If you’re planning to use your ATV frequently this winter, here are some steps you can take to ensure trouble-free operation in cold weather.
1. Add a carb heater: Check your owner’s manual for any cold-weather instructions specific to your machine. Some models, for example, will work better in the cold if a carburetor heater is installed.
2. Switch oils: Service technicians I know in Wisconsin are recommending that their customers switch to a synthetic oil like Mobil 1 for cold-weather use. Mineral-based motor oil begins to thicken at 20 degrees above zero, and will not flow at minus 30 degrees. The viscosity of synthetic oil, however, is unaffected by temperature, which means it will provide instant lubrication when you start your engine, even after it’s been sitting outside your ice shanty all night. This spares the engine from a great deal of wear.
3. Check the battery: Cold weather diminishes the cranking power of your battery, so make sure that it’s in good condition and the terminal connections are clean and tight.
4. Top up the tank: Ice-clogged fuel passages can be a big problem in winter. Using your ATV in damp winter weather, or even moving it from a warm garage to the cold and back again, can cause moisture to condense in the fuel tank (this is especially true if it’s steel). Try to keep the tank full, and regularly add an isopropyl alcohol additive to the fuel.
5. Watch for ice-up: If you ride in the snow, watch for ice that can form on the radiator or fan shroud of liquid-cooled models. Ice will block airflow through the radiator. As the engine gets hot, the automatic fan may turn on, and if it’s clogged with ice, the fan or its motor could be destroyed. This is very common when an ATV is used for plowing and snow sifts over the blade.
6. Stop corrosion: When you trailer your ATV in the winter, protect it from road-salt corrosion by spraying down the suspension and brakes with a silicone water dispersant. This is why they sell gallon jugs of WD-40. If you can, rinse the ATV after each trip and let it dry in a warm garage.
Chains Vs. Studs
Most ATV tires deliver decent traction on packed snow, but if you’re plowing or headed out on bare lake ice, you should consider the additional bite offered by tire chains or studs.
Tire chains deliver optimal traction on ice. You can also take them off when you don’t need them. The disadvantage is that chains limit your speed to about 5 mph. The force of a broken chain whipping off a tire at 20 mph will throw it right through a plastic ATV fender and could cause severe injury to the rider. This is why we recommend that you secure the connector link with a piece of high-strength safety wire (available at motor-sports dealers).
Ice studs look like hex-head sheet metal screws, but they have hardened steel heads, often with sharp points on each corner. Use a nut driver to screw two or three studs into each tire lug. A bag of 1,000 studs costs about $50. You can install studs on all four wheels and still run your ATV at prudent speeds. The disadvantage, of course, is that you’ll need to remove the studs in spring, or change tires.