Traditionally, the summer months are the months known for getting outdoors and hitting the trails on your ATV or UTV. But some of us like to ride all year round, even during the winter. There are a few things you can do to keep your ATV running nicely in the winter months.
If this is not you, and you would rather store your ATV for the winter, check out this Winterize Your ATV article here.
If you plan on riding during the winter months, it’s definitely a good idea to bundle up, as well as wear protective gear. But there’s also things you should do to your ATV, to keep it running smoothly, and to keep you from getting stuck or stranded in the cold temperatures.
Prep The ATV
Prepare your ATV for winter riding conditions ahead of time. Having your quad break down is no fun as it is, now add freezing temperatures to the mix, and you’ll be wishing you took more time to prepare your machine. Doing all the routine maintenance is a good idea, but here are some things you want to make sure you look at.
The main thing for your fuel is to make sure you don’t get moisture in the tank or fuel lines. This can happen especially in the cold because as the temperature drops water can condensate inside the tank. If you get water or moisture in your gas, it will prevent the engine from starting. The water can freeze in your fuel lines and prevent gas from getting to the engine, causing the ATV to run rough or not even start at all.
To prevent this from happening, add fuel stabilizer to your gas. Fuel stabilizer will keep your gas fresh and your engine running smoothly. The fuel stabilizer I use is this Sta-Bil Performance Fuel Treatment (link to Amazon). This stuff works great, I also use it in my lawn mower and motorcycle during winter storage. You simply add a little bit to your gas, and run the engine for a few minutes to allow the fuel stabilizer to get through all the fuel lines. The bottle comes with directions on how much to add per gallon of gas, so you can make sure you aren’t adding too much or too little.
Another helpful tip is to keep your gas tank topped off as much as you can. That will help prevent water condensation on the inside of the tank.
Your battery really shouldn’t stay on the machine in cold weather without a smart charger or trickle charger of some kind. If you don’t want to buy a smart charger, you can take your battery off the quad and bring it inside to keep warm. The cold temperatures ruin batteries pretty quickly, and batteries can get expensive.
I don’t like having to take my battery out all the time to keep it charged up, so I bought a Ctek Smart Charger found here on Amazon, and a Ctek Comfort Connector. That way I can leave the battery right where it is. I just hook the smart charger to the comfort connector, and I’m good to go.
The great thing about this charger is that it stops charging when the battery’s full to prevent damaging the battery. A lot of trickle chargers don’t do that and it could cost you if you don’t set a timer or keep checking on the battery while it charges. With the setup I have, I just plug it in after a ride, and unplug it before I take the ATV out again, simple.
Spark plugs don’t need to be tended to every winter. But if you planned on changing them out that year anyway, doing it right before winter will give you the extra edge when starting your ATV in cold weather.
Usually I could go a couple to a few years before I need to replace the spark plugs, so I don’t do this every winter. Unless it’s a two stroke engine, then I’m replacing spark plugs all the time anyways. Make sure they are gapped right, and a new set of spark plugs will help keep your engine running through the winter.
Keep an eye on the engine oil. The oil is what keeps your ATV running smoothly, and if your oil deteriorates you will notice rough starts and less power. If you’re doing regular oil changes, then there isn’t much you need to worry about here. Just make sure the oil is topped off, and you’ve been changing the oil and filter regularly. If it’s been a while since your last oil change, now might be a good time for it.
There isn’t much to do with your tires for winter riding, unless you want to get tire chains or something like that. They even make studded tires that were designed to be ridden on ice and snow. But if you’re not planning on riding across frozen lakes, you probably don’t need studded tires.
One thing you can do is let a little air out of your tires to help with traction. I would suggest starting with 4 psi in your tires and adjust from there based on how you want the ride to feel. Having your ATV tires slightly under-inflated helps in a couple ways. One is that you increase the surface area of the tire as it contacts the ground, giving you better traction in the snow. Another way it helps is that it increases the flat spot on the bottom of the tire where it rests on the ground, allowing you to stay on top of the snow more easily.
