What To Look For When Buying A Used ATV

Buying a used ATV can be kind of stressful. I’ve bought several of them through the years and even worked at a dealership that would buy these things all the time. Through the years I have developed an understanding of what is a good machine and what is trash.

I looked on the internet to see if anyone else had the same tips as me, and while some had the same ideas, others didn’t seem to have a clue.

So I wanted to show all of you what you should be looking out for when buying an ATV or even a Side by Side. I even have a nice checklist to help you along. Feel free to print this page for the checklist so that you’ll be ready when you go looking at the ATV.

The Best Place To Go

To be honest, the best place to buy a used ATV is your local dealer. A dealer has a lot to lose by selling you a crappy machine, so they often avoid selling crappy ones. While there are some shady dealers out there, they are few and far between.

You’ll have fewer problems and often the dealership is more willing to work on the machine if something happens than some guy from no-where.

It’s nice to be able to take the machine back to the dealership if you run into a problem, since you have bought there before, and you have created a relationship.

The problem with buying from a dealership is that you might pay a bit more. This extra cost is due to the dealership servicing and making sure the ATV was good to sell. This cost is a “peace of mind tax” that I’m willing to pay for.

You’ll find a better deal on sites like Craigslist but unless you know what you’re doing I would try them last. Hopefully, this used guide will help you when buying either at a dealership or off some random guy.

Always Know The Price

You got to make sure the dealership or some guy on Craigslist is not taking advantage of you. So make sure you know the price of the ATV beforehand.

When looking up prices you’ll get two different numbers. The first number is “Trade-in” or also called “wholesale”. This is the smaller of the two numbers and this is what you would expect a dealership or a wholesaler to give you for your bike if you were selling it to them.

The other number is “retail” and this number is what to expect to pay for the bike. Your goal should be to pay less than the retail and above trade-in.

To find the retail price I like to go to KBB or NADA to see what they retail for. I also like to look at eBay to see what they sell for in the real world too.

One trick I like to do to skip the confusing ways of these sites is that I’ll type what I want into google and place the “kbb” in the search box. So if I’m looking to buy a 2018 Can-Am outlander xt 650 I’ll type this into Google like so — “2018 Can-Am outlander xt 650 kbb” and get taken right to the page I need to be.

The only way it is worth to pay more than retail is due to the extra accessories that are on the ATV, like skid plates and LED’s. These extra accessories can really skew the numbers a bit.

To give you an idea here is a shortlist of the extra accessories and how much I would pay for them on a used one (just a rough idea)…

  • $300 New Tires
  • $50 Less than 6 inch light bar
  • $100 More than 7 inch and less than 12 inch light bar
  • $200 More than 12 inch Light Bar
  • $50 Storage Box
  • $100 Stereo System Built-In or Mounted
  • $100 Aftermarket pipe

Bring A Battery

I feel like I must have this up towards the top, as I have come to find out that most of the ATVs I’m looking at to buy will have a dead battery. If you don’t have a jumper box like this one (ad), then I would recommend getting one. These boxes are small and can be used in the future if you need a jump or buddy needs a jump.

Avoid jumping off with your truck, as the charging system on it can fry or overcharge the small electronics. The only safe way to jump an ATV battery is with another battery by itself and jumper cables (ad).

atv air filter used oldCheck The Air Box

I always like to check the air box for any engine oil. Finding engine oil could mean they flipped the bike and didn’t correctly fix the issue or something is going wrong with the engine.

Also, look to make sure the clean side of the airbox is actually clean and no debris is getting past the air filter. Check to see if the air filter was properly oiled up and not too dirty.

Check Compression

Not everyone checks the compression, but bad compression can mean a blown engine. Using a Compression Gauge (ad) you can check the compression of an ATV.

Every engine is a bit different, but what I’m looking for is both pistons are within 10% of each other and not below 100 PSI.

Engine Oil

You’ll want to check the engine oil to make sure it’s not too dirty or old. Really old and dirty oil will be solid black, while nice new oil will be a lighter brown color.

If the oil looks like a milkshake or chocolate milk, then that is bad. That means water has gotten into the oil and I would avoid that ATV since something went wrong, and they’re just trying to pawn it on you.

Ask if they can provide proof of service records. If they get it done at the dealership, then the dealership can provide the history for you.

If all this seems like a lot, then it might be worth it to take it to a dealership and have them check it out for you.


I like to check the overfill area of the coolant to make sure it’s full or at the proper level, and also look at the condition of the coolant. I know the overfill is only for coolant to overflow to, but there are high and low points that it needs to be at for me to feel comfortable before buying it.

