If it has, be sure to ask for invoices on repairs to ensure that a reputable servicer corrected or replaced any damaged equipment.

Have there been any recalls? If the vehicle has had a recall, make sure the previous owner had the issue corrected. Ask for invoices to confirm that all recalls have been dealt with appropriately.

Why are you selling it? It’s always worth asking why the seller is getting rid of the vehicle. While you might not get a totally honest answer if the ATV is just plain worn down, it won’t hurt to attempt to build a bit of a connection with the seller.

Check the VIN

If you don’t think the seller is being entirely honest, or you’d just like to double-check, you can find the answer to four of the five aforementioned questions by checking the vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number). VIN locations aren’t in one standard location on ATVs, but it’s likely located somewhere on the vehicle’s frame. If you can’t find the VIN, ask the seller for any registration paperwork that may contain the VIN.

After finding the VIN, you can check the vehicle’s history report via DMV.org for a fee.

Consult an Expert

If you don’t fancy yourself an ATV expert, having a mechanic take a peek at your potential purchase is a wise move. Make sure the mechanic is experienced in all-terrain vehicles of similar variety to the one you’re considering purchasing, and don’t hesitate to ask for advice.

Take It for a Test Drive

After covering your bases with a visual inspection, input from the seller and honest feedback from a mechanic, you ought to give your (potential) new ride a test drive to see how it feels and drives. Take it easy on the quad and skip any rough terrain, mud, or ramp jumps, but test its basic capabilities on a flat surface. Rule of thumb — don’t do anything that would anger the seller if you weren’t to buy it.

After Your Purchase

Congratulations! Regardless of what you plan on using your ATV for, purchasing a used quad is an economically savvy alternative to buying a brand new model off the lot. But before you hop on and get to work or play, check out your options for protecting your purchase, yourself and others who might use your utility vehicle. For more specific information on coverage, contact an agent!

Already talked with your American Family Insurance agent and finalized your coverage? Let us help you find some new and exciting places to ride your new ATV.


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