Winter is coming.
And for most of the country it's already here with an estimated 90 percent of the United States at or below freezing temperatures to start the New Year. But who says you can't ride in the cold? Actually, the cold does particularly if you don't take some precautions before heading out for the day.
ATV owners generally don't leave their quads in the house where it stays warm. Even the garage cat comes in on cold nights but the ATV? Machines stay outside but that doesn't mean your quad gets cold. Garage or shed temperatures easily drop below freezing especially when the mercury shows a frigid 10 degrees outside.
Sometimes it's too cold to snow therefore riding an ATV isn't out of the question if trails remain clear. However, don't think you can fire up the engine like it's an 80 degree summer day and rip through the backcountry. ATVs don't like the cold weather any more than you do and require a proper warm-up before opening the throttle. Therefore, if you itch to get outside and your quad sits in the garage begging for a ride check out these potential problems and the remedies before heading off into the great cold outdoors.
Like a car, ATVs also have a hard time starting when it's cold. Fluids thicken, the spark plug fails to ignite and manufacturers don't make -5w-30 engine oil. Don't be surprised if you get a "hard start" meaning the engine starts with some effort and it might sound a bit rough until the oil lubricates everything.
An overheated engine is a bigger concern for ATV riders especially those who race thus using an anti-freeze sometimes gets overlooked. But those riding a utility ATV or UTV around the farm to plow snow or hunt in cold weather require an anti-freeze and probably already use the recommended anti-freeze for their machines.
Regardless, once started you won't have an issue with a frozen engine but poor quality coolant, too much water mixed in, or a coolant not certified for sub-freezing temperatures can indeed solidify if the storage facility for your bike gets cold enough. Even worse, frozen liquid expands and this can cause serious damage to certain engine components made of less flexible cast aluminum and steel, like the cylinder walls and water jackets that contain the coolant for engine cooling.
Check the coolant before starting your ATV if you suspect it's frozen. Don't start the engine if it's frozen, either. Thaw it and replace. Frozen coolant is ruined so if you ride on previously frozen coolant expect an overheated engine before long. The best thing to prevent frozen coolant is to replace your coolant after summer riding with an anti-freeze that protects from freezing and overheating. Note: most reputable coolants protect at least to sub-freezing temperatures but more drastic weather extremes require an anti-freeze type of coolant.
Those who store their ATVs during winter should replace the old coolant with fresh anti-freeze to prevent any issues during winter.
Once you get riding don't be surprised if the suspension feels a bit stiff. This is normal so don't go messing with it. Keep riding. The suspension won't work properly until the suspension fluid gets warm. You should feel the normal suspension return after about 10 minutes of riding.
It's rare, yet possible, but you could seize the engine if you roll the throttle too soon after starting the engine. This is called a cold-seized engine. Ice cold oil doesn't properly lubricate right-away so even though the engine is rolling keep the RPMs low and wait for the oil to heat before giving the engine some revs. It's very similar to starting an engine with no oil, all the unlubricated engine parts quickly seize without adequate protection.
Rock Hard Tires
Don't expect the tires to perform normally until you get riding. Like the suspension, the tires eventually warm up and function appropriately but it takes some time. Tire pressure changes about 1 psi for every 10 degrees in temperature change so keep an eye on the tire pressure, add air as needed but recheck after some time riding to ensure you're not over-pressured since a 3 psi gain is possible.
If the gas in your ATV freezes, that's the least of your problems. Don't expect to ride or even go outside.
Check out these additional ATV articles:
- How to Prepare Your ATV for Long-Term Storage
- What You Need to Go Hunting With Your Side by Side
- 10 Quick Safety Tips for ATV Trail Riding
- 6 Tips for Dirt Bike and ATV Winter Storage
Written By: AndrewT