I really don’t see many coolant problems, but you can never be too sure. So make sure to look at and check to see that there is nothing mixed with it.

The coolant is either neon green or pink (often looks orange) in color. It’s really important that you never mix the two different coolants as they will form a sludge that will kill the cooling system, and it’s expensive to fix. So if you have green coolant, only add the green coolant!

what a new cv boot looks like

CV Boots

Make sure to check the CV boots to make sure they’re not torn. These are the boots that connect the axles to the wheel. A tear in these can mean wear and tear on the bearings.

If they can’t take care of CV boots, then you might as well head home, since they can’t really take care of something so simple.

If you can inspect the front and rear differential plugs, then do this… If the gear lube that comes out looks like chocolate milk, then it’s bad and water has gotten in and has done some damage. 

Frame and Roll Cage

Always check the frame to see if there are any bends or breaks. Sometimes the frame will get a bend, and they won’t replace it and the bends lead to rust which literally breaks the frame apart.

If it’s a side by side, you’ll want to check the roll cage for any damage from them flipping it. Check where the roll cage mounts to the chassis to make sure the bolts are not broken and have no bends in them.

If the ATV has a handlebar that seems out of whack, one of the grips sit higher than the other than I would avoid it as they have rolled it and didn’t fix the handlebars.

Check Buttons

Check every button and switch on the ATV. Make sure the headlights, taillights, and kill switch works. If you have multiple keys make sure the check them.

Don’t be surprised if they don’t have multiple keys or have lost their extra key, it seems that everyone loses it.

One extra step I like to do when I buy a ATV like a Can AM is that I’ll pay a Can AM Dealer to erase all keys and reprogram the key and program me a new one. Just incase the old owner lied about not having a spare key and wants to steal it back.

Check The Seat

If you’re looking to buy a mud racing type of ATV then you can ignore this advice.

If you don’t want a “mud machine”, then pull the seat off. If the seat is heavy and feels like it’s been water-logged, then that means they’ve been in the mud or a creek. If the machine is not snorkeled and mud-ready, then this means this ATV has been in a flood or worse.

Water has gotten up to the seat, and that means it’s gotten to other places too. So unless you want a challenge, I would avoid that one.

If it’s a side by side, you can push down on the seat and hear water in it and the same rules apply. Not something I would buy, but if you want to go swapping, then might be a good one for you.

The Wobble

Lift the ATV up in the air and place jack stands under it (never trust a floor jack). Wiggle the handlebars back and forth to see if it’s loose or has play in it.

You’ll also want to wiggle each tire to make sure it’s not going wiggle off in your hands. Too much play can be bad in both the handlebars and tires.

One thing I’ve seen people forget to check is the wheel studs or lugs. It’s actually common for people to break a lug and stud off. This is a serious and dangerous problem if the right stud comes off due to being over-torqued can lead a person to crash. 

spark arrestor

Spark Arrestor?

Make sure the spark arrestor is in the exhaust pipe. Most states and parks require you to have one and will turn you away if you don’t.

Worn Tires

Let’s face it, in all the years of buying an ATV I never had someone put new tires on their ATV and then sell it. Having worn-out tires on a quad that you want to buy is actually a good thing if you ask me. This means you have more haggling power and can knock a few hundred off because you got to get new tires.

Once you do get the bike it’s only wise to get some new tires.

Ride It

When you’re looking to buy the last thing you should do before handing over the money is ride the ATV. Run it through all the gears and flip all the buttons on the four-wheel drive. Makes sure everything works and you hear nothing odd like clicking.

Also, don’t forget to check the front and rear brakes to make sure they work. I had one guy try to sell me an ATV with only a back brake, which is super dangerous and stupid that he won’t fix his front brakes.

If you squeeze the brakes and have no resistance, then the brakes are bad.

Overall, if the thing puts a smile on your face and makes no odd sounds, then it’s probably good.

Things Will Break

Keep in mind that you are buying a used ATV so you can’t expect everything to be perfect. As soon as you get it home something could possibly break – so keep that in mind. Once it’s yours then there is not much you can do and always keep a small budget for repairs that might happen in the future.

Do Some Research On It

One critical step before buying any ATV is doing some research on it. You know the usual things like the hp, width, and other specs that might be important to you.

The other research you should do is what other people are saying about that model. Using the KBB method above you can Google what the forums are saying about it. This way you can see if there was anything majorly wrong with that model and see if a fix was done to the machine you’re buying.

To perform the search all you got to do is add “forum” to the thing you’re searching for into google. So this is what it would look like… 2008 Can-AM Outlander XT “forum”.