Thawing Out Your Toys: How to De-Winterize Motorcycles, ATVs, and More

Source | Allar Tammik/Flickr

Spring hasn’t sprung in many parts of the U.S., but it has started its slow and steady ascent from the south. That means sunnier days, warmer weather, and, more importantly, that it’s time to pull those toys out of winter storage and get them ready for action again. This guide will cover the steps you should take to ensure your motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-sides, Jet Skis, and other powersports equipment will be operating in tip-top shape when you head back out this spring.

First and foremost, the key to easy de-winterizing is good winterizing. If you put your toys away properly, they’re much easier to get back in good shape when warmer temperatures arrive. But even if you didn’t do everything you should have to pack your toys away last winter, this guide will help get your gear into proper running order.

1. Perform a thorough visual inspection

Don’t just glance at the oily bits and assume all is well. Rodents love to crawl into tight spaces and tear up wires and other material to make nests. Grab a flashlight and take a serious look around your equipment to ensure there have been no critter incursions that might compromise your vehicle’s function. Check behind any body panels, inside luggage or storage areas, inside fenders, and inside mufflers and air inlets.

Also have a close look for leaks, both under the machine and around seals and plugs on the drivetrain equipment and at the suspension dampers. Also check the brake-fluid reservoir, the brake levers or pedals, and the brake calipers or drums themselves.

If you winterized well, you may have covered all of the potential problem areas with plastic bags or other covers. Good for you! You can move on to the next step once you’ve inspected for all other mechanical points of failure.

2. Change the oil

Even if you put new oil in before winterizing your machines, you’ll want to swap the engine oil and, where applicable, transmission fluid before you get down and dirty this summer. Why? Because even when sitting unused, the oils and fluids in your engine and gearbox can separate or become waxy, especially in extreme temperatures, which can dramatically reduce their effectiveness in protecting your machine from wear. This is definitely a case where a few quarts of prevention are worth an entire barrel of cure.

3. Check and/or change the battery

If you put your battery on a float charger over the winter, you’ll still want to check its health with a good battery tester to ensure the battery has enough life left to get you through the fun season. If you didn’t keep your battery charged over the winter, chances are good that it has gone completely flat and may need replacement.

You’ll also want to check the battery for any visual signs of malfunction, like fluid leaking out and corrosion on nearby parts and the battery terminals. With wet cell batteries, you’ll want to make sure electrolyte levels are properly topped up with distilled water.

When dealing with batteries, it’s important to remember that battery acid is corrosive and toxic, so you should always wear gloves and safety glasses.

Once you’ve determined the health of your battery, go ahead and charge it if it isn’t already fully charged.

4. Check all other fluid levels

Engine and transmission lubrication are important, but coolant and brake fluid are, too. Be sure all fluids are at their proper levels, and if any are especially low, go back over your inspection list to see if a leak is responsible. Consider draining and replacing the fluid entirely, especially if it shows signs of wear or if you haven’t replaced it in the past few seasons. This is especially true of brake fluid, which absorbs moisture from the air and loses effectiveness over time.

While you’re at it, double-check the oil level, even though you just replaced the oil in Step 2. It never hurts to be sure.

5. Pull the spark plugs, and check or replace

Removing the spark plugs to check for rust or corrosion can give you some warning as to more serious problems inside the engine that may have developed over the winter. If you do find rust on the spark plug, use a borescope to look inside the cylinder to verify the condition inside the engine before starting it. Chances are, however, that your engine will be fine—but your spark plugs may not be.

If you notice lots of dark fouling, you could clean and re-install your spark plugs, but they’re inexpensive, so replacing them with the proper type (consult your owner’s manual and read more about how to tell when they need replacing ) is a cheap and easy way to ensure your equipment will start easily and run well all summer long.

6. Check your tires and all rubber components

Even if your toys have been shielded from the cold of winter, the sheer time they’ve spent sitting can cause rubber parts of all types to develop cracks, flat spots, or other issues. This includes your tires, hoses, and even handlebar grips.

Once you’ve made sure everything is in proper condition and replaced anything that seems dry, misshapen, or otherwise bad, make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure—most tires will lose pressure as they sit, and all tires will vary in pressure based on ambient temperature. Don’t just assume that because they were fine when you packed it away that they’ll be fine when you pull them out of the garage after a few months!

Source | Robert Thigpen/Flickr

7. Fire it up!

Starting the engine in your powersports toy after a long winter is one of the most satisfying activities for an enthusiast. But don’t get too enthusiastic out of the gate—let the engine idle until thoroughly warm. Don’t go zipping around the neighborhood or brapping the engine up to high revs right away.

