by Carl Siroky

Like it or not, for a lot of us, there comes a time when we must store the OHV for the winter. If you follow some basic proactive maintenance steps like these should get your machine through the winter just fine and make it ready for many miles of safe, reliable fun on the trails with the coming of the spring season.  Even if you’re not going to park the OHV for the winter, at the end of the fall season is as good a time as any to perform the 12-month inspection and maintenance activities that are outlined in your OHV Owner’s Manual.  This should be part of your regular care for the OHV from now on. A good visual inspection and the annual recommended maintenance really doesn’t take that long and it’s the best way to make sure your ride is ready for spring.

  1. Clean it thoroughly.  Now is the best time to thoroughly clean and lube your OHV. A good wash now will go a long way toward protecting your OHV’s finish and getting the dirt and crud off the machine makes it easier to visually inspect things for wear or damage. This is a good time to clean the collection of aging snack bars out of the tool bags and cargo boxes too, to have one less attractant for the mice to nest in the OHV during the winter.

  2. Inspect it.  Inspect everything that moves and even some things that don’t. This is one of the best things you can do to identify what maintenance work is needed to make your ride reliable through the next season.  Your owner’s manual should have a complete inspection checklist to guide you, but in general when you’re inspecting you want to look for the following: 
  • Loose or missing bolts
  • Cracks in the frame, especially at welds
  • If you notice orange colored dust or stains at the steering knuckles, suspension pivot pins, and linkage pivots it is probably rust and probably indicates excessive metal wear due to lack of lubrication.
  • Check for linkage looseness.  Check for excessive looseness at all the linkages using a prybar or by wiggling them with your hands.

Check for wheel looseness. Jack the machine up and grab each of the wheels at 12 and 6 then 3 and 9 O’clock and check for looseness in all directions.  You should not notice any looseness at all.  If you do, then consult with a service technician as necessary to determine the cause and maintenance needed to fix the looseness.  

3.  Lube it.  Lubricate everything that moves. Silicone, multi-purpose lube, white lithium grease and a tub of good ol' Marine-grease will cover everything you need. When you’re inspecting and lubricating look for the following: 

4.  Treat the fuel system. Fill your fuel tank and add a fuel stabilizer such as Sta-Bil (No, more is not better).  It's a good idea to add the stabilizer to your fuel at the gas station. That way, the ride home will mix it up and get it into the carburetor or fuel injection system.  Keeping the tank full of fuel reduces air space inside, which greatly reduces the possibility of condensation as temperatures change over the winter. The fuel also prevents rust from forming inside the tank. The stabilizer helps to maintain the properties of the fuel and reduce deposits and buildup inside your fuel system.  It is better to use a non-ethanol and preferably premium grade fuel.  The ethanol in fuel will attract moisture. This is especially important if you're keeping your OHV in an unheated space.

5.  Empty your carburetor. If you have fuel injection, you’re done with the fuel system. But if your OHV is carbureted, you need to take some additional steps. Even if you use stabilizer, fuel left in the carb can evaporate and leave behind a corrosive varnish-like residue that clogs small openings in the carbs or keep the floats from moving freely. Draining it through the float bowl drain plug is the best way to prevent this.

6.  Change all your OHV’s lubricants. Changing everything is the ultimate in care, because changing fluids removes the contaminants they contain.  If you don’t change all the fluids, at least do this: 

Check the motor oil quality. If it’s not somewhat transparent, change it. This will remove acids that could attack the metal parts of your engine. Change the filter, too. The 10 bucks you save by skipping this step won’t go very far toward the engine rebuild you could eventually have to do.

Check the oil quality for the front and rear differentials, looking primarily for water contamination.  We all do the occasional deep creek crossing which often introduce water into the differential housings. A little bit of water goes a long way toward really screwing things up in the differentials.  I’d just change the oil but if you don’t want to, then inspect the oil after a short ride with the 4x4 engaged.  Water in the oil will usually give the oil a frothy, milky appearance. 

Check the brake and/or clutch fluids. If they are as dark as new motor oil, they are contaminated and must be changed prior to storage. The fluid color when new is almost perfectly clear. The darker it gets, the more contaminated it is. Contaminated fluid can cause corrosion all winter while the OHV sits. In general, these fluids should be changed every two years or sooner.

If your OHV has coolant, test it with a “ball checker'” tester, available at any auto parts store. If it looks dirty or won't protect against freezing at the temperatures you expect, change it before storage. This fluid should also be changed about every two years anyway.  Letting dirty coolant sit in your radiator over the winter can allow hard deposits to form and corrode your cooling system. If in doubt, change it.

  1. Tend to your battery. If you take care of your battery, you won't have to buy a new one every year.  If your OHV will be stored in a place where temperatures will fall well below freezing, remove the battery. An attached garage may stay warm enough for you to leave the battery in the OHV. Either way, the battery must be charged periodically. If your battery has removable caps, top it off with distilled water. If it is maintenance-free, don’t touch that cap.  

Either use a charger that maintains the battery by monitoring the voltage level and turning on and off automatically to keep the battery just above 12 volts, or charge your battery weekly, using a very low-amperage trickle charger (1.5 amps or less). Test the battery to be sure you're not overcharging or undercharging it.

Put a couple extra pounds of air pressure in your tires to avoid flat spots from sitting. Better yet, if you have stands, raise the OHV off the tires for the winter.

Finally, cover the OHV. If it is outside, spend the money and get a high-quality cover, a real cover protects against damage a lot better.

References: American Motorcyclist, 5 Tips for Storing your Machine this winter.