Correct and timely oil changes are part of the fundamentals for any beginner or any rider, for that matter. Seasoned off-roaders and experts cannot underscore enough how crucial it is to an ATV’s longevity and overall performance. In this article, let’s go over how to perform oil changes on an ATV correctly and how often this maintenance task should be done.
Here are the 12 steps on how to change your ATV oil:
- Ready your tools and supplies.
- Prioritize safety.
- Warm up the engine.
- Locate and clean the drain plug.
- Position the oil pan.
- Drain the old engine oil.
- Remove and replace the oil filter.
- Install the new oil filter.
- Replace the drain plug.
- Add new oil.
- Dispose of old oil properly.
- Tidy up and record the maintenance.
Timely oil changes offer numerous advantages, including improved cooling efficiency, effective engine cleaning, and the removal of contaminants. Additionally, performing oil changes yourself is a straightforward task.
If you’re committed to keeping your quad in top-notch condition and ready for the trails, read on, as this guide will provide valuable insights into ATV maintenance.
How to Change Your ATV Oil
1. Ready Your Tools and Supplies.
The first step to any form of maintenance on a motorized vehicle is preparing the tools required for the job. For ATV oil changes, what you’ll need are listed below:
- Owner’s manual
- Socket or wrench set with an extension and ratchet for removing the drain plug or oil filter
TIP: Socket sets required typically have a ¼-inch ratchet with metric sockets measuring 4mm to 15mm or a ½ ratchet with metric sockets measuring 8mm to 34mm.
- Torx and hex bits (or Allen keys, if compatible with your ATV components)
- Universal oil filter wrench or tool to help remove the old oil filter
- Oil or drain pan to catch and contain the old oil during the draining process
- Funnel (preferably with a hose attachment) for pouring new oil into the engine without spilling
- Engine oil — must be ATV-specific and OEM-recommended or an equivalent, same-spec variant
- A new oil filter that’s of the same size as stock
- Oil drain plug washer — can be copper or aluminum
- Oil filter O-ring or gasket
- Safety Gear — includes rubber gloves and safety glasses to protect your hands and shield your eyes from splashes or drips
- Absorbent rags or towels for cleaning up spills and wiping down surfaces
- Marked, non-reactive oil container to transport old oil to a disposal facility or recycling center
TIP: Oil containers can be metal or plastic. If the former, it should be non-corrosive. If the latter, the container should be constructed from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or a similar durable plastic material.
2. Prioritize Safety.
Once all the necessary tools are handy, put your safety gear on and prep your four-wheeler on a level surface. To prevent the machine from rolling, engage the PARK position on the transmission and activate the hand brake. Additionally, consider using wheel chocks or blocks to prevent your ATV from moving while you work.
Ensure adequate ventilation to prevent exposure to exhaust fumes and allow proper dissipation of any potential fumes from the old oil — this is extremely important if working in an enclosed space. And although this next bit may seem extra, it’s best to have a Class B fire extinguisher (view on Amazon) rated for oil or flammable liquid fires nearby (especially if working in a garage).
3. Warm Up the Engine.
Start the ATV, let it run for about 2—10 minutes (depending on make and displacement) to warm up the oil, then turn the engine off. Doing these steps is vital as cold engine oil is highly viscous and won’t drain well if you’re performing an oil change.
Warming up the oil just enough — never too hot or at boiling point — enhances its flow properties and facilitates the removal of contaminants. And it only takes a few minutes to take your brute for a quick spin.
4. Locate and Clean the Drain Plug.
Your owner’s manual is still the best resource when locating the drain plug. But if you just want a quick reminder, this part is typically found on the underside of the engine or the bottom of the crankcase. In some ATV models, this drain plug is marked by a protective cover or cut-out in the guard plate.
5. Position the Oil Pan.
Once you’ve figured out where the oil drain plug is, place a drain pan underneath the plug to catch the old engine oil. Your drain pan must be large enough to contain the oil you’ll be flushing out. A 4-liter drain pan is usually sufficient for most ATVs. But to be sure, check your service manual to determine the correct pan size you’ll need.