For fuel-injected machines, this first cold-start after the winter will (likely) be easy. For carbureted machines, it may take some more work. Assuming your carb and choke were properly adjusted at the end of the season (and no critters have fouled the situation), it should start right up with the fuel that’s in it—provided, of course, you used fuel stabilizer. You did, didn’t you?

If you own a carbureted machine and, as part of the winterizing process, you drained the carb’s float bowl, you’ll want to follow your manufacturer’s procedure for priming the carburetor (letting fuel back into the float bowl) before attempting to start the engine.

If you followed these steps (and properly winterized your hardware in the first place) you should be up and running, ready to achieve full weekend-warrior status. If you’ve run into some stumbling blocks, however, be sure to consult our other how-to and DIY guides for your specific problem.

Got any other tips for de-winterizing or any triumphant stories of spring’s first ride? Let us know in the comments.

Pennzoil Goes Off-Roading in Baja for Latest JOYRIDE Film

In the latest installment of their JOYRIDE film series, Pennzoil ventures to Baja California to test out the performance of their synthetic oil in the desert environment. With a focus on off-roading, the Baja edition features professional driver Rhys Millen behind the wheel of a souped-up Jeep Wrangler Rubicon as he takes on sand, dunes and rough terrain in temperatures exceeding 130° F.

The cinematic clip shows the Jeep and Millen tackling rocks and steep hills as engine oil temps creep past 200° F. The Jeep’s unyielding performance demonstrates the PurePlus™ Technology’s unsurpassed wear protection and excellent performance in extreme temperatures. Check out the full video below to see Rhys Millen and the Wrangler Rubicon in action.

Watch a behind-the-scenes clip to see what it took to film the video plus gain more insight into the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

Car + Culture: Going Off-Road in Albuquerque

Sometimes the best roads are just outside your doorstep. For off-roaders, the outdoors is an adventure zone, a place to test their vehicle’s chops and explore places few people get to see. For a select few, 4x4ing is more than that—it’s about community.

In our first Car + Culture video, we follow Jennifer as she and her club, the New Mexico 4Wheelers, work together to take on some of New Mexico’s tough terrain.

Jennifer took the time to talk with us about her experience growing up as an off-roader and some tips for those just getting started.

Advance: How long have you been off-roading?

Jennifer: My grandfather first got me interested with an off-road go-kart, and then I got into any type of car or truck when I was very young. I have been out in the forest and backcountry since I was a teen, with motorcycles and ATV’s and then 4-wheel-drive trucks. I got more involved when I got a Hummer and joined a club. 

What’s your favorite part of off-roading?

My favorite thing is getting to places that most people will not ever see or visit. It’s about enjoying and seeing so many interesting things and learning about the history of our country, and then continuing to learn more technical driving skills. 

You talk about respecting the land, how do you live that in your off-roading?

I respect our world by always setting a good example with picking up trash, cans, and tires to recycle every time I am out. I also help block illegal bypasses that get created so others don’t continue to use them when they should not. I participate with other clubs with clean-up projects and encourage others to join in. Of course, I always follow the Tread Lightly Principles.

Can you tell us about your club?

New Mexico 4-Wheelers has been around since 1958. It was originally know as the New Mexico Jeep Herders, but they changed and logo changed 20+ years ago. The group was started by some Jeep people who lived in the area back in 1958. I joined the club in March 2012 just two days after moving to Albuquerque, and I’ve been the program chair, trip chair, and currently president of the club as of August 2016.

We have 96 member families, or 165 people. But this doesn’t include the many children (or dogs!) who participate with us.

Looks like you have a great community. Can you tell us about it?

We are all out there to have a good time and with the variety of 4×4’s different skill and comfort levels it allows for everyone to be safe and still have fun. Our group welcomes new people and we try to coach them if needed.  

Got any good stories about having to fix your car out on the trail?

The worst breakdown I had was a very large slash in my tire, it was the inside tire on a shelf road with very steep grades on both sides with little room to walk around to pull the tire and put the spare on. There was plenty of help and someone around to get a photo immediately!

What’s your favorite route in Albuquerque?

It’s just north of Albuquerque, the Jemez Mountains, I like to go on any of the trails after leaving Jemez Pueblo and following the mountain road through Gilman, NM and the old railroad tunnels there. At that point you are in the forest with a variety of routes to take up and around the mountains.

Any tips for people who want to get into off-roading?

We have many people that come out after purchasing a new 4×4 and they start asking about tires, lift kits, gearing, all the recovery gear, and camping gear. There are lots of places and catalogs to buy accessories and there are lots of varieties of trails so we encourage people to try them before spending lots of additional money on their rigs. They may be happy with just some better off road tires, or they may enjoy rock crawling and want to go to very large tires.

