Buying an ATV with High Mileage: Tips, Tricks & What to Expect

Ever dreamed of conquering the wild trails without breaking the bank? Buying a used ATV, especially one considered high mileage, can turn that dream into a reality, offering the thrill of off-roading at a fraction of the cost of a new model. Whether it’s your first ride or you're adding to a growing collection, most ATV owners find the allure of finding a high-value, used quad irresistible. This blog is your guide to navigating the complexities of ATVs with a significant number of hours and certain number of miles. We'll help you make an informed decision that marries the excitement of the hunt with the peace of mind that comes from thorough research. Let's go!

A used ATV is parked in front of a nice suburban style home

Understanding ATV Mileage

When it comes to ATVs, 'high mileage' doesn't necessarily sing the same tune as it does with cars. A high mileage rig can still be a crown jewel; it’s not about how old it is, but how it's been ridden and cared for. High mileage is typically seen as a warning sign, but here, it’s just a part of the story. In the world of ATVs, how many miles on the odometer isn't as straightforward as you might think—even those pushing 10,000 miles might still offer a lot if they're in good shape.

Mileage vs. Hours

To get the whole picture of an ATV's history, you need to look at both mileage and hours. Mileage will tell you how far the ATV has gone, but hours reveal the intensity of its journey. Think of it like reading a book about someone's life: the mileage is the number of pages, but the hours are the events that fill those pages. A low-hour ATV with high miles might have enjoyed long, gentle rides, suitable for off-roaders who prefer expansive, easygoing trails. In contrast, high hours with fewer miles could indicate a life full of short, strenuous trips, possibly reflecting a shorter than average lifespan for the vehicle. Both metrics are crucial to truly understand the value of an ATV.

A man sits at a computer shopping for a used ATV

Mileage Implications

While hours do have some implication, you'll generally want to explore the mileage as the primary indicator when shopping for a new ride. While automobiles can easily put on thousands of miles, this is a lot for an ATV. Let's break it down with an overly simplified way:

  • Low Mileage: Less than 1,000 km is what we would consider low mileage and typically should have low hours as well. If taken care of, this ATV might as well have just rolled off the showroom floor. This is generally what you want to find when shopping for used ATVs, however, you should inquire about the break-in period if you're dealing with the previous owner, as that is one of the most important stages in the life of an ATV. You should also consider the price difference when deciding between a new or used ATV in this range.
  • Average Mileage: Looking between 1,000 to 3,000 km is where you'll find most ATVs that are a few years old. Now we're getting to where there is enough to show it's been enjoyed but generally not overworked. As we will cover throughout this article - the mileage for an ATV is not the only determining factor. There is a major difference between the miles on mud machines when compared to those used for trail riding, for example.
  • High Mileage: Over 3,000 km with us are considered "high mileage" machines. Here’s where you start to see who took their ATV to the prom and who took theirs to the battleground. Most owners who respect their machine will keep ATV maintenance records which will give an idea of costly repairs that have been completed over time. While the lifespan of an ATV may push well beyond 3,000 miles, the previous owner's maintenance will impact this dramatically.
  • Extreme Mileage: When you find a used ATV for sale that has hit over 6,000 km - you should be expecting a major discount as you reach the end of the lifespan of an ATV. That said, if the machine was frequently serviced and remains in great shape, you may still consider it. I have personally seen machines pushing 10,000 miles which are well taken care of and still in reasonable condition. That being said, this shouldn't be the life expectancy that you would normally see.

While these fixed number benchmarks are a great guide - forecasting miles can vary significantly based on the year, make, model and overall condition of the ATV. For example, a 1000cc Can-Am Outlander, might have a vastly different life expectancy than a 420cc Honda Rancher for a multitude of reasons.

Impact of High Mileage

High mileage ATVs can be likened to high-mileage cars; there’s potential for wear and tear but don't let that scare you off. With ATVs, high mileage might affect performance, demanding more frequent maintenance, especially if the previous owner treated it more like a mud machine than a trail companion. However, an ATV with a solid maintenance history and having its major components in good shape, such as the engine and CV boots, can still be a robust purchase. It's all about how those miles were accumulated—were they hard miles full of detrimental mud and dirt, or gentle miles on easy trails?

Two men look over paperwork that reads service history reports. A used ATV is in the background.

The Importance of Maintenance History

Imagine choosing a high-mileage ATV like picking a vintage wine—the real magic lies in its history. A well-documented maintenance record can transform what looks like a risky purchase into a hidden gem. For seasoned ATV owners, frequent maintenance checks spell the difference between a reliable ATV and a costly mistake. Think of maintenance logs as the ATV’s biography. A story filled with regular oil changes and brake maintenance isn’t just comforting; it’s an indicator of a machine loved and well-cared for, not just driven hard and put away wet. These records can significantly affect the life expectancy of an ATV, revealing how many miles it may still have left and ensuring that the engine has been maintained for optimal performance while riding an ATV.

