Owning an ATV is a lot like owning a car – you have to keep up with the maintenance it needs to keep running smoothly. If your ATV isn’t regularly cleaned and inspected, any number of problems can pop up before or during your ride. One of the most common and bothersome of these problems is overheating.
If your ATV overheats, immediately shut it off and get it level. Then you’ll want to check your coolant level and see if you have a leak on your hands. If you’re seeing a lot of white smoke, that means coolant is burning in your engine. If not, there are various reasons it can be overheating.
In this article, we’ll be taking a deep dive into some of the most common causes for ATV overheating, as well as some general maintenance tips.
Symptoms of Overheating
Engine overheating is a prevalent problem for both cars and ATVs alike. Before, during, and after your ride, there are numerous symptoms you can look for that can indicate your engine has an overheating problem.
A few symptoms of engine overheating are:
- Loss of power
- Liquid dripping from the engine
- A sickly sweet smell (burning coolant)
- Ticking sound in your engine (oil burning)
- Excessive steam or white smoke
- The engine will feel very hot
You can expect to see any one of these symptoms or several of them back-to-back. Burning coolant usually always coincides with white smoke issuing from the engine, and dripping liquid isn’t always noticeable unless you’re stationary.
Ideally, you want to shut off your bike immediately after losing any amount of power – that’s the only surefire solution to keep it from overheating further.
Here’s a video showing some tips on overheating:
Keeping Your Radiator Happy
After your bike is off, you’ll want to check your radiator for any defects such as deformities in your fins, then checking your coolant. If your coolant is very low or giving off a sweet smell, your engine has likely been burning coolant due to a leak.
You may also want to clean your radiator screen, as a dirty screen can help overheat the radiator.
Another common issue with the radiator is if it doesn’t have enough air around it. The radiator’s entire design uses liquid and air to dispose of engine heat, so naturally, you want to make sure that it isn’t obstructed by mud, plant matter, or other debris.
Without enough air coming into the radiator, it begins to burn the coolant and cause other damage to your ATV. It can become a very serious issue if you don’t address it quickly.
If your fan is running just a little hot and the engine feels a bit warm, that isn’t caused for alarm due to plumes of white smoke and the sweet smell of ethylene glycol (coolant).
Your Thermostat Might Be Stuck
If you’ve been working with engines for some time, you may know that thermostats are considered consumable items that only last a few years before getting stuck. If you weren’t aware of this, it’s a handy bit of knowledge that may help your ATV now or in the future.
Your thermostat is a heat-sensitive valve that lets coolant run through your cooling system to keep your ATV cool. Depending on the heat levels, the thermostat will allow a corresponding amount of coolant to keep the engine cool.
So when the thermostat becomes ‘stuck,’ it stops letting coolant flow through the system. If this happens, you’ll have to buy a new thermostat and have that installed. Fortunately, it isn’t a tough fix.
How To Identify Cooling System Leaks
When your bike continually overheats and never has enough coolant in the radiator, no matter how much you put in, it’s likely you have a leak on your hands.
An ATV in healthy condition doesn’t use or burn coolant, so you shouldn’t have to perform this check more often than maybe once monthly. However, a leak makes this priority number one.
Possible locations of leaks include:
- Coolant hoses
- Water pump
- Thermostat housing
- Head gasket
As you can see, there are numerous places a leak may be hiding and undermining the health of your quad. Luckily, you can almost always identify the location by carefully checking these areas for drips or moisture – the moisture may be coolant seeping out.
Improper Coolant Mixture
Coolant is designed to be added to your machine’s coolant system in specified amounts and mixtures. You should always ask your dealer what kind of coolant and how much your machine takes.
It’s very important to note that coolant can become degraded or contaminated over time, which will cause it to lose its effectiveness. You should always be on the lookout for overheating signs that may result from poor quality coolant that needs to be replaced.
General guidelines recommend that you completely flush your coolant system and replace it with fresh coolant every five years.
However, this may be necessary to do multiple times, especially if your system has a coolant leak or other overheating problem that can cause coolant to leak.
Coolant should generally always be added in a 50/50 or 60/40 mixture, and you can check your coolant quality periodically to ensure it’s performing as expected.
Faulty Radiator Fans
Radiators house fans that suck cool air into the radiator to keep it cool when your engine is operating. Ideally, the coolant system combined with the fan will keep your engine running smoothly. Sometimes, though, your radiator fan may not be working as it should.
This can result from a faulty fan motor or, more commonly, the radiator fan sensor that tells the fan when to kick on and suck in the air. You can test the motor by itself with the battery – if it works hooked directly to the battery, then you have a sensor problem.
Less common than this is if your battery isn’t pulling the voltage, it needs to run the radiator fan. There won’t be anything wrong with the fan itself, but you’ll need to check your battery’s voltage with a multimeter and possibly replace it if it doesn’t charge.
Broken Water Pump
Your coolant system’s water pump component works to distribute and regulate the flow of coolant that cools your engine while running. The water pump uses a set of hoses to pump coolant and back to the radiator, where the fan cools it.
In this case, you may have a problem as small as a loose or missing impeller nut or a more serious problem where your water pump needs to be replaced.
For that to be necessary, the pump would be corroded or worn to the point it’s ruined. Always consult a trusted mechanic when confronted with serious problems like this one.
How To Spot a Busted Head Gasket
Head gaskets keep coolant from entering the combustion chamber of your engine, so naturally, you want those suckers to remain intact.
Sometimes, for various reasons, the gasket can become worn or baked on. In that case, it will need to be scraped off and replaced.
You can spot a bad head gasket if you’re seeing a lot of white smoke coming from your exhaust that’s coolant burning in your engine. This will often be accompanied by a sweet smell – the smell is propylene glycol burning in your combustion chamber.
In this article, we’ve learned about a myriad number of symptoms and signs to be on the lookout for in your ATV.
If you take all the necessary precautions and perform regular checks and maintenance, you may never have a problem. But if you do see any signs of overheating in your quad, you know exactly what to do to fix it.
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