My best tip would be find someone who will take you out for a ride and/or let you drive their 4×4 and see what types of trails you like. Find a club, because everyone will be willing to share what they have done or are in process of doing to their rigs.

How do people find out more about your club?

Visit our website at


Thanks for sharing, Jennifer!


Mudding Anyone?

land rover driving through mud

Source/Rad Dougall/Flickr

Remember when you were a little kid and the idea of playing in the mud outside after it rained got you hyped? Pushing your toy cars and trucks through the mud puddles while you did your best to enunciate the sound of a beefed-up engine was one of life’s simple joys. Well, now you’re a grown-up with a rugged, four-wheel-drive rig and maybe you want to kick up some summer mud, albeit on a much grander and exciting scale. Here’s a video that gives you a taste of what a blast this sub-category of off-roading can be.

Jeep_Wrangler photoChoose your weapon

To probably nobody’s surprise, the most popular mud tamer is the modern-day Jeep Wrangler and its very similar old-school forebears, Jeep’s CJ-5 and CJ-7. Compact dimensions, plenty of ground clearance, stout four-wheel-drive components and room in the wheel wells for large off-road tires are key reasons these iconic Jeeps reign supreme.

But they are far from the only good choices. Older Toyota Land Cruisers (the more basic four-door SUV styles as well as the Jeep-like FJ40) are very capable and durable rigs, as are the first- and second-generation Ford Broncos. Of course, 4WD pickup trucks are solid picks too, though the massive, full-size ones can sometimes prove too bulky in off-road environments with narrow trails. As such, we favor compact, more maneuverable pickups such as the Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. One might also consider a Land Rover Defender, though aces off road, they tend to be rather pricey.

Mudding 101

1988 Toyota Land Cruiser photo

1988 Toyota Land Cruiser

Depending on the scenario, simply popping your truck into 4WD and driving on through the muck as if you’re on pavement may not be sufficient. As with any type of challenge, there are proper techniques that separate the hacks from those that know what they’re doing. As such, thanks to the pros at, and, we’ve come up with a six-pack of tips to make sure that you move through the mud.

1) Don’t go it alone.

Having at least one other person with a truck and recovery gear (such as a powerful winch) provides peace of mind, as well as a helping hand (and truck) should you get stuck.

2) Air down your tires.

Lowering your tires’ pressure increases surface area and allows the tires to flex and grab traction better than when they’re fully-aired up for on-road use. Dropping down to 18 to 20 psi should be about right.

3) Recon first.

If you’re trying to negotiate a deep mud puddle/bog, you might want to hop out and take a closer look first. Grab a long stick and use it to get an idea of the mud’s consistency, its depth, and if there are any large rocks or tree roots lying below in wait.

4) Take the proper line.

If others are also having fun in the muddy playground, watch and take note of the line they’re taking as they work their way through. Usually going straight is best, but there may be some obstructions or stickier points that may dictate using a different, more traction-friendly line that somebody else has demonstrated.

5) Start out in 4WD low.

This will obviously maximize your traction and torque at the low speeds you’ll be using to make your way through the mud.

6) Take it easy.

Throwing up 15-foot high rooster tails of muddy water at higher speed may look cool in commercials, but you could lose control and end up doing some damage or stalling out your engine. It’s slow and steady that wins this race. As the experts say and as with other types of off-roading, you should go as slow as possible but as fast as necessary to keep moving forward. Momentum, not speed, is your best friend here.

Muddy buddies

2004_Ford_Ranger photoSo you’ve discovered that you really dig playing in the mud. Fortunately, so do a lot of other off-road enthusiasts. Reading the various online forums for tips on where to go, how to set up your vehicle and how to improve your skills will help you enjoy your mucked up adventures even more. We suggest also checking out enthusiast sites such as and, which are also great for finding new friends that share this dirty passion.

Are you a mudding fan? Share your favorite mudding spots in the comments.

Loading Your ATV for Transport, A Cautionary Tale

Quad ATVMy brother-in-law almost killed himself a short while back getting an ATV loaded into the back of his pickup. How he escaped serious injury I don’t know, but he’s lucky he did.

He’s a big-time turkey hunter. He was prepping his gear for a pre-dawn start for the first day of spring gobbler season the next day. His final task was loading his ATV in his pickup.

As he drove up the two short loading ramps he had made, his son called out to him. Thinking that the ATV ramps weren’t aligned or something was wrong, he hit the brakes, and then the throttle and the ATV flipped over backwards on him and they both landed on the ground. Luckily he was okay. He said it happened so fast, he still isn’t exactly sure what he did. And he’s still seeing stars.

I’ve noticed lots of people around here hauling lawn tractors and ATVs in their pickup beds, particularly during deer and turkey seasons. I’ve even hauled my own a time or two, but am fortunate to have a trailer that’s low to the ground and a set of loading ramps.

