How to properly maintain your UTV

Few things can be as frustrating has having a mechanical failure while out on the trails in your UTV or while trying to get work done around your property. While all mechanical failures can’t be stopped, one of the best preventative measures that you can take is to perform regular maintenance on your UTV. Following recommended service intervals and regularly checking components can help prevent many of the issues that you might have while riding.

Regular maintenance will also increase the life of the vehicle. There are a lot of moving parts on these machines and they often operate in less than ideal conditions. Dirt, mud, water, and rocks all contribute to a great deal of wear and tear on a UTV and without proper maintenance and care, various components will wear out prematurely and you could even find yourself with some major repair bills when things go wrong. Below are some of the most important maintenance items for any UTV owner to ensure a long life for their vehicle.

Engine Oil and Filter Change

This may seem obvious, but the benefits of regular oil changes can’t be overstated. The engine is the life of your vehicle and easily the most expensive component to have to replace. Modern UTV engines are very complex, compared to old school ATV and dirt bike engines. The added complexity means that they provide more performance, but also cost a lot more to replace. 

Keeping the oil changed will ensure that all of those moving parts are well lubricated to reduce friction and prolong the life of the engine. UTV engines, especially those on sport models, are often operating at higher temperatures and under a lot of pressure.

Higher temps can degrade oil faster, so following the recommended service intervals is crucial. If you use your machine for work often, such as towing, you may even need to shorten service intervals to account for extreme operating conditions. 

It’s also very important to change the oil filter during each service. The filters are keeping the oil clear of particles that could cause increased wear on internal components. Friction inside of an engine not good and even the smallest of particles can cause damage. The oil filter is a relatively inexpensive part of the routine service and should not be overlooked. 

Each machine will have recommended service intervals from the manufacturer. For example a Polaris RZR XP 1000 has a break-in oil and filter change at 25 hours or one month of ownership and then every 50 hours or 6 months thereafter.

A RZR 570, however, has an interval of 100 hours or 6 months. This makes it critical that you read your owners manual to find the specific service intervals for your machine. In between those intervals, it’s always a good idea to check the oil level and give the engine a good once over to look for leaks. Check the oil drain plug and the oil filter to make sure everything is tight and oil isn’t seeping out. 

There’s no guarantee that extending the time between oil changes will result in catastrophic damage to the engine, but it can increase those odds and cause additional wear on engine components.

Likewise, there’s no guarantee that changing the oil more often will prevent all engine problems. The goal is to reduce the chance of that happening and extend the life of the engine before it has to be rebuilt. Regular changing of the engine oil and oil filter will do just that. Seems like a fairly inexpensive form of insurance on a rather expensive machine.

Air Filter

Your UTV engine also needs plenty of air to get the proper combustion. The air entering the combustion chamber needs to be clean, because, like the rest of the engine, friction is a bad thing. Dirt, dust, or water getting in the engine is VERY bad and while the air filter can’t do much to stop water, it will prevent dirt and dust from getting into the engine. 

If you check some online forums, you will undoubtedly hear horror stories of engines getting “dusted.” Some have scarring of the cylinder walls and damaged rings, letting oil work its way into the combustion chamber. No one wants to have their engine rebuilt because they didn’t check the air filter or replace it when needed. 

You should check your air filter on a regular basis and replace when necessary. Obviously, if you drive a lot in dusty conditions, you may need to replace the filter more often. Most manufacturers use paper elements and so you have to replace the entire filter.

If you happen to have a reusable filter, whether oem or aftermarket, then you want to make sure you are adequately cleaning the filter and apply appropriate filter oil to better trap dirt and dust particles. Reusable filters are a bit more work, but can save you money in the long run, since you don’t have to replace the filter regularly. 

Transmission

The UTV transmission is what is putting all the power the engine makes to the wheels and so is under fair amount of stress. Like the engine, proper maintenance can ensure a long life and plenty of miles for your UTV.

Servicing the transmission is much easier on a CVT style transmission. Most are fairly easy to access and a quick removal of the belt cover and you can check the belt clutches for excessive wear and tear. If everything looks good, a quick cleaning of the transmission case and you are all set.

Most manufactures recommend checking things at least every 6 months, depending how much you ride, you may need to check it more frequently. Polaris recommends checking the transmission every 50 hours, while Yamaha recommends every 150 hours. Both recommend every 6 months, if that comes first.