Clean out your air filter or replace it entirely if it needs it. After months of warm weather riding, your air filter will be filled with dust and debris. As snow starts to fly around you on the trail, it will no doubt be pulled into the air filter. As it collects with the dust, it will start to form a mud or paste like substance in your filter. Your engine won’t be getting the proper air flow it needs to stay running at it’s best.
Usually a quick blow out of the filter will work. If it’s been a while since you’ve changed the filter out completely, now might be a good time for that.
Now for some fun add-ons you can get for your ATV to make winter riding more comfortable and enjoyable.
Hand guards will work wonders at keeping your hands warm in cold weather. Even if you’re wearing thick winter gloves, the wind can still work its way to your hands over time. Another benefit of hand guards is that they keep branches, rocks, and other things from hitting your hands. You might like them enough to keep them on all year round.
If you do want to add hand guards to your ATV, I suggest looking at these PowerMadd Sentinel Hand guards (link to Amazon). They get excellent reviews, and people seem to love them. Be careful though, you do need to buy the mounting hardware separately. They do this because the mounting hardware is different for different quads. Make sure you get the one that fits your machine specifically.
Heated hand grips are really a luxury item if you ask me. With these and some hand guards, you could ride for hours without your hands getting cold. They usually cost between 50 – 100 dollars, but if comfort’s what you’re after, these will do the trick.
I recommend this set, the Heat Demon Heated Grip Kit from Amazon. They cost around $55, and get great reviews. There is no adhesive required to install, they just slip on and off any 7/8″ ATV handle bars, which is what size most ATV handle bars are. Everything you need to get yourself some heated hand grips comes in the kit.
Your ATV is going to handle differently in the snow. Everything from accelerating, steering, turning, and stopping will be off. If you get a good pair of mudding or snow tires, the effects may be lessened, but you still won’t have the levels of control you’re used to. If your trail crosses some small streams or ponds, or even something bigger like a frozen over lake, you might want to look into getting some tire chains.
If you just want a cheap pair of tire chains to throw onto your ATV tires, then I suggest these Titan ATV Tire Chains (link to Amazon). They’ll run you about $46, and get great reviews. This is the set I bought when I wanted to do some winter trail riding on my quad. I had them on the rear tires only, and they worked amazing. They help you keep traction if you’re doing something like plowing the driveway too.
They come in different sizes, so make sure you get the right size for your tire. If you have these on, you don’t need to worry about lowering your tire pressure either. You’ll get better traction with these on than messing with tire pressure at all. I did deflate my tires a bit to make putting the chains on easier. Then I just refilled my tires to 5-6 psi and I was good to go.
The Titan ATV Tire Chains are the best set of tire chains for the money that I have found yet. But if you’re ok with spending a little extra cash to get the best equipment for your machine, then check out these Grizzlar Diamond Studded Tire Chains from Amazon. These are the best of the best tire chains out there. They’re designed in a way to maximize chain to ground coverage. Meaning that they have better traction and coverage than the standard ladder style tire chains. They’re a bit pricey for my liking, but if you want the best, there it is.
- Warm Up: Give the engine time to warm up. It will only take a few minutes to let the engine warm up, and it could save you from damaging your engine from riding it too hard while it’s still cold.
- Take It Slow: Take it easy at first so you get used to riding in the snow. This way you get a better feel for how your ATV is going to handle. I take it slow at the beginning of every winter, and then I’m doing donuts in no time (take the chains off for that).
- Stay Warm: Keep yourself warm, and if you can’t do that, stay close to home on your rides. Dress in layers and wear thick protective boots.
- Bring Water: It may not feel like it, but you can get dehydrated in winter just like you can in summer. With your body working hard to keep you warm, you’re going to need to replenish your water stores.
As always, wear protective gear. There are branches and other obstacle that get hidden under a layer of snow. As soon as your tire hits them though, they can come flying up and hit you. If you want to see some gear I have tried and tested out, check out the Recommended Gear section of this site.