Given his accident, and how many other similar accidents happen, many of which have “bad idea” written all over them, I got to thinking about the safest way to get an ATV loaded into the bed of a pickup. I learned a few things in the process. Here’s my unofficial list of how to “do it right” and avoid potential death, injury, property damage, or humiliation. If you have some tips or pointers, I’d love to hear those too.

1. Get ATV ramps.

They are designed specifically for this purpose, unlike the scraps of lumber and cinderblocks lying around your garage. They make these aluminum ramps for a reason–safety. They’ll also make your loading and unloading a lot easier and less scary.

2. Secure the loading ramps to the loading platform.

Many of the accidents I’ve seen occur as the ATV nears the top of the ramps. The torque from the rear drive tire grabs the unsecured ramp and kicks it out, leaving only three wheels on the surface. You know what happens next.

3. Get longer aluminum ramps or a ramp kit.

Get a ramp kit with ramps using dimensional lumber that are long enough to reduce the angle of ascent or descent. ATV ramps that are too short, coupled with today’s truck beds that are higher off the ground, are a recipe for disaster because the incline you’re driving up or down is too steep, increasing the likelihood of a flip over. Consider ramp extensions instead. Also look for a spot from which to load that naturally reduces the angle because of the terrain, i.e. parking the truck in a dip and using the adjacent sloping terrain on which to place the ramps

4. Avoid sudden starts or stops.

Particularly midway through the loading or unloading process, the sudden weight transfer can cause the ATV to flip over.

5. Wear your helmet.

Enough said.

6. Know the weight of what you’re loading.

This is important because wood or aluminum ramps are designed to safely hold only a certain amount of weight. Same goes for your truck’s tailgate.

Once your ATV or tractor is safely tucked in the truck bed, secure it well, to avoid watching it bounce away down the road in your rearview mirror. And make sure it’s not pressing against the truck cab’s back window in case you stop short or you could shatter the glass.

What’s your advice for safely loading ATVs and securing them for travel? Leave us a comment.

The Art of the Lifted Truck

Why do we have a love affair with lifted trucks, and why do we raise them up in the first place? For some insight, we turned to an expert in the field of lifting trucks–Chris Dye. Chris is the store manager at Super Trucks Plus LLC in North Carolina. He describes it as “probably Raleigh’s only full custom shop.” Chris and his crew specialize in transforming ordinary vehicles into amazing lifted trucks.

STP lifted truck

Source | Super Trucks Plus

Looks and function… or just looks

“Most people lift trucks to achieve a higher ground clearance,” Chris explains. They do this to avoid bottoming out or getting stuck when driving off-road, and to allow for the fitment of larger tires.

But Chris also confesses, “A lot of people lift ‘em just for looks these days. They’ll take a brand-new truck, lift it, and it’ll never go off-road.”

One of the more popular requests Chris gets is for a six-inch lift with 35’s, with “35” referring to the tire size. These suspension lift kits can start out at four inches of lift and go all the way to 12 inches, or higher. Lifting a truck is more involved than it first appears. Other vehicle parts that get involved with suspension lift kits include independent front suspension, shocks versus struts, drop cradles, larger knuckles and steering geometry.

Going (even) higher

Chris went on to explain that once you maxed out your lift with suspension lift kits, you can still go higher by choosing a body lift. With a body lift, the vehicle body has to be disconnected from every spot it’s mounted to, new spacers inserted, and then the body bolted back down to all its connecting points.

As for height, it seems like that’s more a matter of personal choice. Chris said the highest he’s ever lifted was 26 inches, and that was enough to clear a set of 54’s. In his opinion, the maximum comfortable lift he’d recommend for someone’s daily driver, as opposed to a show truck, is a 12-inch lift with 40’s.

“It’s all about personal preference. If you’re building a show truck, the sky’s the limit,” Chris adds.

Lifted truck from STP

Source | Super Trucks Plus

Get started

“[A leveling kit] is your most basic kind of lift,” Chris explains. “That’s going to take most trucks and lift the front up about two inches, so that the front height equals the height of the rear. This will allow you to go up one tire size from factory specs and gives you essentially two inches of lift.”

Cost is another consideration when deciding how high to lift because the two seem to rise in unison. Chris said that a ballpark cost for a six-inch lift on 35’s is about $5,000 to $6,000. But, he adds, he’s done lift jobs that total over $20,000.

If you’re looking for ideas on what others have done with their lifts, Chris recommends Mud Life and Four Wheel & Off-Road, as well as the online forum at Lifted Trucks USA. And, of course, you can always check out some projects that he and Super Trucks Plus have performed.

What do you think? Have you gotten your truck lifted? Leave us a comment.