Signs of Good Maintenance

When perusing the service records, here’s what to look for:

  • Regular Oil Changes: Just like hydrating after a good workout, ATVs need that regular oil to keep running smoothly. This routine care is essential to maintain the engine's health over many miles.
  • Brake Maintenance: Ensure the brakes have been checked often, as responsive braking is crucial for safe riding. A properly maintained braking system is key to ensuring the ATV has a longer life left.
  • Consistent Service Intervals: Like clockwork, good maintenance follows a schedule. Look for entries that show care at regular intervals, which prevents major issues down the road and contributes to the overall life expectancy of the ATV.
  • Detailed Entries: The more detailed the logs, the better. These entries tell you not just that maintenance was done, but what was done, painting a clearer picture of the ATV’s health. This attention to detail is what helps extend the life left in the ATV, ensuring it can handle many more miles.
Two men are in a garage full of tools, one is looking over an ATV and the other is standing to the side

Evaluating Wear and Tear

While there are plenty of considerations when shopping for a second-hand ATV, there are some clear indicators that are easily inspected, even for the less mechanically inclined. When assessing a high-mileage ATV, paying close attention to these critical components will give you a clearer picture of its condition:

  • CV Boots: These protective covers shield the joint areas. Cracks or leaks can allow dirt and moisture in, causing premature wear and potentially costly repairs to mobile parts.
  • Wheel Bearings: Noisy or loose bearings can be the first sign of trouble. They should be tight and quiet to ensure the ATV is in good condition.
  • Brakes: Check the brake pads for wear and test the responsiveness of the brake system. Effective braking is crucial for safety and should not be overlooked.
  • Suspension System: A worn suspension can affect the ATV's handling and comfort. Look for signs of leaking shocks or worn springs.
  • Engine and Transmission: Listen for any unusual noises and check for oil leaks. Rough idling or difficulty shifting can indicate significant issues, particularly if the engine is fuel injected, which enhances performance and efficiency.
  • Tires: Inspect the tires for uneven wear and tread depth. Tires often reflect how the ATV was used and the terrain it was exposed to, providing insights into the mileage for an ATV.
  • Overall Cleanliness: Many do not realize how detrimental mud and grime is on a machine. Mud absorbs moisture which be extremely damaging, leading to significant degradation over time. Cleanliness shows care.

Interpreting Wear and Tear

Understanding where the ATV has been and how it's been used offers invaluable clues about its condition. An ATV used primarily for trail riding might show different wear patterns compared to one used in thick mud. Here are some riding styles to consider:

  • Trail Riding: Look for wear from bumps and scrapes on the undercarriage and suspension, typical of navigating through rough terrain. Side-by-sides that are primarily used for this riding style will typically have branch scrapes along the sides from tight trails.
  • Road Riding: Expect more uniform wear, but still check tires and brakes for signs of long rides or abrupt stops. The wrong tires on the ATV or UTV can dramatically impact the overall wear and tear when used on-road.
  • Mudding & Heavy Off-Roading: This can be particularly hard on ATVs. Excessive mud and water exposure can lead to rust and corrosion if not meticulously cleaned and maintained. Check for mud residue in hard-to-clean areas and signs of rust or corrosion around metal parts.
  • UTV & Business Use: Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTVs) or ATVs used for business often accumulate high hours due to workers leaving the engines running, which can skew the miles ratio. However, many employers mandate regular inspections and maintenance schedules, ensuring these ATVs are kept in good shape despite the high hours.

By understanding these wear patterns, you can better gauge how the previous owner treated the ATV and what kind of maintenance or repairs might be needed. This knowledge will empower you to make a more informed decision when considering a high-mileage ATV, ensuring you get a reliable machine that can keep up with your adventures. Next we'll look at the importance of requesting a test ride to personally assess the ATV's condition and confirm its lifespan.

Two men are in a garage full of tools, one is sitting on an ATV while the other watches

Test Ride Essentials

Think of a test ride like a first date—except you're allowed to get under the hood and really see what makes it tick! Here's what you should keep an eye (and ear!) out for:

  • Engine Noises: Unusual noises are the ATV's way of whispering secrets about its past. Knocking, rattling, or hissing sounds can signal underlying problems.
  • Gear Shifts: Smooth transitions say a lot about the care of the ATV. Jerky shifts or hesitations? They're red flags.
  • Frame Condition: Check for any signs of cracks or welds, especially in the areas that bear the most stress when riding. A solid frame is non-negotiable for safe riding.
  • General Ride Feel: Does it feel stable? Or does it handle like a shopping cart with a wonky wheel? Trust your instincts on this one.

