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.

Saying “Goodnight” to Summer’s Toys

winterizing summer vehiclesWinter means it’s time to say “goodnight” to cars and summer toys like ATVs, boats, jet skis, golf carts, and motorcycles. Storing your car for winter (or any of your other toys) isn’t as simple as putting it in the garage. So before you tuck your toys in until spring, here are six tips to ensure your winter vehicle storage leads to a happy summer ending.

1. Check the fluids

Changing out essential fluids and lubricants is like giving your vehicle’s engine a warm glass of milk before bed. To prevent corrosion, top off your gas tank then fortify your fuel with an additive like STA-BIL. Boat owners can use SeaFoam to stabilize their fuel. Old motor oil turns into engine-blocking sludge, so change it out too before you put your vehicle into storage. And since you don’t want your engine freezing this winter, check that your antifreeze is up to the task with an antifreeze tester. Fresh antifreeze/coolant can withstand -34′ F when mixed at 50/50 concentrate. This video shows you how.

Pro Tip: To prevent corrosion, top off your gas tank then fortify your fuel with an additive like STA-BIL. Boat owners can use Sea Foam to stabilize their fuel.

2. Maintain the battery

Keep your battery connected to a trickle charger. Trickle chargers use electricity to replenish batteries at the same rate as they lose power. That way, your battery will be ready to go when you are. A trickle charger can overcharge and damage your battery though. So be sure to use a charger that shuts off automatically, or goes into “float” mode, when your battery is fully charged. Read our post on when to use trickle chargers for more information.

3. Remove or over-inflate the tires

Tires on long-term parked vehicles can develop “flat spots.” To avoid flat-spotting, put the vehicle up on jack stands, remove the tires and store them separately in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. If you prefer to leave them on your vehicle, slightly over-inflate the tires for added protection. You can also move your vehicle periodically to even out wear. Return the tires to their normal inflation before driving again in the spring.

winterizing summer vehicles

4. Nix the parking brake

Instead of leaving on your parking brake, which can cause your brake pads to stick to and warp the rotors, use a pair of wheel chocks. Problem solved.

5. Clean and polish

You could put off spring cleaning until, well, spring. In the meantime, however, grime and bug guts will do their dirty work on your vehicle’s paint and trim. When you pull off the tarp in a few months, you may find your toy’s not as shiny as you remember. So take time now to clean your vehicle. Apply a coat of wax to guard against moisture and rust. Protect chrome accents from corrosion with a light mist of WD-40. Another benefit of mopping up this summer’s soda spills and chip crumbs: It makes your vehicle less attractive to hibernating vermin. To make your vehicle even less appealing, seal up entry points like tailpipes and lay out scented dryer sheets. Apparently rodents hate the smell of clean laundry as much as you hate the damage they cause.

Check out some more projects to do while your car is in storage.

6. Tuck ‘em in

Lastly, If you don’t have room in your garage for your favorite summer toys, store them well-covered and shielded from the elements. Your vehicle will thank you with fewer needed repairs and a longer life.

7. Drive it ASAP!

We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but seriously, don’t wait a minute longer than you have to. Cars like to be driven, and months of solitary confinement isn’t their idea of a good time. When you drive a car (or another motorized vehicle) that’s been in winter car storage, you’ll want to mix in plenty of highway driving to get the operating temperature up and circulate those fluids through the engine. Speaking of fluids, you’ll definitely want to get an oil change as soon as you take your car out of hibernation – here’s what else to do when spring rolls around.

Have a sure-fire way to ward off mice or keep your summer toy happy until spring? Leave us a comment below.

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.

Car Parts You Can Use in Your Boat, Motorcycle, or ATV

two dirt bikes parked on a dirt road

Source | David Marcu/Unsplash

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve rented a cabin in some remote location and brought your ATV/boat/dirt bike for a week of fun in the sun. You unpack the car, stow the groceries, and head out for a ride. But your toy won’t start. The closest specialty shop is an hour away, or the marina is going to charge you an arm and a leg to fix it. Before you let mechanical problems ruin your vacation, stop by your local auto parts store. Many parts for sports machines, like batteries, are interchangeable with automotive versions or can be found at a general automotive store. Here’s a short list of parts that fit that description.

Batteries

Most auto parts stores carry a wide range of batteries that fit boats, ATVs, dirt bikes, jet skis, snowmobiles and even golf carts. Make sure you bring in the old marine battery or whatever type it is and get it tested first to confirm that’s the problem, to get the right replacement size, and to avoid the core charge.

Spark plugs and wires

Spark plugs and wires are another category that you don’t have to rely on a specialty parts supplier for. Even if you think that glow plugs for a Kubota B20 diesel tractor or plugs for a Yamaha Tt-R225 dirt bike are uncommon and only available through a dealer, think again and try your local auto parts supplier first.

Boat engine parts

Similarities exist between inboard motors and some car engines. For example, the 4.3 liter GM V-6 that’s in your 2000 Glastron boat may be able to use some of the same 4.3 V6 GM motor parts that are available at an auto parts store. Always consult your owner’s manual first though. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure your warranty isn’t voided.

A little preventive maintenance before you hit the trail or water can help you avoid many of these problems in the first place. But if they do crop up, you now know that many of these parts are readily available somewhere other than just a specialty powersports provider.

 

Of course, anyone attempting repairs or maintenance should always consult their owner’s manual before undertaking any work, to ensure safety and that warranties aren’t voided.

Have you been in a tight spot and used car parts on your motorcycle, boat, or ATV? Share your experience.