6. Drain the Old Engine Oil.
Using a socket or wrench, carefully loosen the drain plug and flush the old engine oil out of the reservoir. Let the lube completely drain into the oil pan, ensuring that the drain plug’s gasket or washer comes out with it. You don’t have to change gaskets and washers every time you do an oil change. However, replace these parts if their condition says otherwise.
Also, pay attention to the tip of the drain plug. This bit is magnetic — the purpose of which is to catch fine metallic particles from natural component wear or engine break-in. If you notice excessive or large metallic particles clinging to the tip of the drain plug, consult a qualified mechanic or technician, as it may signify severe oil contamination or engine component damage.
7. Remove and Replace the Oil Filter.
After draining the oil, proceed with removing the old filter. (In most quads, this can be accessed by removing some side panels and operating a rear latch.) You may utilize an oil filter wrench when doing this. But if this tool isn’t available, there are other ways to remove the oil filter (as follows):
- Oil filter pliers (a.k.a. filter chain pliers, filter wrench pliers) — with serrated jaws specifically designed for removing stubborn oil filters
- Oil filter strap wrench — an adjustable tool that wraps around the filter and tightens as you rotate it
- Hammer, screwdriver, or chisel — to puncture and twist the filter counterclockwise until it comes off
- Heat gun or propane torch — to heat and expand the filter housing, effectively loosening its grip
Note that the last two bullets should only be considered as a last resort since they could potentially cause damage to surrounding components if used too forcefully or incorrectly.
8. Install the New Oil Filter.
Before installing the new oil filter:
- Use a dry, absorbent cloth or rag to clean the sealing surface.
- If there are signs of corrosion, use fine-grit sandpaper (within the range of 180 to 320) to sand off affected surfaces.
- Apply clean engine oil (a thin coat) to the rubber gasket on the filter top to help create a good seal.
Depending on how your ATV’s oil filter is threaded, you may or may not need to fill it with fresh engine oil before installation (never add oil to filters installed from the top or side). After which, screw the new oil filter onto the engine by hand until snug, then give it an additional ½ to ¾ turn. To ensure you don’t over-tighten, refer to your owner’s manual for torque specifications.
9. Replace the Drain Plug.
Once the old oil has completely drained, clean the drain plug and its gasket or washer. Then, reinstall the drain plug by rotating it in the reverse direction of how it was initially removed, ensuring the plug is tightened securely.
10. Add New Oil.
Be ready to refill your reservoir with new engine oil at this point. To do this, place a funnel on top of the new filter, then carefully pour the fresh oil through it and into the oil filler. You can initially add 2 US quarts of oil and gradually work your way from there until you reach the engine’s full oil capacity.
After adequately filling the reservoir with the oil it needs, turn on your four-wheeler’s engine and let it run for about 5—10 seconds. This step aids in circulating the oil throughout the engine. In addition, it helps determine whether or not you need to top up your quad with more oil before replacing the side panels and saddle (view on Amazon).
Oil requirements vary per ATV make and displacement, so consult your owner’s manual for the OEM-recommended quantity and oil type. It’s also important not to put too much oil in your ATV, as this practice is not only wasteful but also leads to various issues (including but not limited to):
- Increased oil consumption
- Higher oil pressure
- Risk of seal damage
- Catalytic converter damage
- Reduced fuel efficiency
- Oil aeration and foaming
- Reduced engine performance
11. Dispose of Old Oil Properly.
Once you’ve filled your machine’s reservoir with oil and closed up the drain plugs, panels, and seat, you may transfer the oil collected from the drain pan into an empty container. But to properly store and transport this old oil to a recycling center or disposal facility while ensuring no spills, your oil container should meet the following criteria:
- Have adequate capacity
- Made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or non-corrosive metal that is non-reactive
- Sealed and leak-proof
- Properly marked or labeled with “Used Engine Oil” or “Recycled Oil”
- Dedicated for oil only and not previously used for other substances, like food or beverage
- In good condition and with no visible damage that could lead to leaks
12. Tidy up and record the maintenance.
Wipe down your ATV and the area around it to clean up any oil seepage. Tidy up your work area to ensure no one accidentally slips on spilled lube on the floor. Last but not least, note the date and mileage (or hours) on your machine for every ATV oil change completed to track when your next oil change is due.