Red Flags

During your test drive, these are the deal-breakers you should watch out for:

  • Excessive Smoke: A little puff on start-up might be okay, but a smoke show is not.
  • Strange Engine Behavior: If the engine cuts out, hesitates during acceleration, or runs roughly, it's best to reconsider.
  • Visible Damage to Critical Components: Damage to major systems like the suspension, brakes, or transmission can lead to costly repairs.
  • Leaks: Any puddles or drips during or after the ride are signs that all's not well internally.
Two men in a garage shake hands, an ATV can be seen in the background

Making the Purchase Decision

When standing before a potential new (or new-to-you) ATV, knowing the right questions to ask is as crucial as the test drive itself. This stage is not just about securing a fair deal—it's about ensuring that your new ride will be a reliable and thrilling companion for all your off-road adventures.

Questions to Ask the Seller

These questions aim to uncover the ATV's history and help you assess its current condition:

  • Maintenance Frequency: "How often was the ATV serviced?" Regular maintenance is crucial for the lifespan of an ATV and its performance.
  • Type of Use: "What was the primary use of the ATV?" Was it used mainly for trail riding, road riding, or intense activities like mud runs? This helps you understand the wear and stress it might have experienced. Knowing whether the previous owner rode it hard or took good care can make a difference.
  • Maintenance Records: "Can you show me the maintenance and repair records?" Detailed records prove diligent care and can highlight any chronic issues or how well the ATV was maintained.
  • Major Repairs: "What major repairs or parts replacements has the ATV undergone?" Knowing this helps you anticipate potential future expenses and understand the ATV's resilience.
  • Reason for Selling: "Why are you selling the ATV?" This can sometimes reveal urgent issues that the seller is trying to avoid.
  • Previous Ownership: "How many previous owners has the ATV had?" Even a number as small as one can indicate problems that aren't immediately apparent.
  • Accidents and Damages: "Has the ATV been involved in any accidents or has it had any significant damage?" Answers to this can tell you about potential hidden problems that could cause trouble down the line.

Obtaining a Vehicle History Report

In addition to asking the right questions and inspecting the ATV, obtaining a vehicle history report like CARFAX can provide comprehensive insights into the ATV’s past:

  • Accident History: This report can reveal if the ATV has been involved in any accidents, helping you assess potential structural issues that may not be visible.
  • Lien Check: There are plenty of horror stories where a used ATV was sold with a lien attached to it. The lien follows the unit so ensure that any liens are cleared before making payment.
  • Ownership History: Understanding how many hands the ATV has passed through can indicate how it was likely used and maintained.
  • Service Records: Sometimes, these reports include details of major repairs and regular maintenance checks, which complement the seller's provided records.

This document serves as a third-party verification of the ATV's history, adding an extra layer of confidence to your purchase decision and confirming any of the claims that the current or previous owner had made.

Professional Evaluation

If you're not an expert or if any answers from the seller raise red flags, it’s wise to get a professional evaluation. Hiring a mechanic to perform a thorough check can reveal underlying issues that are not visible to the untrained eye. This step is crucial, especially for high-mileage ATVs, to ensure that you're making a sound investment, whether you're deciding on a used ATV or fixing a number on the final offer.

Approaching the purchase with these detailed questions and considering a professional evaluation will help you make an informed decision, steering clear of costly pitfalls and setting the stage for many enjoyable rides.

A side by side comparison, the left showing a man looking at a used quad and the right showing the same man looking at a brand new ATV

Special Considerations for High-Mileage ATVs

When it comes to choosing a high-mileage ATV, it's like selecting a veteran player for your sports team—there are distinct advantages but also some inevitable challenges. Here’s a streamlined look at the pros and cons to help guide your decision:


  • Cost-Effective Negotiations: High-mileage ATVs are generally more affordable, allowing for better deals or easier negotiations on price.
  • Wide Selection: More high-mileage options often mean you can find the exact build or features you’re after without waiting for a rare find.
  • Upgraded Components: A well-maintained high-mileage rig may have new parts or ATV upgrades that enhance its value beyond its original specs, offering a potentially superior machine at a lower cost.


  • Maintenance Risks: Higher mileage equates to greater wear and tear, increasing the risk of part failures despite regular maintenance. Accumulation of dirt and miles can significantly impact the overall condition.
  • Challenging Resale: While you might benefit from lower depreciation, selling a high-mileage ATV can be tougher, potentially complicating future upgrades. This is an important factor to consider if you're deciding on a used ATV.
  • Reduced Lifespan: Every ATV has a finite lifespan; a high-mileage machine may be closer to the end of its operational life, even with meticulous care.

Purchasing a high-mileage machine can be a smart investment if you're ready to handle some extra maintenance and are aware of its potential limitations. These machines offer a blend of affordability, selection, and possibly upgraded features, making them attractive for both seasoned riders and newcomers. If you're considering a used ATV or deciding between brand-new options, this choice can deliver significant value. We hope this post helped to add some insight to your decision!

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