During these maintenance checks, if the belt is showing wear or you have any glazing of the clutch sheaves, you will need to replace the belt and clean the sheaves thoroughly. Replacing the belt will help reduce the chance of it breaking while out on a ride. Even a small amount of excess wear on the belt can significantly reduce its structural integrity, making it far more likely to fail. 

Glazing on the clutch sheaves is the result of the belt slipping and creating a film, or glaze, over the surface of the sheave. When this happens, it will allow the belt to more easily slip between the sheaves, which will exasperate the problem and can lead to a premature belt failure, not to mention the annoyance of trying to drive a machine with a slipping belt. If the belt is in good shape, you may be able to clean it, along with the clutch sheaves and get back out on the trails. 

There are some things you can do to help prolong belt life and reduce the chance of the belt slipping. First and foremost, make sure you are using high and low range appropriately. Creeping along in high range will increase the chance of the belt slipping.

Check out our guide on extending belt life. Don’t get stranded with a broken belt.

Following the manufacturer recommendations for high and low range should help prolong the life of the belt. That along with regular cleaning of the belt housing can go a long way in keeping your UTV running smoothly. 

Other transmissions, such as Honda’s DCT or Yamaha’s sequential shift transmissions are a bit different in regards to maintenance.

Honda’s DCT sub transmission uses the same type of oil as the engine, but has to be replaced separately. It also has a separate filter that will have to be changed.

Yamaha has a similar setup for their manual transmission. For both of these, the transmission fluids have to be changed to ensure the longevity of the clutch plates. 

Front and Rear diff fluid

Changing the front and rear diff fluid doesn’t have to be done as often as an oil change, but it is something that has to be done. Like engine oil, gearcase oil breaks down over time and must be replaced to keep adequate lubrication of the drive gears. This is where power is transferred to the wheels, so there will still be wear and tear, even with quality gear oil. 

You can check the oil level at any time to make sure that it’s not low. A quick look at the axles and where they meet the differential is a good idea to spot any seeping of gear oil past the axle seals. Even a small leak can be detrimental over time if not repaired.

When changing the gear oil, make sure to inspect the magnet on the drain plug and look for excessive metal shavings. If there’s a significant amount of metal on the magnet or in the gear oil, you may need to take a closer look at the gears to see if there’s damage. 

Cooling system

Like the front and rear differential maintenance, this is one that performed less frequently than engine oil and filter changes, but still just as important.

Your UTV engine generates a tremendous amount of heat, which if left unchecked can cause a lot of damage. With higher temperatures, oil can break down more quickly, piston rings can be damaged, along with critical components. Needless to say, all of this is something that you want to avoid. 

Flushing the coolant system can help prolong the life of the engine by ensuring that the coolant is doing its job and maintaining the appropriate engine temperatures. Draining the coolant and refilling is a fairly easy process, just be sure that the coolant lines are clear of air before going out on an extended ride.

Even from the factory some machines require the lines to be bled of air. This is usually done by elevating the front end and opening the cap to the radiator and running the engine. As the coolant moves through the line, the air will move upward and out of the radiator.

This can be an important part of this process as air in the lines can result in the engine overheating, which is what you’re trying to avoid. Checking the coolant level and lines is also a good idea between flushes. 

Odds and Ends

Suspension

While the engine, transmission, and differentials are the big items to maintain, there are other components to keep an eye on. Suspension components are in near constant motion, so you want to make sure everything is greased and lubed up to ensure smooth operation and reduce wear and tear. A quick once over to make sure everything is tight is always a good idea before a ride. 

Brakes

Checking the brake pads is another item you’ll want to check regularly. Your owner’s manual can tell you when you need to change them, based on the remaining pad material. Always keep a check on brake lines to ensure there are no leaks.

You never know when a stick is going to get in there and potentially damage the brake lines. These are things that sometimes get overlooked, but should be included in everyone’s maintenance routine.

Even if you aren’t replacing something, it’s still a good practice to give everything a good once-over. That way, you’re less likely to get a surprise while out on the trail. 

More Miles = More Smiles!

While it may seem like a lot to keep track of and maintain, most of these are fairly easy tasks. It may take a little bit of your spare time, but the trade off is a possible breakdown on the trail or even decreased life of the engine. All machines have a chance of breaking down, but those that are well maintained are less likely to have a premature failure. 

Everything wears out over time, but with proper maintenance and monitoring critical components, UTV owners can get miles and miles of enjoyment out of their vehicle. The end goal is to get as many miles and smiles out of your UTV as possible. Regular maintenance is the best way to do just that. 

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Having ridden motorcycles and ATVs since I was a kid and never being seriously injured, my immediate answer would be…