ATVs with 2-stroke mills follow the same steps as above — drain, clean, and refill. However, their main difference from 4-strokes is that you’re simply changing the transmission oil since their engine oil is pre-mix. This type of mixture makes oil changes slightly less tedious since you wouldn’t have to perform several types of oil changes simultaneously.
Recommended ATV Oil Change Intervals
Answering the question, “How often should you change your ATV oil?” hinges on several factors, such as OEM recommendations, engine type, and the quad’s make and model.
While this information is usually specified in the service manual, here are general guidelines for oil change intervals based solely on displacement:
Up to 250cc
For these machines, it’s common to change oil every 20 to 30 hours of operation or annually, whichever comes first. The reason is that they’re often used for recreational purposes and may have simpler engine designs.
ATVs within this range are popular for recreational and utility use. Hence, their recommended oil change interval is typically every 30 to 50 hours of operation or annually.
Four-wheelers with larger engine displacements (such as these) are often used for more demanding, heavy-duty applications (if not competitive riding). These machines may require more frequent oil changes, generally every 25 to 40 hours of operation or annually.
Other frequency-affecting facets are as follows:
Change in oil color
If you notice the engine oil in your ATV becoming darker, it may indicate the need for an oil change, as darkening oil can signify contamination or degradation.
Delayed engine performance
If your ATV starts to exhibit reduced performance or unusual noises, it could indicate a need for an oil change. This might not be exclusive to engine oil issues, so further troubleshooting and diagnosis are warranted.
After finding a leak
If you discover an oil leak in your ATV, it’s essential to address it promptly and consider changing the oil since leaks can introduce contaminants into the oil.
Following engine system repairs
After servicing or repairing the machine’s engine or related components, it’s a good practice to change the oil to ensure the engine’s reliability and proper function.
Beyond an ATV’s break-in period, the recommended oil change interval is set to every 100 hours, 1000 miles, or six months on average (whichever comes first). But if you’re into a lot of water fording and muddying, you should change your ATV’s engine oil immediately after the activity.
How Much Does an ATV Oil Change Cost?
On average, an ATV oil change will cost between $45 and $80 in total — new engine oil, parts, and labor included. But if you’re mechanically savvy, you need only shoulder the oil and filter (typically from $30 to $55). However, expect price fluctuations when doing an ATV oil change, as total expenses may also be dictated by your choice of engine oil variant and brand.
If you’re searching for the best engine oil to run in your quad, full and semi-synthetic oils top the list. They cost more than mineral ones but also last longer — about 6 months to 1 year or 7,500-10,000 miles before necessitating an oil replacement. As with all other things motor-related, this period carries a disclaimer. This longevity will vary depending on the engine type and layout an ATV has, and the riding conditions and driver habits it’s subject to.
Best Engine Oils for ATVs
- Motul 7100 4T Synthetic Engine Oil
- Bel-Ray EXS Full Synthetic Ester 4T Engine Oil
- Maxima Castor 927 Engine Oil
- Amsoil Synthetic ATV/UTV Motor Oil
- Lucas Semi-Synthetic ATV Engine Oil
- Yamalube Full Synthetic Engine Oil (view on Amazon)
- Maxima Maxum4 Extra Motor Oil (view on Amazon)
- Kawasaki Performance 4-Stroke Engine Oil
- Maxima Pro Plus Engine Oil
- Maxima SynBlend Engine Oil
- Liqui Moly 4T Synth Off-Road Race Engine Oil
Conclusion — How to Change Your ATV Oil
Indeed, ATV oil changes are essential for engine longevity and optimal performance. They provide vital lubrication, prevent overheating, improve fuel efficiency, and remove contaminants.
By religiously following through with this maintenance task, you reduce the likelihood of premature engine wear and the risk of costly repairs. More importantly, you ensure yourself more opportunities for adventure and a smoother, longer-lasting ride.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.