An ATV or Side By Side’s lifespan is 15 to 20 years if you do proper maintenance.
The average miles I expect out of a used one is 800 miles a year. So at 5-year-old, I expect to have around 4,000 miles.
Let me explain why I say 15 years max and 800 miles a year.
Mileage and Hours
ATVs and side by sides are measured in both mileage and hours.
These two numbers are not a replacement for the other and will often be wildly different, especially across the globe.
Mileage and hours can tell you a lot about them.
If you see an ATV with high mileage, but low hours it tells us they like to drive it fast. Not always an issue because this is normal when riding in the dunes but a huge red flag if taken to the extreme.
If you see an ATV with low mileage and high hours, it tells us they do more trail riding or are hunters. It could also mean they do a lot of snow plowing if they live where it snows a lot.
Average Yearly Miles
The average rider puts 800 miles on their ATV or side by side every year.
These numbers can vary a lot, especially on who drives and where.
An ATV is the primary source of transportation in some countries and small cities, and seeing 30,000+ miles is not crazy. Also, the farmer who uses his side-by-side daily for work will have a lot more hours than the guy who rides on the weekends.
But my baseline is 800 miles a year when I’m looking to buy a used ATV.
This means if the thing is 5 years old, I expect it to have around 4,000 miles on it. It’s when the miles vary from this baseline that I worry. A 5-year-old ATV with only 80 miles on it screams trouble, along with one having 80,000 miles on it.
What matters more than hours or miles is how well it was taken care of. Don’t let high miles keep you from a machine that was properly maintained!
What’s A lot Of Miles For An ATV?
Average miles per year = 800 miles.
Max years for an ATV = 15 years.
800 miles * 15 years = 12,000 miles
I consider 12,000 miles a lot, especially if the ATV is under 15 years old.
Why 15 years? The manufacturer stops making vital parts for ATVs after that point. An ATV can go forever if you can get the parts, but a lot is discontinued after 15 years, and no point in keeping it going if you can’t work on it.
Would I buy an ATV with a lot of miles? Probably, it depends on how well it was taken care of. Let me explain.
Mileage Doesn’t Matter As Much As You Think
I’ve seen guys with high mileage and high hours have no issues and keep trucking along.
I’ve also seen guys with low mileage and low hours and not take care of their ATV, and it turns to crap.
What matters the most is checking the ATV out in person and not some numbers anyone can screw with.
I had one guy try to sell me a limited-edition Can-Am Outlander 1000 with low hours and miles. The deal seemed too good to be true, and it was. When I looked at the machine, I could tell the frame had bad cracks. This ATV was in a bad accident, and I later found out the dude rolled it down a mountain. The dude spent a lot of money to get new plastics and was trying to pass it off to someone else.
This is why mileage and hours are secondary to actually checking the thing out in person.
I rather have an ATV with a lot of miles on it but taken care of than one with low miles and left to rot. A high mileage tells me that the previous owner liked the quad and didn’t seem to have much trouble getting to those high miles; less likely to be a lemon that someone is trying to push on to someone else!
Best Brand For Longevity
I hate this question because I’m a Can-Am guy, so naturally, I want to say Can-Am.
I’m sure a Yamaha or Honda guy will say the same thing.
But I will give it to Honda; they got it figured out and make some of the best engines. They lack in tech where Can-Am over-delivers, but I’ve seen 20-year-old Hondas still going to this day.
Since Honda is slower to change, this helps keep their ATVs going for longer. Many of their parts for older models are still around. I have a 1999 Can-Am Traxter that would still run if I could get a discontinued part. This is what decides how long your ATV last, not the hours or the mileage.
Avoid Mud Machines
Unless you love going mudding and know what you’re doing, avoid the mud machines.
That is, the XMR’s and other brands that come from the factory with a snorkel and are “mud ready.” Or the guys who convert their stock ATV to a mudding one.
These models don’t have much of a warranty and are ridden very hard. It’s not uncommon for them to get hydro locked due to mud and water getting in the engine and intake. Water in the engine can bend piston rods and blow the engine.
Mudding vehicles are taken apart and tore down often due to them getting submerged in water and mud all the time.
I love going in the mud and getting crazy, but that is not the problem; the problem is the guys who take their ATVs and put them entirely underwater. Those are the ATVs to avoid as those things develop phantom issues eventually.
Not all mud machines are bad, but this ATV Mud Machine below is not one I would buy secondhand.
Things To Check On A Used ATV
- Jack the ATV up and check wheel bearings by wiggling the tire side to side. A lot of give is bad bearings and need to be fixed.
- Check the CV boots are not torn or worn out.
- Check for frame cracks, tells you if it’s been damaged in a roll.
- Check for rust, especially on the frame and electrical. A rusty frame tells you it has cracks and been rolled.
- Go for a test ride and listen to the engine. The throttle should give an instant response. If it bogged down, something is not right. If the engine is knocking something is not right.
- Check to see how it starts. If it’s fuel-injected, it should have no issues starting. If it’s carbureted, it should start when choking it. If it’s slow to start, it could be the battery or even the starter going out. If it turns over fine but doesn’t start easily, then you got some issues.